Is the Russian military testing Trump?

640px-MiG-29_fuselageA Russian spy ship was spotted Tuesday sailing just off the U.S. east coast.  Also on Tuesday, the administration confirmed that Russia had deployed ground-based cruise missiles in violation of a 1987 treaty.  Last Friday, four Russian jets buzzed an American ship in the Black Sea.

Such provocations sound like Vladimir Putin is testing our new president, who created the impression when Iran was doing this sort of thing that he would not tolerate it.  Putin tested Obama like this all the time, drawing conclusions about his weakness.

It will be interesting to see what President Trump does.

It has been alleged that the Russians helped Trump get elected.  Trump has floated the idea of eliminating the sanctions against Russia for invading the Ukraine and annexing the Crimea.  But Trump’s new secretary of state and secretary of defense have talked tough about keeping the sanctions.  And being overly cozy with the Russian ambassador is what got national security advisor Michael Flynn fired.

Why do you think Putin would throw his weight around like this?

If Trump ignores these incidents, he might look weak, or even in thrall to Putin.  If Trump reacts, he needs to be measured and must not over-react, qualities that have not been his strong suit.

At any rate, this may be President Trump’s first foreign relations test.

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Trump’s national security advisor resigns

Michael_T_FlynnMichael Flynn, President Trump’s national security advisor, has resigned.  He was caught negotiating with the Russian ambassador over sanctions before taking office.  It is illegal for a private citizen to do so.  Flynn also lied to Vice-President Pence about it.

The pressure for him to leave evidently came from Trump himself.

Embattled White House national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned Monday night, two sources tell CNN.

His departure came just after reports surfaced the Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. [Read more…]

Appeals court rejects Trump’s immigration ban

SeaTac_Airport_protest_against_immigration_ban_02 (1)The lower court that blocked President Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven terrorist-plagued countries was upheld by an appeals court.  Next stop, more than likely:  the Supreme Court.

I understand that lots of people are pro-immigration and feel compassion for refugees from some of these dangerous countries.  But I’m curious about the legal reasoning.  As I understand it, the executive branch has the statutory authority to regulate immigration, including excluding citizens of nations on the basis of national interest.  And I can’t see how this ban is discriminatory.  This isn’t the ban on Muslims that Trump proposed during the campaign.  Most of the world’s Muslims can come in, just not those from the seven countries with a history of terrorism.

But Trump is thwarted, which makes him angry.  And, as is his custom, he responds to criticism by “hitting back,” slamming the “so-called judge” that delivered the initial decision, which does not help his case with the judicial branch.  Even his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was bothered by that.

UPDATE:  Here is the statue in U.S. law, which was not even referenced in the judges’ ruling:

“Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”

According to this analysis, the judges’ ruling focused on two issues:  (1) the administration’s contention that the executive order was “unreviewable” by a court, which was predictably rejected; (2) that the president’s campaign statement about not allowing Muslims into the country invalidated what would otherwise be a lawful order. (That makes no sense whatsoever!)

UPDATE:  Trump now says he will not at the present time take the case to the Supreme Court.  He will pursue it in lower courts.  And he may rewrite the order so that it passes legal muster.

Photo:  SeaTac Airport protest against immigration ban by Dennis Bratland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Should tax-exempt churches be allowed to preach politics?

37_Lyndon_Johnson_3x4In 1954, President Lyndon Baines Johnson pushed through a law that would revoke the tax-exempt status of churches and other non-profit organizations if they get involved with politics.  President Donald Trump wants to get rid of that law.

What do you think?  Granted that an overtly political focus can make a church this-worldly instead of attending to the Kingdom of Heaven.  But shouldn’t churches have the right to teach whatever they please as a matter of religious liberty?  And doesn’t political speech deserve special protection from the Constitution?  But can you foresee problems if the Johnson amendment were to be thrown out (such as churches being used to launder political contributions)?

 

Photo of Lyndon Baines Johnson by Arnold Newman, White House Press Office (WHPO) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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A catalog of fake news stories about Trump

2567469865_df9540bb12_zTrump’s opponents seem to have coined the term “fake news” to describe hearsay and rumors that circulated on the internet in support of his campaign.

But now the anti-Trump hysteria has reached such a fever pitch that the mainstream media is churning out fake news about the president and his administration.  Never mind professional standards of objectivity and fact-checking.  Journalists are publishing and broadcasting stories apparently devised solely to fire up “the resistance.”

Daniel Payne at The Federalist has compiled a list of 16 fake news stories about our new president.  As he shows in his discussion, these are not stories whose facts are in dispute.  Each of these has been found false by the newspapers or broadcasters that published them.  They put up corrections, which, of course, receive little attention as the false reports continue to spread on Twitter and FaceBook.

This is not a comprehensive list.  What other fake news stories are not included here? [Read more…]

Betsy DeVos wins confirmation, barely

Betsy_DeVos_2005_cropThe Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, after an intense Democratic effort to stop her.  With two Republicans voting against her, the final vote was tied, meaning that Vice President Pence, exercising his prerogative as president of the Senate, cast the deciding vote in her favor.

DeVos is an educational reform activist and a champion for school choice and vouchers for private education (including Christian schools and homeschools). Democrats, with their big constituency of teachers’ unions, condemned her lack of experience with public education.

Photo of Betsy DeVos by Keith A. Almli (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Betsy_Devos.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons