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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White House in turmoil shows why Trump’s no CEO

Trump poses with his brain trust. Mark Lennihan/AP Photo
Trump poses with his brain trust. Mark Lennihan/AP Photo

Bert Spector, Northeastern University

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump made much of his business experience, claiming he’s been “creating jobs and rebuilding neighborhoods my entire adult life.”

The fact that he was from the business world rather than a career politician was something that appealed to many of his supporters.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of a president as CEO. The U.S. president is indisputably the chief executive of a massive, complex, global structure known as the federal government. And if the performance of our national economy is vital to the well-being of us all, why not believe that Trump’s experience running a large company equips him to effectively manage a nation?

Instead of a “fine-tuned machine,” however, the opening weeks of the Trump administration have revealed a White House that’s chaotic, disorganized and anything but efficient. Examples include rushed and poorly constructed executive orders, a dysfunctional national security team and unclear and even contradictory messages emanating from multiple administrative spokespeople, which frequently clash with the tweets of the president himself.

Senator John McCain succinctly summed up the growing sentiment even some Republicans are feeling: “Nobody knows who’s in charge.”

So why the seeming contradiction between his businessman credentials and chaotic governing style?

Well for one thing, Trump wasn’t a genuine CEO. That is, he didn’t run a major public corporation with shareholders and a board of directors that could hold him to account. Instead, he was the head of a family-owned, private web of enterprises. Regardless of the title he gave himself, the position arguably ill-equipped him for the demands of the presidency.

Catching up on the news, Senator? Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
Catching up on the news, Senator? Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

Public accountability

Several years ago, I explored the distinction between public and private companies in detail when the American Bar Association invited me to write about what young corporate lawyers needed to understand about how business works. Based on that research, I want to point to an important set of distinctions between public corporations and private businesses, and what it all means for President Trump.

Public corporations are companies that offer their stock to pretty much anyone via organized exchanges or by some over-the-counter mechanism. In order to protect investors, the government created the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which imposes an obligation of transparency on public corporations that does not apply to private businesses like the Trump Organization.

The SEC, for example, requires the CEO of public corporations to make full and public disclosures of their financial position. Annual 10-K reports, quarterly 10-Q’s and occasional special 8-K’s require disclosure of operating expenses, significant partnerships, liabilities, strategies, risks and plans.

Additionally, an independent firm overseen by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board conducts an audit of these financial statements to ensure thoroughness and accuracy.

Finally, the CEO, along with the chief financial officer, is criminally liable for falsification or manipulation of the company’s reports. Remember the 2001 Enron scandal? CEO Jeffrey Skilling was convicted of conspiracy, fraud and insider trading and initially sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Former Enron CEO Skilling learned the hard way that the buck stopped with him. Pat Sullivan/AP Photo
Former Enron CEO Skilling learned the hard way that the buck stopped with him. Pat Sullivan/AP Photo

Internal governance

Then there is the matter of internal governance.

The CEO of a public company is subject to an array of constraints and a varying but always substantial degree of oversight. There are boards of directors, of course, that review all major strategic decisions, among other duties. And there are separate committees that assess CEO performance and determine compensation, composed entirely of independent or outside directors without any ongoing involvement in running the business.

Whole categories of CEO decisions, including mergers and acquisitions, changes in the corporation’s charter and executive compensation packages, are subject to the opinion of shareholders and directors.

In addition, the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act requires – for now – regular nonbinding shareholder votes on the compensation packages of top executives.

And then there’s this critical fact: well-governed firms tend to outperform poorly governed ones, often dramatically. And that’s because of factors like a strong board of directors, more transparency, a responsiveness to shareholders, thorough and independent audits and so forth.

Trump celebrates the opening of his Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City in 1990. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo
Trump celebrates the opening of his Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City in 1990. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo

Trump’s business

None of the obligations listed above applied to Trump, who was owner, chairman and president of the Trump Organization, a family-owned limited liability company (LLC) that has owned and run hundreds of businesses involving real estate, hotels, golf courses, private jet rentals, beauty pageants and even bottled water.

LLCs are specifically designed to offer owners tax advantages, maximum flexibility and financial and legal protections without either the benefits (such as access to equity capital markets) or the many obligations of a public corporation.

For example, as I noted above, a corporate CEO is required by law to allow scrutiny of the financial consequences of his or her decisions by others. As such, CEOs know the value of having a strong executive team able to serve as a sounding board and participate in key strategic decisions.

Trump, by contrast, as the head of a family business was accountable to no one and reportedly ran his company that way. His executive team comprised his children and people who are loyal to him, and his decision-making authority was unconstrained by any internal governance mechanisms. Decisions concerning what businesses to start or exit, how much money to borrow and at what interest rates, how to market products and services, and how – or even whether – to pay suppliers or treat customers were made centrally and not subject to review.

Clearly, this poorly equips Trump to be president and accountable to lawmakers, the courts and ultimately the voters.

Another important aspect of the public corporation is the notion of transparency and the degree to which it enables accountability.

A lack of transparency and reluctance to engage in open disclosure characterized the formulation of Trump’s immigration ban that was quickly overturned in federal court. That same tendency toward secrecy was manifest throughout the campaign, such as when he refused to disclose much about his health (besides this cursory “note”) or release any of his tax returns.

While there’s no law that requires a candidate to divulge either health or tax status, that lack of transparency kept potentially vital information from U.S. voters. And Trump’s continuing lack of transparency as president has kept experts and advisers in the dark, leading to precisely the confusion, mixed messages and dysfunction that have characterized these early weeks. And, of course, this can quickly lead to a continuing erosion of public trust.

Trump, it should be noted, made one stab at a public company: Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts. That was an unmitigated disaster, leading to five separate declarations of bankruptcy before finally going under, all this while other casino companies thrived. Public investors ignored all the signs in favor of the showmanship and glitz of the Trump brand and, as a result, lost millions of dollars. Trump allotted himself a huge salary and bonuses, corporate perks and special merchandising deals.

What is especially telling about this experience is that, rather than speaking on behalf of fiduciary responsibilities for the best interests of the corporation, Trump noted, “I make great deals for myself.”

Multiplicity of voices

There is no need to be overly naive here.

Some CEOs also operate in a highly centralized manner, expecting obedience rather than participation from direct reports. All business executives expect a shared commitment from their employees to their corporate goals and value dependability, cooperation and loyalty from subordinates.

But the involvement of a multiplicity of voices with diverse perspectives and different backgrounds and fields of expertise improves the quality of resulting decisions. Impulsive decision-making by an individual or small, cloistered group of followers can and often will lead to disastrous results.

What lies ahead

Virtually every U.S. president, ranging from the great to the inconsequential and even the disastrous, have emerged from one of two groups: career politicians or generals. So why not a CEO president?

Without question, a background in politics does not guarantee an effective presidency. Abraham Lincoln, the consensus choice among historians for the best president ever, was a career politician, but so was his disastrous successor, Andrew Johnson.

Likewise, we can think of many traits of an effective corporate CEO that could serve a president well: transparency and accountability, responsiveness to internal governance and commitment to the interest of the overall corporation over and above self-enrichment.

Sadly, that is not Trump’s background. His experience overseeing an interconnected tangle of LLCs and his one disastrous term as CEO of a public corporation suggest a poor background to be chief executive of the United States. As such, “nobody knows who’s in charge” may be the mantra for years to come.

The Conversation

Bert Spector, Associate Professor, International Business and Strategy, Northeastern University

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

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The Best Legal Arguments Against Trump’s Immigration Ban

Demonstrators outside Terminal 5 of Chicago’s O'Hare airport on Jan. 29, 2017. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Demonstrators outside Terminal 5 of Chicago’s O’Hare airport on Jan. 29, 2017. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Steven Mulroy, University of Memphis

Is President Trump’s recent executive order on immigrants and refugees legal?

It’s a surprisingly tricky question.

The order arguably violates both a federal statute and one or more sections of the Constitution – depending on whether the immigrant is already in the U.S. In the end, opponents’ best hope for undoing the order might rest on the separation of church and state.

Trump’s order bars the entry of any refugee for 120 days, and Syrian refugees indefinitely. It also bans citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days. This order potentially affects more than 20,000 refugees, along with thousands of students nationwide. Depending on how it is enforced, it could also impact as many as hundreds of thousands of green card holders, or immigrants with permanent residency.

Many opponents have challenged the order in court.

A U.S. District Court judge in Brooklyn, New York, issued a ruling that halted the enforcement of Trump’s executive order the day after he signed it. Judges in at least four other states followed suit.

Trump’s supporters defend the order’s legality based on a federal immigration statute passed in 1952 that allows the president to suspend the U.S. entry of “any class of aliens.” But, as a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer and a law professor, I believe there are at least four possible arguments challenging the legality of the order.

Anti-discrimination statute

There is, critically, another federal statute that outlaws discriminating against a person regarding issuing visas based on the person’s “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence,” which Trump’s order clearly does. This second statute was passed in 1965 and is more specific than the 1952 statute. What’s more, courts have enforced this anti-discrimination ban strictly. This is the strongest legal argument against President Trump’s order.

But Congress can amend or repeal the 1965 statute, as it can any law. A Republican-controlled Congress might do that, although concerns raised by some GOP lawmakers may make that unlikely.

Due process and equal protection

The recent court orders halting enforcement of the Trump order relied on a legal argument that it violated due process or equal protection under the Constitution. Due process means that people get procedural safeguards–like advance notice, a hearing before a neutral decision-maker and a chance to tell their side of the story–before the government takes away their liberty. Equal protection means the government must treat people equally, and can’t discriminate on the basis of race, alien status, nationality, and other irrelevant factors.

As the Supreme Court has said, even immigrants who are not citizens or green card holders have due process and equal protection rights, if – and only if – they are physically here in the U.S. That’s why the recent court orders on due process and equal protection help only individuals who were in the States at the time the court ruled.

Given the rushed, chaotic manner in which the recent order was drafted and enforced, with no set chance for affected individuals to plead their case, maybe there are some valid due process arguments against the ban. But presumably, those can be fixed by slowing down and letting people have their say. Once that’s done, the remaining issue is whether the executive order violates equal protection by intentionally discriminating against Muslims.

Trump denies the order is a “Muslim ban,” even though he called for exactly that during the campaign, and each of the seven countries subject to the ban is majority Muslim. In explaining why those seven countries were chosen, the order itself cites the Obama-era law stating that persons who in recent years have visited one of these seven terrorism-prone nations would not be eligible under a “visa waiver” program. Similarly, says Trump, the defining characteristic here is terrorist danger, not religion. That’s why only seven of more than 40 majority Muslim countries are affected. (Note that the Obama-era rule isn’t based on nationality, but rather on whether someone of any nationality visited the danger zone since 2011 – a criterion not outlawed by the 1965 statute.)

One problem with Trump’s argument is that the order also seems to prioritize admitting Christian refugees. It does this by saying that once the 120-day ban on all refugees expires, priority goes to those of “a minority religion in the individual’s country.”

Supporters can rightly argue this “minority religion” language is neutral. It never mentions Muslims or Christians. But, as that neutral language interacts with the country-specific ban targeting seven Muslim countries, the two can’t help but disproportionately help Christians. Indeed, just days before signing the order, Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network he intended to prioritize Christian refugees.

Separation of church and state

That brings us to the final legal argument against the president’s order. By picking favorites among religions, it violates the separation of church and state under the Constitution’s Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Though Establishment Clause law is often murky, one clear point is that the government can’t favor one religious denomination over another.

This may be the most important of the constitutional theories involved in this case because it may have the broadest scope.

The due process and equal protection arguments only help persons who are already in the United States. Theoretically, a court ruling on those arguments might invalidate the order only as it applies to such persons. But if the order violates the Establishment Clause by making a statement favoring Christianity, a court could strike it down entirely.

The Conversation

Steven Mulroy, Law Professor in Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Election Law, University of Memphis

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

Trump’s Immigration Order is Bad Foreign Policy

A rally against President Donald Trump’s order that restricts travel to the U.S. AP Photo/Steven Senne
A rally against President Donald Trump’s order that restricts travel to the U.S. AP Photo/Steven Senne

David FitzGerald, University of California, San Diego and David Cook Martín, Grinnell College

President Donald Trump banned the entry of people from seven majority Muslim countries last week. Leaders as far apart ideologically as former Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Bernie Sanders warned the ban could become a recruitment tool for terrorists.

In addition, the U.S. risks straining or losing important diplomatic ties and fragile relationships. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and even Theresa May have warned about the geopolitical effects of a ban on immigrants and refugees from predominantly Muslim countries. Iran has already promised to take “reciprocal measures” after Trump’s immigration order, although the exact measures remain to be specified.

 

Just last December, the al-Qaida affiliate in East Africa, Al-Shabab, used footage of Trump’s call for a ban on the entry of Muslims as part of a recruitment film.

Banning immigration from seven majority Muslim countries and selectively admitting Christians is a bad idea for many moral and legal reasons. A long history shows such policies also threaten national security. Our research for the book “Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policies in the Americas” shows the perils of policies targeting particular nationalities.

Losing hearts and minds

From the 19th century to 1965, the United States discriminated against various groups. In the 1920s, the U.S. established national origins quotas that set the number of immigrants who were allowed to enter the U.S. from certain countries. These quotas were designed to restrict the entrance of southern and eastern Europeans because nativists like famed eugenecist Harry Laughlin and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge feared the newcomers were likely to be criminals, and even anarchist or Bolshevik terrorists. Anti-Catholic sentiment played a role as well.

The laws kept out Asians altogether on grounds that “no alien ineligible for citizenship shall be admitted to the United States” (43 Stat. 153. Sec. 13 ©). Asians were ineligible for citizenship because of their race. The quotas gave 51,227 of the 164,667 annual spots for immigration to Germans, 3,845 to Italians and zero to Japanese.

Bipartisan coalitions ended this discrimination in large part because it hurt U.S. national security at key moments during World War II and the Cold War.

A presidential commission after World War II found that U.S. exclusion of Japanese immigrants had contributed directly to the growth of Japanese militarism and helped motivate Japan’s attack on the United States in 1941. When the quotas ending Japanese immigration passed in 1924, the press in Japan declared a “National Humiliation Day” to protest the law. Seventeen years later, as the Japanese navy steamed toward Pearl Harbor, Commander Kikuichi Fujita wrote in his diary that it was time to teach the United States a lesson for its behavior, including the exclusion of Japanese immigrants.

During World War II, China became a major ally of the United States. Japan tried to drive a wedge between the Chinese and the Americans by portraying Japan as the defender of Asians against U.S. racism. The fact that the United States had banned Chinese immigration since 1882 through the Chinese Exclusion Act helped make the case. Japanese media in occupied China pointed to the hypocrisy of the Americans, who presented the United States as a friend of the Chinese while banning their entry.

A broad U.S. coalition called for Congress to end Chinese exclusion. President Franklin Roosevelt argued that repeal would “silence the distorted Japanese propaganda” and be “important in the cause of winning the war and of establishing a secure peace.” Congress halted the ban on Chinese naturalization in 1943 and allowed a symbolic annual quota. China remained the key U.S. ally in Asia during the war.

During the Cold War, the quota system posed a new national security problem. The Soviet Union and United States were competing to win the hearts and minds of Asians in battlegrounds like Korea and Vietnam. Radio Moscow’s broadcasts to Asia pointed out that U.S. law continued to treat Asians as inferiors. How could Asians take the side of a country that shunned them?

During the Korean War, Sen. William Benton of Arkansas highlighted the folly of spending billions of dollars and suffering 100,000 U.S. casualties while continuing to restrict the entrance of Koreans. In 1952 he told the Senate:

“We can totally destroy that investment, and can ruthlessly and stupidly destroy faith and respect in our great principles, by enacting laws that, in effect, say to the peoples of the world: ‘We love you, but we love you from afar. We want you but, for God’s sake, stay where you are.’”

By 1956, the Republican and Democratic party platforms both endorsed ending the national origins quotas. Congress finally ended the system in 1965.

Post-9/11

Americans saw the challenge of singling out nationalities again after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) required male citizens of 25 countries who were in the United States on nonimmigrant visas to register with the government. With the exception of North Korea, all of the countries were predominantly Arab or Muslim. More than 1,000 immigrants were detained. None was convicted of terrorism.

Governments in the Middle East and South Asia that had been working with the United States to counter terror were outraged by the harassment of their citizens. It’s hard to work together when one part of the team feels denigrated by the other. The NSEERS program was suspended in 2011 by the Obama administration. Officials concluded that NSEERS had fueled the impression that the United States was hostile to Muslims without stopping criminal acts.

History shows that humiliating national or religious groups on the world stage by restricting their entry makes it harder to keep our allies. It can create new enemies. This ban may put the United States at risk.

The Conversation

David FitzGerald, Theodore E. Gildred Chair in U.S.-Mexican Relations, Professor of Sociology, and Co-Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California, San Diego and David Cook Martín, Professor of Sociology and Assistant Vice President of Global Education, Grinnell College

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

Six Myths About National Security Intelligence

At CIA headquarters on Jan. 17, Drumpf said the ‘dishonest media’ made it appear he was having a feud with the intel community. Olivier Douliery/AP via CNP
At CIA headquarters on Jan. 17, Drumpf said the ‘dishonest media’ made it appear he was having a feud with the intel community. Olivier Douliery/AP via CNP

Frederic Lemieux, Georgetown University

President Trump has gotten off to a rough start with the intelligence community.

The day after being sworn in, Trump spoke at CIA headquarters in an apparent attempt to mend his relationship with the agency. The relationship was frayed in large part due to Trump’s skepticism about an intelligence assessment that suggested Russia had hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Where did this skepticism come from? Trump – along with some security experts – has expressed doubt about the complexity of cyberattack attribution and the reliability of the intelligence sources. This skepticism seems to be fueled by the desire for irrefutable evidence of Russia interference in the election.

At Georgetown University, I study and teach how the intelligence community collects, analyzes and circulates sensitive information to policymakers and elected officials. I’d like to point out some of the misunderstandings about intelligence activities exhibited not only by the new president, but in the media coverage of the Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016.

Correcting these persistent myths is important because they set unrealistic expectations about intelligence production and analysis. These false expectations could damage the credibility of the U.S. intelligence community and its ability to fulfill its mission.

Myth #1: Intelligence and evidence are the same

Intelligence and evidence are starkly different.

Intelligence analysts are tasked with understanding situations that are often multifaceted, forming a judgment about that situation and informing policymakers.

On the other hand, law enforcement investigators produce evidence required to meet legal standards of the burden of proof. In a courtroom, direct proof of a crime – such as DNA, fingerprints, witness testimony or a confession – is the best evidence.

In the intelligence community, analysts have to deal with foreign intelligence agencies and terrorist groups who have the ability to use counterintelligence measures and disinformation campaigns to deceive U.S. intelligence officers and create uncertainty.

It would be unrealistic to expect intelligence agency to always provide “fully proved evidence” in their assessment.

Another reason people are skeptical of intelligence is the lack of explanation on how analysts draw their conclusions.

For example, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified a report on Russia’s role in influencing the U.S. election in early January. In response, Robert Graham, an analyst for a cybersecurity firm, told Wired: “Knowing what data they probably have, they could have given us more details. And that really pisses me off.”

Susan Hennessey, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, sent out the following tweet in response to the report.

 

But these criticisms are misguided, in my opinion. The techniques used by the intelligence agencies must be kept secret to avoid revealing U.S. methods and analysis capabilities to our adversaries.

Myth #2: Intelligence can predict the future

Former President Barack Obama has been criticized for not releasing detailed intelligence assessment about the Russian hacks before the election. Some have said that the intelligence community should have warned the public – sooner and more forcefully – about the impact of Russian interference.

But these criticisms can be attributed to 20/20 hindsight and illustrate the myth that intelligence officials can somehow predict the future.

Despite all the technology available to the intelligence community, we are not yet in the scenario of the movie “Minority Report,” in which special units prevent murders seconds before they happen with the help of psychics and visualization technology.

In fact, the intelligence community has had many failures. It failed to foresee the rapid collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of the Arab Spring and more recently the invasion of Crimea. The intelligence community could not predict the intensity of Russian interference or how close the election would be.

Here’s what they can do. Intelligence agencies produce what is called “national security estimates” which represent an combination of analysts’ opinions. These are rated on a confidence level scale that varies from “almost no chance” to “almost certain.” The rating is based on the quality of information, depth of analysts’ knowledge on the issue, the credibility and reliability of the sources used to produce the intelligence and the ability to corroborate with other sources.

In other words, intelligence estimates are carefully weighed against rigorous criteria to ensure validity and credibility of the assessment. Even so, intelligence agencies deal with plausible scenarios, not predictions.

Myth #3: Intelligence results from covert operations

Perhaps surprisingly, approximately 80 percent of the intelligence used by security agencies is not secret and does not require covert operations.

Most intelligence is gathered through “open sources intelligence,” like internet content; traditional mass media, including television, radio, newspapers and magazines; specialized journals, conference proceedings and think tank studies; photos; maps and commercial imagery; and publicly accessible databases.

There are two main challenges with “open source intelligence.” Sometimes the information needed isn’t available in digital format, and sometimes it’s not in English.

These limitations may sometimes trigger covert operations. But in the majority of cases, intelligence estimates are rather dry reading that includes little bombshell information.

Myth #4: The intelligence community is mainly composed of spies

Since intelligence requirements can be addressed through open sources, the need for spies is relatively low.

Only about 10 percent of the employees of the CIA are covert operatives.

Ninety percent are analysts, managers, scientists and support staff. The vast majority of intelligence employees work at a desk and often possess high-level expertise in geopolitical issues, history and international relations. Very few play James Bond in a foreign country.

Myth #5: Top secret intelligence is seen by small number of people

In the United States, approximately 5.1 million people have security clearance to handle sensitive information. Among this group, 1.4 million received a “top secret” clearance.

“Top secret” is not the most secret clearance. There are also an unknown number of individuals that carry clearance above “top secret” such as “sensitive compartmental information” and “special access programs.”

Such “crowded intelligence environment” increases the risk that sensitive information gets released intentionally or unintentionally.

Myth #6: Only presidents get presidential daily briefings

During the transition period, President Trump created another precedent by delegating the so-called “presidential daily briefing” to Vice President Mike Pence. While this precedent does mean the intel community is losing a regular appointment with the president, it is not unusual for the presidential daily briefing to be read by other people.

It has been reported that, during the Obama administration, this document was seen by more than 30 people, including senior intelligence analysts, White House senior advisers, department secretaries and selected ranking members of Congress.

Despite the number of reviewers, the intelligence community had daily access to Obama for the briefing – something that, so far, President Trump has withheld from them.

The Conversation

Frederic Lemieux, Professor and Program Director of the Master’s degree in Applied Intelligence, Georgetown University

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

Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos and School Choice: Eight Essential Reads

What’s the evidence on school choice programs? Phil Roeder, CC BY
What’s the evidence on school choice programs? Phil Roeder, CC BY

Danielle Douez, The Conversation; Emily Costello, The Conversation, and Kalpana Jain, The Conversation

Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, was questioned on a range of education issues during her confirmation hearing this week. Central to the debate is her major role in supporting school choice policies in her home state.

Her views on this issue are consistent with Trump’s, who during his campaign promised US$20 billion in federal funding for school choice. During the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump Jr. laid out a critique of the U.S. public education system:

“You know why other countries do better on K through 12? They let parents choose where to send their own children to school.”

We turn to The Conversation’s archives to find out what the research says about school choice. And, who is Betsy Devos, anyway?

A billionaire and advocate

Betsy DeVos has never held public office, and neither she nor her children have ever attended a public school. This is unprecedented in the 35-year history of the position of secretary of education.

Her nomination has stirred up questions about her billionaire background and qualifications to serve.

Before her nomination, DeVos spent two decades working in education, primarily advocating for school choice in Michigan. The results of these policies have been mixed, writes Dustin Horbeck of Miami University.

“Stanford University released a study that claims that charter schools in Detroit have a slight edge over public schools. Conversely, a more recent study from New York City’s Independent Budget Office questions whether choice programs actually benefit lower income students.”

When answers depend on the question asked

“School choice” describes policies that allow families to enroll their children in schools other than the ones assigned to them by the public system.

In certain cases, parents may receive state funding – known as school vouchers – to send their children to schools of their choice.

Views on school voucher programs vary widely. As Cornell University’s Glenn Altschuler explains,
there have been school voucher programs since the 19th century, but it is in the past 20 years that the movement has gained steam.

The question is, do school vouchers improve student outcomes?

Michigan State University scholar Joshua Cowen says there is no simple answer:

“What we know about school vouchers depends on what we ask. And what we ask should be informed not only by traditional academic outcomes, such as test scores, but also by a new understanding of the many different ways that schools can contribute to student success.”

Are charters good or bad?

Charter schools offer another way of providing options to parents. These public schools are more autonomous than traditional schools. They are often organized around an educational mission or philosophy.

But, as Cowen writes, not all charter schools are created equally:

“Charters’ governance structure – who can operate a charter and what kind of oversight they face – varies by state. For example, while charter schools in some states are managed by nonprofit organizations, in other states they are run for a fee by for-profit companies.”

Success rates vary. As Cowen points out in a second article:

“One recent study of schools in 27 states containing 95 percent of the nation’s charter students found charter advantages overall, but not necessarily in every state. … Such differences are at least partly due to differences in state laws defining what constitutes a charter school.”

Among concerns about charter schools is trend that has recently emerged – cyber charter schools. David Baker and Bryan Mann of Pennsylvania State University sift through the data on this new hybrid between online learning and the charter school model. The outlook isn’t very good.

“Researchers found these trends across almost all states that they studied: They found lower learning growth in reading in 14 out of the 17 states, and 17 out of 17 states in math.”

Contentious debate

As to Donald Trump Jr.‘s call to look to other countries, Harvard’s Pasi Sahlberg gives us an insider’s look at classrooms in the country that is deemed to have the best school results in the world: Finland.

“In my previous job as director general at the Finnish Ministry of Education in Helsinki, I had an opportunity to host scores of education delegations from the United States. … A common takeaway was that Finnish teachers seem to have much more professional autonomy than teachers in the United States to help students to learn and feel well.”

This difficult debate may be best summed up in the words of University of Colorado’s Kevin Welner.

“Imagine a police officer pulls you over and tickets you for speeding. She tells you she measured you going 50.5 MPH in a 50 MPH zone. No, you reply, my speedometer shows that I was going exactly 49.5. The entire discussion would be absurd, since neither your speedometer nor the officer’s radar gun is sufficiently accurate to support the opposing claims, and a 0.5 MPH difference is not practically meaningful.”

The Conversation

Danielle Douez, Associate Editor, Politics + Society, The Conversation; Emily Costello, Senior Editor, Politics + Society, The Conversation, and Kalpana Jain, Senior Editor, Education, The Conversation

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

Policy Uncertainty Discourages Innovation and Hurts the Environment

Uncertainty around government policy affects how businesses operate and whether they’ll invest in R&D. Pixabay
Uncertainty around government policy affects how businesses operate and whether they’ll invest in R&D. Pixabay

Davis, University of California, Berkeley

Large-scale changes are anticipated for U.S. environmental policies heading into 2017. The new administration has promised a “comprehensive review of all federal regulations,” which include policies aimed at carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, fuel economy standards, oil and gas production, and tax credits for solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars.

Exactly what form these changes will take is unknown. Some believe that most of these policies will be dismantled, while others argue that most of the policies will remain in place. But this is all speculation.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been nominated to be the next EPA administrator, a move widely perceived to indicate large changes ahead.
gageskidmore/flickr, CC BY

What the discussion over what may or may not happen has missed, however, is that this uncertainty in itself is costly. Not knowing what the future holds, companies are less likely to invest in new technologies. To address today’s environmental problems, we need breakthrough technologies that can be widely adopted and exported to the rest of the world. Economists have shown, using both theory and data, that policy uncertainty makes this type of innovation less likely to happen.

Automakers’ dilemma

Perhaps in no other sector is there as much uncertainty as automobiles. U.S. fuel economy standards have been around since the 1970s, but new rules introduced in 2012 mandate a steep climb toward 50+ miles per gallon (mpg) in 2025. There are real questions, however, about whether these rules will be relaxed and, if so, by how much.

The sheer complexity of U.S. fuel economy standards leaves policymakers with lots of options for policy changes. In a new working paper, fellow economist Chris Knittel and I review the complicated requirements imposed on automakers. Different-sized vehicles are treated differently, trucks are treated differently than cars, and alternative-fuel vehicles receive special credits and exemptions. Any or all of these rules could change.

Innovation companies, including Tesla Motors, were founded during a time when federal policy placed a clear emphasis on fuel efficiency. Will that continue?
Wikipedia, CC BY

This uncertainty puts automakers in a difficult position. Do you assume that standards will remain in place, and invest in producing high-mpg vehicles? Do you assume standards will be relaxed, and move toward lower-mpg vehicles? Or do you lie back and make little new investment, waiting to see what will happen?

Irreversible investments and ‘option value’

Economists have long written about exactly this type of decision-making under uncertainty. There is broad evidence, based on both theoretical models and empirical evidence, that companies invest less when they face uncertainty. Using data from the United States and 11 other countries, a new paper by economists Scott Baker, Nick Bloom and Steven Davis, for example, shows a robust negative impact of uncertainty on investment. Companies in the health care and financial sectors are particularly affected by uncertainty, and cut not only investment but also production and employment.

Economist Steven Davis, founder of the Economic Policy Uncertainty Index, presenting his work on the effect of uncertainty on investment earlier this month.
Bosse Johansson, Author provided

Why? The idea is simple. When there is uncertainty, there is “option value” to delaying irreversible investments. In other words, it is often better to wait and see what happens, rather than to make a costly mistake. R&D investments are particularly affected by uncertainty, because the return on these investments is sensitive to what happens with policy.

This literature has clear implications for current U.S. environmental policy. By any measure, there is today an unusually large amount of policy uncertainty, which creates an incentive for companies to delay investments. Why invest today in a new alternative fuel vehicle if fuel economy standards are uncertain? Why invest today in a new technology for producing solar panels, if federal support for renewable energy is in flux?

The Aluminum F-150

Will Ford regret investing in the new aluminum F-150, for example?

Ford just spent US$1 billion over six years to develop a new F-150 truck, with a lighter aluminum-based body and smaller, more fuel-efficient engine. The new truck was built to meet the new fuel economy standards. But if the standards are substantially weakened, Ford could be stuck with a $1 billion mistake.

Ford has invested about $1 billion in making an aluminum truck to improve fuel efficiency based on the assumption that regulations will remain in place.
Sarah Larson, CC BY

Investments like Ford’s new F-150 are particularly sensitive to uncertainty because of the long time horizon. It takes many years for an automaker to develop a new vehicle model, so companies must be particularly careful when pulling the trigger. Today’s policy uncertainty makes it less likely that other companies will follow Ford’s footsteps with large investments in innovative new technologies.

Breakthrough technologies

Perhaps most at risk from policy uncertainty are breakthrough technologies. In energy, in particular, companies often need a long time and lot of money to develop their technologies before coming to market – the so-called valley of death – and uncertainty over government policies can be the difference between success and failure.

Trump’s administration and Congress plan to roll back environmental regulations with the goal of improving corporate profits but the questions around the changes – which regulations will be rescinded and how, for instance – will depress investment in clean energy innovations.
Tony Webster/flickr, CC BY-SA

Imagine trying to convince a venture capital firm to invest in your clean-tech start-up given today’s uncertainty. Sure, you can point to state-level policies in California and elsewhere (although there is uncertainty here too), but the questions around federal policy looms large.

If you are concerned about climate change, like I am, then this delay in the pace of innovation is deeply troubling. With carbon dioxide concentrations continuing to climb, small incremental changes are not going to be enough to address global climate change. We need big, game-changing technologies that can be widely adopted and exported to the rest of the world. And, unfortunately, today’s uncertainty makes this type of innovation less likely to happen.

The Conversation

Lucas Davis, Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley

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