Money and Politics
April 24, 2017 - Trump's First 100 Days Analysis
Trump's 100 Days: A Rattled Establishment, Some Surprises By Bloomberg
For nearly 100 days, President Donald Trump has rattled Washington and been chastened by its institutions.
He's startled world leaders with his unpredictability and tough talk, but won their praise for a surprise strike on Syria.
He's endured the steady drip of investigations and a seemingly endless churn of public personnel drama.
"It's a different kind of a presidency," Trump said in an Oval Office interview with The Associated Press, an hour-long conversation as he approached Saturday's key presidential benchmark.
Trump, who campaigned on a promise of instant disruption, indirectly acknowledged that change doesn't come quickly to Washington. He showed signs that he feels the weight of the office, discussing the "heart" required to do the job. Although he retained his signature bravado and a salesman's confidence in his upward trajectory, he displayed an understanding that many of his own lofty expectations for his first 100 days in office have not been met.
"It's an artificial barrier. It's not very meaningful," he said.
Trump waffled on whether he should be held accountable for the 100-day plan he outlined with great fanfare in his campaign's closing days, suggesting his "Contract with the American Voter" wasn't really his idea to begin with.
"Somebody put out the concept of a 100-day plan," he said.
One hundred days are just a fraction of a president's tenure, and no president has quite matched the achievements of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who set the standard by which all are now judged.
Still, modern presidents have tried to move swiftly to capitalize upon the potent, and often fleeting, mix of political capital and public goodwill that usually accompanies their arrival in Washington.
Trump has never really had either.
A deeply divisive figure, he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton and had one of the narrower Electoral College victories in history. Since taking office on Jan. 20, his approval rating has hovered around 40 percent in most polls.
Trump's early presidency has been dogged by FBI and congressional investigations into whether his campaign coordinated with Russians to tilt the race in his favor. It's a persistent distraction that Trump would not discuss on the record.
Furthermore, his three months-plus in office have amounted to a swift education in a world wholly unfamiliar to a 70-year-old who spent his career in real estate and reality television.
For example, his two disputed travel ban executive orders are languishing, blocked by federal judges.
On Capitol Hill, majority Republicans muscled through Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, but had to blow up long-standing Senate rules to do so. Then there was the legislative debacle when Trump's own party couldn't come together to fulfill its long-sought promise of repealing President Barack Obama's health care law.
H.W. Brands, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said Trump is learning that "the world is the way it is for a whole bunch of complicated reasons. And changing the guy at the top doesn't change the world."
Trump won't concede that point.
But he acknowledged that being commander in chief brings with it a "human responsibility" that he didn't much bother with in business, requiring him to think through the consequences his decisions have on people and not simply the financial implications for his company's bottom line.
"When it came time to, as an example, send out the 59 missiles, the Tomahawks in Syria," Trump said of his decision to strike a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack. "I'm saying to myself, 'You know, this is more than just like 79 (sic) missiles. This is death that's involved because people could have been killed. This is risk that's involved.'"
"Here, everything, pretty much everything you do in government involves heart, whereas in business most things don't involve heart," he said. "In fact, in business you're actually better off without it."
As for accomplishments, Trump cited "tremendous success" on an undefined strategy for defeating the Islamic State group. He talked at length about saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars on the price of F-35 fighter jets. Trump held meetings during the transition and in the White House with the CEO of Lockheed Martin, which produces the F-35, but the cost-savings were already in the works when he took office.
He promised a tax overhaul plan that would give Americans a tax cut bigger than "any tax cut ever."
A man accustomed to wealth and its trappings, Trump has embraced life in the Executive Mansion, often regaling guests with trivia about the historic decor. With the push of a red button placed on the Resolute Desk that presidents have used for decades, a White House butler soon arrived with a Coke for the president.
It's too soon to say whether the presidency has changed Trump in substantive ways. He's backpedaled on an array of issues in recent weeks, including his critiques of NATO and his threats to label China a currency manipulator. But his self-proclaimed flexibility means he could move back to where he started just as quickly.
Stylistically, Trump remains much the same as during the campaign.
He fires off tweets at odd hours of the morning and night, sending Washington into a stir with just a few words. Trump still litigates the presidential campaign, mentioning multiple times during the interview how difficult it is for a Republican presidential nominee to win the Electoral College.
He is acutely aware of how he's being covered in the media, rattling off the ratings for some of his television appearances. But he says he's surprised even himself with some recent self-discipline: He's stopped watching what he perceives as his negative coverage on CNN and MSNBC, he said.
"I don't watch things, and I never thought I had that ability," he said. "I always thought I'd watch."
For the moment, Trump seems to have clamped down on the infighting and rivalries among his top White House staffers that have spilled into the press and created a sense of paranoia in the West Wing. He praised his national security team in particular and said his political team in the White House doesn't get the credit it deserves for their work in a high-pressure setting.
"This is a very tough environment," he said. "Not caused necessarily by me."
April 07, 2017 - Trump Orders Syria Missile Strike
Donald Trump Did Exactly What Hillary Clinton Said on Syria By The Street
Hours before President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes in Syria, the woman who almost beat him to the White House weighed in on Syria, indicating her approach might not have been different than his.
Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, speaking with New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof at the Women in the World Summit in New York on Thursday, discussed her take on the civil war in Syria, some of which unfolded while she served as secretary of state in the Obama administration. Her reflections came hours before the president ordered a missile strike on Syrian government-controlled air bases in retaliation for chemical attacks carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"I really believe that we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them," she said, anticipating the maneuver Trump would make hours later.
Syria is a stain on the Obama administration and in Clinton's legacy, and Kristof asked her whether she believes it was Obama's worst foreign policy mistake as president, or hers.
"When I was secretary of state I teamed up with Dave Petraeus, then director of CIA, Leon Panetta, then secretary of defense, to present a plan for us to move more aggressively to support protesters to try to provide some back up in what was -- I thought -- likely to turn out to be a very one-sided battle," she said. "This was before ISIS came to public awareness for a caliphate and their setting up headquarters in Rocca. I believed that and I've said this repeatedly that we should've done more at that point."
She clarified that such decisions aren't easy.
Clinton promoted and still believes the U.S. should have enacted a no-fly zone and been more willing to confront Assad. She noted that Russia and Iran were slow to get involved in the early days of the conflict.
She called Syria's Assad a "prisoner of his family's expectations," noting that it was his late brother, not him, who was expected to succeed his father in power.
"He is absolutely a prisoner of his family's expectations, his dead father's looming president, and his delusion that I believe he now probably could pass a lie detector about that everybody who opposes him is a terrorist," she said, comparing him to Russian President Vladimir Putin in that line. "That's how Putin thinks. And Putin has basically weighed in, particularly, with air power to support this fight-to-the-death policy that Assad has. I think that we've got to try to change the dynamic."
Russia, an ally to Syria, condemned U.S. airstrikes in Syria on Friday, calling the move an "aggression against a sovereign nation" carried out under an "invented pretext." It suspended a 2015 memorandum of understanding on air operations between Russia and the U.S.
Iran spoke out against the United States' actions as well, saying that they would lead to "the strengthening of failing terrorists" and complicate the situation in the region.
Clinton on Thursday admitted she is no friend of Russia or Putin and spoke at length about Russia's meddling in the U.S. election to stack the deck against her. She invoked her take on Russia and Syria on the campaign trail.
"All through the campaign I would say, 'I'm for a no-fly zone,' and immediately, whether it was in the primary or the general election, people would ask, 'Aren't you afraid of Russians?' It's time the Russians were afraid of us because we were going to stand up for human rights, the dignity and the future of Syrian people, and I actually had a lot of confidence that I could say to Putin and his team, 'Look, whether you're with us or against us with this no-fly zone and here's what we're going to do,'" she said.
Of course, it is now Trump who is on a potential collision course with Putin and will shape the future of Syria policy for the United States.
"I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types," Trump said in a statement Thursday evening. "We hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony, in the end, will prevail."
"It is in our interest, we've got to start, once again, recognizing norms of behavior in our own country and globally as just as important to keeping peace and preventing atrocities as any law that is written down," Clinton said just hours before him. "People have to know that they will be held accountable as war criminals, as committing crimes against humanity, if they engage in these kinds of aggressive violence acts."
April 03, 2017 - Trump and the H-1B Visa Program
Trump Cracks Down on H-1B Visa Program That Feeds Silicon Valley By Bloomberg
U.S. toughens H-1B applications for overseas programmers.
Tech and outsourcing companies depend on the visas for talent.
The U.S. administration began to deliver on President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to crack down on a work visa program that channels thousands of skilled overseas workers to companies across the technology industry.
Fed up with a program it says favors foreign workers at the expense of Americans, the Trump administration rolled out a trio of policy shifts. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency on Friday made it harder for companies to bring overseas tech workers to the U.S. using the H-1B work visa. On Monday, the agency issued a memo laying out new measures to combat what it called "fraud and abuse" in the program. The Justice Department also warned employers applying for the visas not to discriminate against U.S. workers.
Trump campaigned on a promise to overhaul the immigration system, calling for companies to hire more Americans instead of outsourcing jobs to countries with cheaper labor or bringing in lower-paid foreign workers. Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies, many of which were founded or run by immigrants, depend on H-1Bs and say efforts to thwart immigration threaten innovation, recruitment and startup formation. Trump’s executive orders restricting travel from a handful of Muslim-majority nations led to unprecedented opposition from the industry.
But there’s also broad recognition that reform is needed, given several high-profile examples where American employees have been replaced by lower-paid foreign workers through the program. Advocates for immigrants’ rights also argue H-1B workers are easily exploited because their legal status is tied to a particular employer. The Economic Policy Institute estimated there were about 460,000 people working on H-1B visas in 2013.
This week’s moves weren’t the administration’s first attempts to adjust the program. Last month, the immigration department suspended a system that expedited visa processing for certain skilled workers who paid extra. But people who have been pushing for reform had become frustrated in recent weeks that the Trump administration wasn’t moving fast enough.
Outsourcing firms are considered the worst abusers of the system, an impression that the tech industry has been happy to encourage. Monday’s USCIS announcement targets those firms, with the agency saying it will focus inspections on workplaces with the largest percentage of H-1B workers, and those with employees who do IT work for other companies. Shares of Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., Infosys Ltd., Wipro Ltd. and Accenture Plc each slipped more than 1 percent on Monday.
Microsoft Corp., Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc., Cognizant, Wipro and Accenture didn’t respond to requests to comment. Infosys declined to comment, while Tata Consulting Services Ltd. said it has reduced use of high-skilled H-1B visas, while creating more U.S. IT services jobs.
The new guidelines released Friday require additional information for computer programmers applying for H-1B visas to prove the jobs are complicated and require more advanced knowledge and experience. It’s effective immediately, so it will change how companies apply for the visas in an annual lottery process that begins Monday. The changes don’t explicitly prohibit applications for a specific type of job. Instead, they bring more scrutiny to those for computer programmers doing the simplest jobs.
"This is a step in the right direction in terms of tightening up the eligibility," said Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University, who has done extensive research on the H-1B program. "You’re going to have to beef up your argument for why you need this person."
Technology and outsourcing companies are the heaviest users of the H-1B visa, which is the largest program for temporary foreign workers in the U.S. by a wide margin. India-based outsourcing companies receive a disproportionate percentage of the visas and tend to pay lower salaries than U.S.-based tech firms. Employers sought H-1B visas for more than 13,000 computer programmers in 2016, citing an average salary of about $72,000, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Caitlin Webber. About half of the visas sought last year were for computer-related positions, she said.
Computer programmers made up about 12 percent of all H-1B applications certified by the Department of Labor in 2015. Of those, 41 percent were for positions at the lowest wage level, defined as jobs requiring people to perform routine tasks that require them to exercise little judgment on their own. The guidelines issued Friday refer specifically to entry-level computer programmers, which the U.S. Department of Labor defines as those who write and test code to allow computer applications and software to work properly.
“This is not a change in policy on H-1B and H-1B1 eligibility in computer-related fields,” CeCe Gwathmey, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency, said in an email, referencing the March 31 document. The memorandum rescinded a 17-year-old set of guidelines that “relied on obsolete information and had not been used as a standard” to decide on H-1B petitions for many years, she said.
Still, the administration hasn’t thrown its lot in with any of the plans for broader changes to the program. Lawmakers from both parties have introduced several bills this year. One would replace the current random lottery with a system that gives priority to companies paying higher salaries. Another would explicitly prohibit companies from replacing qualified U.S. workers with H-1B workers.
Scott Corley, executive director Compete America, a coalition of employers that rely on high-skilled immigrants, said in a statement Monday that H-1B reform should be part of a broader re-assessment of the country’s immigration priorities. “Our nation’s outdated legal immigration system relies heavily on a single temporary visa category, the H-1B, to prove work authorization for every kind of high-skilled foreign professional we recruit,” he said.
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