Will Harvard Have to Move to Canada? Will Google? Will New York City?

After yesterday’s evil, stupid and frightening Executive Order, and its chaotic, confused and terrifying so-called “implementation,” the question has to be asked whether currently US institutions like those listed above (Harvard, Google, New York City) will be allowed to operate according to their internationalist, intellectual, and truth-respecting values.  Because, if the answer is no, then they are going to start thinking about moving first certain operations, and then their leadership, to other countries.

For modern institutions, free flow of ideas, scholarship, thinkers, and contributors is critical, and a rational fair border flow policy is critical.  If a country can not offer that any more, then those organizations that make the country home will suffer massive competitive disadvantages.  And so will the countries from which those institutions then start to move.  Low tax rates only make a difference if you have income.

I am struck by the analogy to the state travel boycotts, and threats of boycott, that played such a role in the recent dis-empowering of homophobia.  Many states were forced to back down by those boycotts and threats of boycotts.  As time goes by, maybe countries will start to face the same dynamics.  It is no good pressuring a corporation to reduce job losses at an in-US plant if there is no intellectual property creating a product that will be wanted enough to keep the previously “saved” jobs producing anything.

Judicial intervention tonight makes this less immediately likely, but unless long term sanity is returned to government, leaders of such institutions will be forced to start to make contingency plans, or cease to be seen as international leaders.

Maybe the current spasms are the death throes of a long dying nationalistic international order, rather than an existential threat to the still emerging international one that has been developing ever since the end of World War II.

I hope that internationalist institutions will find a way to underline the stakes.

p.s. In a model statement, Harvard indeed has.  See here.

The Post Presidency — No, No, Not That One, Not Obama’s But Trump’s

If you know anyone who still denies that Republicans have been playing with fire, ask them what they think the Trump post-presidency will look like.

Regardless of who succeeds him, there are bound to be endless undercutting tweets, constant attacks on any even mild criticism of his prior presidency or policy changes from it, absolute disregard for truth, ongoing contempt for the norms of both political and human discourse, demonization of opponents and minorities, and repeated deligitimization of the political system.

And, if Trump or his choice will have been defeated in the election, this will all be then be accompanied by continuing attempts to undercut the result and the legitimacy of the election and his successor.

Those enablers who will have brought this on themselves will know who they are.  I trust it will be some comfort to them that they will have brought it on all of us too.

Bottom line.  Regardless of whether he is removed by impeachment, the procedures of the 25th Amendment, the completion of two terms, or denial of reelection, by the time he is gone he must have no legitimacy left with any group beyond the absolute fringe.  This is the responsibility of all, but the more a group has enabled him so far, the greater their responsibility in the days to come.  The question is if and when they will realize it.

Memo to World: Just Ignore Everything Trump Says

After the latest Trump brouhaha , this time the on again and off again new arms race, the lesson is simple.  We, the whole world, has to learn to completely ignore what he says, with two exceptions below.

The reason for the no-attention policy is that Trump is so all over the place, and the motives of he and his team so complex or irrational, or changing, that relying on anything will cause gross errors in strategy, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Most likely this is all intentional misdirection.  The danger of misdirection, of course, is that when people figure out what you are doing, the risk is that you are giving away what you are trying to hide.  Think of the D-Day deception.  The more a magician does with one hand, the more you know you have to pay attention to the other hand.

We all have to focus on appointments (terrifying), formal proposals (not clear yet) and other actual actions.  So, mere talk of an arms race, irrelevant.  Appointment of a warmonger or weapons contract advocate, scary and happening already, but yet cause for action.  Ordering a new weapons system, finally proof that the anxiety was right and now actionable.

If you really know the context of the words, including the bureaucratic situation, Trumps mood and context, and the interests in play, you may, repeat may, be able to make some inferences, but be really careful.

The only exception to this rule is that is words can be a guide to his mental state (relevant under the 25th Amendment) and to what can be best called his “psycho-strategy,” In other words how he intends to get inside the brains of those who would support or oppose him.

The other exception, of course, is that is his behavior opens every opportunity to de-legitimate his intellectual, moral and political authority.


How do you ask someone to be the first American to die for a Putin policy?

Testifying against the Vietnam war in 1971, John Kerry famously asked “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Today, given Trumps’s conflicts and the likely illegitimacy of the election result, due to the events that led to the CIA hacking finding, we now have to ask:

How do you ask someone to be the first person to die for a Trump hotel?

How do you ask someone to be the first person to die for a Putin policy?

I do not know how to answer the question, but I do know that this country is heading towards the largest crisis of leadership legitimacy it has ever faced.

Congress Should Pass a Concurrent Resolution urging Trump Not to Allow His Administration to Do Anything That Helps Putin Till the Election Hacking Issue is Resolved

Congress must pass a Concurrent Resolution that would urge Trump and his administration not to do anything of benefit to Putin or Russia until the election hacking questions are at least preliminarily resolved.

The rationale for this is simple and essentially unarguable:  Putin should derive no benefit from the actions now confirmed by the CIA.

The most obvious example of such a benefit would be Trump’s removal of Obama’s Crimea sanctions, (great news for a certain oil company) but there are plenty of other ways that Trump could reward Putin.

Interestingly, if Trump were serious about protecting the national interest, he would immediately agree to such a pause, because any other message makes our political system an open target for all, without any disincentive.

What a legacy that would be for President Trump?  How great would such an America be?

The more you think about this, the more terrifying it becomes, and the more we appear to be relying on the integrity of a tiny number of Republican Senators to stop such an outcome.


A Tale of Two Briefings

Is not clear to me whether Trump’s reluctance to listen to intelligence briefings, or the intelligence worlds reluctance to provide substantive ones, is greater.

So these two authenticated transcripts, in one case an extract and the other the full one, should be useful in understanding the dynamics.

One: Extract From Daily Presidential Briefing to President Obama

Briefer:  Mr President, here are the highlights.  Our KH satellites picked up additional movement of advisors into Syria, and HUMINT confirms a strengthening relationship between Asad and Putin.  In Ukraine, intercepts show anxiety in the pro-Russian rebel leadership that you successor will get Putin to sell them out.  We are picking up increasing doubts about the EU in Hungary, but increasing support in Poland.  There is a cabinet crisis not yet publicly reported in the Czech Republic  .  .   .

President:  Stop there.  Do you have that overall Europe assessment done yet?  Why has your Ukraine analysis changed?


Two:  Full Text of Occasional Weekly Briefing of President Elect Trump

Briefer:  Good Morning Mr Preisdent-Elect

Trump:  Hi, what’s up?

Briefer:  Not much.

Trump: Fine, bye.  See you next week.


First Thoughts on the CIA Finding — We Need A Roberts Commission and Beyond

While there is a long history of countries (including ours) finding ways to mess with their opponent’s political system, this is sui generis, and leads to a thousand thoughts on where this takes us and leaves us.

The Threat of Illegitimacy and a Response

This is, actually,most parallel to the Kennedy assassination, in which fears of external influence were deeply believed, and deeply destabilizing.  President Johnson prevailed upon Chief Justice Earl Warren to take leadership of the Commission he established because he believed that Warren’s institutional and personal credibility would resolve doubts.  While the effort was far from fully successful, at least it was sufficiently so as to maintain the stability o our political system.

We need an equivalent non-partisan, completely credible, and fully supported process.  If Chief Justice Roberts can not be trusted, then we need a new Chief Justice, although I suspect that he is sufficiently an institutionalist that he can be trusted.  Given the increasing fear developing in the “traditional” GOP about this whole issue, it may well be that they would go all in.  Trump of course, could not b part of it, nor his minions, rather however it is set up, it must be done so all the agencies cooperate, without intervention from the White House.  I suspect that this has to be set up and in place before the inauguration.  I suspect that this first Commission would focus only on getting the facts out.

Assuming that Election Impact is Found, There are Ways to Shape US-Internal Consequences

What the consequences for our government leadership are to be has to be depends on the facts.  The problem will be getting in place a system capable of responding to the findings of the Commission.  Assuming that the finding is that there was an effort to get Trump in, and that we can not be sure if this is a cause-in-fact of the result, we are in a terrible place, although one compromise might then be that the party result remains the same, but a new Republican has to be chosen, untainted by any whiff of involvement, encouragement, or lack of concern.  The problem in terms of getting rid of him may be that Trump will not have committed an impeachable offense.

If, on the other hand, the result is found to be caused by the intervention — not impossible given current statistical tools — then may we need an urgent constitutional one time re-write to permit a new election.  That would need a broad national consensus, but if all the prior presidents joined in support, maybe it it could happen.  (And, since we know that Reagan is immortal, his ghost could chime in.)

Of course, it is also not impossible that an “innocent” President Trump would none the less commit an impeachable offense in the attempt to cover up the illegitimacy of his presidency.  It is also possible, as discussed here, that the “unable” language of the 25th Amendment would apply, particularly if Trump’s tendency to be out of touch with reality were exacerbated by the investigation and deterioration of this political situation.

Really Weird Things Could be Found

Supposing, for example, that it turned out that the emails found on Weiner’s computer that led to the FBI intervention in the election had been placed there by the Russians.  Or that hacking had created conflicts between Republican Presidential candidates that had not been there before.  (To think of more ideas, just speculate about what Nixon’s gang would have done if they had had high level hacking capacity.)

The Long Term Threat Goes Far Beyond Elections

Anyone in the leadership elite should be terrified by this.  Think what it threatens to corporations, banks, universities, the media, etc.  They are subject to just the same kind of disruption and potential blackmail as the political players at issue.  They are already deeply fearful of Trump, and this might give them a bit more spine.

The US is Ultimately Less Vulnerable Than Authoritarian Countries

While the interrelated epidemic of false news has made it harder to know what to believe, countries are far more vulnerable to this kindof thing when people basically don’t believe anything they get from media — which is what happened when you have centrally controlled media.  While their elections are not so much subject to disruption than ours, simply because they do not have them in any real sense, the economy, the inner network of real decision makers, the academic and media worlds, are totally subject to interference.  Those countries are not controlled not by a publicly derived and legitimated consensus, but by complex signals in a highly uncertain world, which if properly penetrated, can be caused to collapse.

Protecting Ourselves in the Future

Largely ignored is the simple truth that the best defense again hacking is transparency.

P.S. I would particularly urge you to share this with your networks, particularly anyone you know in media.