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Letter sent on Jan 7

New Year, Same Shutdown

Trump starts 2019 putting his unneeded border wall over his responsibility to govern.

  1. President Trump has refused to budge on demands for funding for his border wall, despite a broad bipartisan agreement for a funding bill that would reopen the government after a shutdown that is in its third week. Negotiations had taken place last week between Vice President Mike Pence and leaders from both parties. These yielded multiple options for ending the shutdown, including offering some funding for border security or funding the rest of the federal government while lawmakers negotiated for funding for the wall. Trump rejected these, however, after receiving criticism from right-wing propaganda network Fox News that he is caving in to Democrats’ demands.
     
    Instead, Trump is now planning a speech tomorrow (one which will be inexplicably aired by major networks on prime time), in which he may declare a state of emergency in order to build his wall. If true, it would mark a stark and potentially unconstitutional use of executive power. Trump must prove that there is a serious threat to national security that merits such an action and it must be approved by Congress.
     
    The case for this is beyond thin; just six individuals in the terrorism database were stopped at the southern border, a very low number, especially considering almost 8 times as many were apprehended at the northern border. With undocumented migration levels and crimes by migrants (who commit crimes in the US at a lower rate than the native-born population anyway) decreasing to decade-long lows, there is no justification for such an extraordinary measure.
     
    Neither will a state of emergency secure him the funding needed; Trump would only be able to appropriate about half a billion dollars from the Pentagon’s budget without Congress’ say so. His wall costs over ten times that amount.
  2. National security advisor John Bolton was in Israel and Turkey this weekend, seeking to assuage fears about Trump’s planned troop withdrawal from Syria. Bolton walked back Trump’s statement that troops will be withdrawn immediately, instead saying they will stay on until ISIS is defeated and until there are assurances Kurdish troops will not be harmed by Turkey. This will prove cold comfort to Israel and other allies in the region, who find it ever harder to rely on Trump’s word.
  3. A trial began in California today over the Trump administration’s decision to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 U.S. Census. Plaintiffs argue that the question was politically motivated and will cause many non-citizens not to participate in the census due to fears of ending up on ICE’s radar, thereby violating a constitutional law requiring everyone in the US to be counted, regardless of immigration status. This would also cause an undercount in areas with large migrant populations, which tend to lean Democratic. The Department of Justice argues there are measures in place to prevent this and that, perversely, the question is needed to better enforce minority rights. 
     
    There is much at stake. Census data affects everything from government spending allocation to states’ representation in Congress. The Trump administration has a constitutional, if not a moral, imperative to ensure accuracy in this essential government function.
  4. Talks resumed between China and the U.S. today to avert their impending trade war. Officials on both sides have until March 1st to hammer out an agreement to stave off tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods. A general framework would probably involve China agreeing to follow trade rules and buy more American goods in exchange for tariff relief.
     
    A trade war would be disastrous for both countries. China’s economy has been slowing and, if recent stock market losses are any indication, the U.S. is in for its slowdown as well. It remains to be seen whether this makes both sides keen to exploit the other’s vulnerabilities or eager for mutual cooperation.
  5. Jim Yong Kim has resigned as head of the World Bank, leaving for the private sector a full three years before the end of his second term. As the first person without a financial background to lead bank, he was touted as a reformer to an institution many deride as overly bureaucratic and a tool for Western imperialism. He largely fell short of this goal, struggling to reshape the bank to better tackle poverty reduction and other development challenges. Kristalina Georgieva, the current #2, will serve as interim president. 
     
    The resignation allows President Trump to nominate a successor to the post. He has noted his disdain for multilateral institutions like the bank and at one point proposed slashing US spending for it before backing away (World Bank commitments numbered $64 billion in FY 2018.) His administration has also been critical; John Bolton wants the bank privatized, while other officials have complained about its lending to China. 
     
    The US is the World Bank’s biggest lender, and an American has led the bank since its inception in 1945. Some have claimed this allows the US to exert undue influence over its operations; many would prefer the leadership to go to a non-Western individual. While no US nominee has ever been rejected, there is no time like the present.