New kind if potent virus discovered in the ocean

https://futurism.com/?p=120549

—– excerpt below —–

Secret Domination

The ocean is crowded. As many as 10 million viruses can be found squirming in a single millilitre of its water, and it turns out they have friends we never even knew about.

Scientists have discovered a previously unknown family of viruses that dominate the ocean and can’t be detected by standard lab tests. Researchers suspect this viral multitude may already exist outside the water — maybe even inside us.

“We don’t think it’s ocean-specific at all,” says environmental microbiologist Martin Polz from MIT.

Polz and his MIT team, together with researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, analysed three months’ worth of ocean water samples collected off the Massachusetts coast.

Electron microscope’s view of the non-tailed viruses. Image Credit: Kauffman et al.

What they found floating in the water isn’t just remarkable for what it possesses, but for what it doesn’t.

Tailless Wonders

According to the researchers, the most abundant viruses on the entire planet are double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) viruses, of which the ‘tailed’ variety (Caudovirales) are the most well-known to science.

Their mysterious tail-less counterparts are far less understood, chiefly because their biological characteristics aren’t easily picked up by common tests.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t be found. In their new study, the researchers were able to incubate tail-less viruses extracted from the waves lapping Massachusetts’ shores, and sequenced their DNA.

Of 200 viruses infecting a culture of Vibrionaceae (a family of common marine bacteria), 18 turned out to belong to a new family of small, non-tailed dsDNA viruses.

The team calls their discovery Autolykiviridae, after Autolykos (“the wolf itself”): a character from Greek mythology, who as a trickster and thief proved similarly tricky to catch.

But Autolykiviridae has been caught, and now that we know about it, the discovery is helping scientists to fill in a large missing link in virus evolution.

The tail-less viruses look to be representatives of an ancient viral lineage defined by specific types of capsids, the protein shell that encases viral DNA — which we knew commonly infects animals and single-celled organisms, but not bacteria.

The genomes of this new family are very short compared to tailed viruses, composed of about 10,000 bases, instead of the typical 40,000–50,000 for tailed viruses.

Ruthless Killers

In addition, while most viruses prey on just one or two types of bacteria, the tail-less kind looks to be able to infect dozens of different types in a variety of species, suggesting it plays an outsized role in terms of regulating (or killing) bacterial life within the ocean.

And then some. In experiments with over 300 strains of Vibrionaceae, the Autolykiviridae punched well above their weight compared to tailed bacteriophages.

Click to View Full Infographic

“They caused about 40 percent of the bacterial killing observed, despite comprising just 10 percent of the viruses that we isolated,” explains one of the team, microbiologist Libusha Kelly.

That ruthless efficiency might not be restricted to the deep blue sea.

With the genome in hand, the researchers searched DNA databases to see if evidence of similar, Autolykiviridae-like viruses had already been studied by scientists. Your stomach came up in the results.

“We’ve found related viral sequences in the [human] gut microbiome,” Kelly says, “but we don’t yet know how they influence microbial communities in the gut or how important they are for health.”

There’s a lot more research to be done to understand what the implications of these viruses are – in the ocean, and in ecosystems like the human body too – but it’s already clear the discovery of these elusive parasites is a big catch in itself.

“[This] opens new avenues for furthering our understanding of the roles of viruses in the ocean,” says marine biologist Jed Fuhrman from the University of Southern California, who was not involved in the research.

“In a practical sense, it also shows how we need to alter some commonly used methods in order to capture these kinds of viruses for various studies. I’d say it is an important advance in the field.”

The findings are reported in Nature.

“Self-Driving Cars in a City Like No Other”

“Self-Driving Cars in a City Like No Other” @olivercameron https://news.voyage.auto/self-driving-cars-in-a-city-like-no-other-c9b38807a9a6

— excerpt below —

With so many miles of road, high-resolution mapping of the community is a crucial piece of the puzzle to solve before we can serve residents. We are thrilled to be partnering with CARMERA, a world-class provider of real-time, street-level intelligence for autonomous vehicles. We simply wouldn’t be able to move as fast as we would like without a partner like CARMERA, for what we believe is the largest deployment (by area size) of self-driving cars in the world.

Exception to 2nd Law of Thermal dynamics: reversal of “time” ?

https://futurism.com/?p=113786

—– excerpt below —–

The Arrow of Time
The second law of thermodynamics states that in an isolated system, entropy will increase with time and the movement of heat will always flow from hotter bodies to cooler ones. However, a new experiment by an international team of researchers shows that this thermodynamic “arrow of time” is not an absolute concept.

For their experiment, the researchers looked at correlated particles. These are conceptually similar to the entangled particles at the core of quantum research, but they are not as closely bonded.

The researchers started their experiment with the molecule trichloromethane, which is made up of hydrogen and carbon. They then made the nucleus of the hydrogen atom warmer than the nucleus of the carbon atom and watched the flow of energy.

When the nuclei of the two atoms were uncorrelated, heat flowed from the hotter to the cooler nucleus, as expected. But when the nuclei were correlated, heat flowed “backwards” — the hotter nucleus grew hotter and the cooler nucleus grew cooler.

According to the researchers, their experiment doesn’t violate the second law of thermodynamics because the law doesn’t take into account correlated particles — their experiment simply reveals an exception to the rule. A paper outlining this research has been uploaded to the arXiv server.

The Quest for Understanding
This experiment is yet another example of science yielding previously unknown information about the mysterious world around us, and each new discovery seemingly leads to new questions.

As more and more research goes into quantum computing, scientists are finding that we still have a lot to learn about the quantum world, and the makeup of the universe — specifically, dark energy and dark matter — is still largely unexplained despite regular research. We’ve also yet to uncover the elusive theory of everything — a single equation that explains all natural physical processes in the universe — though we do have some solid leads.

Clearly, we still have much to learn about our universe. This remarkable exception to the second law of thermodynamics proves that even concepts that we think we understand quite well could have hidden intricacies that will continue to elude us until creative experiments, like those conducted by this international team of researchers, are developed and conducted.

However, with each individual experiment, we expand our collective knowledge and take another step down the path to truly understanding how our world functions.

—– excerpt below ——

The Arrow of Time

The second law of thermodynamics states that in an isolated system, entropy will increase with time and the movement of heat will always flow from hotter bodies to cooler ones. However, a new experiment by an international team of researchers shows that this thermodynamic “arrow of time” is not an absolute concept.

For their experiment, the researchers looked at correlated particles. These are conceptually similar to the entangled particles at the core of quantum research, but they are not as closely bonded.

The researchers started their experiment with the molecule trichloromethane, which is made up of hydrogen and carbon. They then made the nucleus of the hydrogen atom warmer than the nucleus of the carbon atom and watched the flow of energy.

When the nuclei of the two atoms were uncorrelated, heat flowed from the hotter to the cooler nucleus, as expected. But when the nuclei were correlated, heat flowed “backwards” — the hotter nucleus grew hotter and the cooler nucleus grew cooler.

According to the researchers, their experiment doesn’t violate the second law of thermodynamics because the law doesn’t take into account correlated particles — their experiment simply reveals an exception to the rule. A paper outlining this research has been uploaded to the arXivserver.

The Quest for Understanding

This experiment is yet another example of science yielding previously unknown information about the mysterious world around us, and each new discovery seemingly leads to new questions.

As more and more research goes into quantum computing, scientists are finding that we still have a lot to learn about the quantum world, and the makeup of the universe — specifically, dark energy and dark matter — is still largely unexplained despite regular research. We’ve also yet to uncover the elusive theory of everything — a single equation that explains all natural physical processes in the universe — though we do have some solid leads.

Clearly, we still have much to learn about our universe. This remarkable exception to the second law of thermodynamics proves that even concepts that we think we understand quite well could have hidden intricacies that will continue to elude us until creative experiments, like those conducted by this international team of researchers, are developed and conducted.

However, with each individual experiment, we expand our collective knowledge and take another step down the path to truly understanding how our world functions.

Cancer drug has Anti ageing properties

https://futurism.com/?p=113944

A Key Enzyme
A new study has been able to extend the lifespan of worms and flies by inhibiting RNA polymerase III (Pol III). Since the enzyme is common to all animal species, including humans, researchers hope the discovery could lead to groundbreaking new therapies.

Researchers have long known that Pol III plays a key role in cell growth and the production of proteins, but recent insights revealed that when its activity was reduced during adulthood, the survival of yeast cells (as well as the longevity of flies and worms) could be extended by an average of 10 percent.

“We’ve uncovered a fundamental role for Pol III in adult flies and worms: its activity negatively impacts stem cell function, gut health and the animal’s survival,” commented first author Danny Filer of the UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing, in a press release. “When we inhibit its activity, we can improve all these. As Pol III has the same structure and function across species, we think its role in mammals and humans warrants investigation as it may lead to important therapies.”

Yeast, flies, and worms were selected for the study as they are not closely related, but all bear the enzyme. Various techniques, including insertional mutagenesis and RNA mediated interference, were used to inhibit Pol III and observe the results.

When it was inhibited in the gut of flies and worms, they lived longer. This was also the case when it was inhibited in only the flies’ intestinal stem cells.

Extending Life
The results of Pol III inhibition have been compared to reactions to the immune-suppressing drug rapamycin, which is taken by cancer patients and organ transplant recipients. The drug has previously been shown to extend the lifespan of dogs. This latest study could help researchers better understanding exactly how rapamycin actually works.

“We now think that Pol III promotes growth and accelerates aging in response to a signal inhibited by rapamycin and that inhibiting Pol III is sufficient to result in flies living longer as if they were given rapamycin,” said co-author Dr. Nazif Alic. “If we can investigate this mechanism further and across a wider range of species, we can develop targeted antiaging therapies.”

The rapamycin compound was first discovered on Easter Island and has since been used to create drugs capable of extending the lives of several species. However, there hasn’t been a study of its effects on human subjects — at least not yet.

Gaining a further understanding of the mechanism behind rapamycin could certainly make the idea of a human trial more tenable. The team plans to continue their research into how inhibiting Pol III effects an adult organism, and why doing so results in a longer lifespan. An anti-aging pill is still a long way off, but this type of research could provide some key foundational knowledge.

Commander in Thief: Profiteering from the Presidency

https://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/january-february-march-2018/commander-in-thief/

— excerpt below —

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January/February/March 2018
Commander in Thief
How much of Trump’s profiteering is unconstitutional, and how much is just sleazy? A field guide.

by Nicole Narea MAGAZINE
Jim Watson/Getty Images
Fête accompli: Donald Trump has spent more than a quarter of his presidency patronizing his own commercial properties. Each visit—like this state dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping—funnels public money into his pocket.
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No story has gripped Washington’s attention over the last year more than the Russia investigation. Robert Mueller’s inquest draws ever closer to the president. Three congressional committees are at least going through the motions of conducting their own probes. One breathtaking media scoop follows another. The question at the heart of it all is whether Donald Trump violated the law or the Constitution—and, ultimately, whether those violations merit his impeachment.

Yet all the while, official Washington has tolerated an entire other class of corrupt and potentially unconstitutional behavior being carried out in plain sight, as Trump uses the presidency to enrich himself and his family. He has installed immediate relatives at the helm of the Trump Organization, continued to accept payments from foreign governments and private interests, and lavishly billed the government for using his own properties—all without guaranteeing that he will prioritize his duties as president over his own bottom line.

No president ever entered office with the type of immense personal fortune and ongoing business interests that Trump has. Trump’s vast business empire spans more than 500 companies in twenty-five countries and has earned him an estimated net worth of $3.1 billion. Traditionally, on taking office, presidents have placed their assets in a “blind trust” whose trustee is legally barred from telling the beneficiary about the trust’s holdings. Jimmy Carter famously placed the family peanut business into a blind trust in 1977. Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all followed suit.

Trump’s trust agreement is a little different. For one thing, it’s not blind—Trump’s children have admitted to providing their father with regular business updates. For another, the agreement allows him to withdraw profits and assets from the trust at any time. That means Trump has a direct and ongoing financial interest in any policy decision that could affect his businesses.

Much of this has happened in broad daylight. The mainstream media has covered Trump’s conflicts doggedly. But the steady drip-drip-drip of evidence hasn’t captured the public’s attention like Russia has, or motivated any serious response by the government—no investigations are under way, either in Congress or the executive branch. This despite the fact that the infractions raise the same terrifying possibility as Trump’s possible collusion with Russia: the sacrificing of American interests in the service of the president’s personal gain.

The only active effort to investigate Trump’s profiteering is happening through civil lawsuits in New York, D.C., and Maryland federal courts. The plaintiffs challenging Trump’s behavior include the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW); some 200 Democrats in Congress, led by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; attorneys general in Washington, D.C., and Maryland; and hotel and restaurant owners who compete with Trump. They all argue that Trump is in blatant violation of a provision in the Constitution meant to ensure that the president can’t exploit his office for profit. (Update: just before Christmas, but after this article went to press, a federal judge in New York dismissed one of the suits on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. An appeal is likely.)

But aside from these civil suits, which may take years to resolve, Trump just keeps getting away with it. One reason this hasn’t generated more outcry is that the infractions have been a steady accumulation, rather than one smoking gun. So we thought now, one year into Trump’s presidency, would be a good time to pull everything together and document the full scope of what’s known about his corrupt behavior. (A more comprehensive list of the improper perks Trump has received can be found here.) Clearly, the Republican-
controlled Congress has no interest in holding Trump to account. But if the Democrats retake Congress, they should start an investigation on their first day. This is their background reading.

Full List: Here’s every time Trump has profited off the presidency.
Corruption Type 1: Foreign Emoluments
Foreign interference in our political system was of grave concern to the framers of the Constitution. They knew that when a federal officeholder receives gifts, money, or other benefits from foreign governments, his judgment is compromised and his loyalties are divided. So they wrote a strict rule into the text of the Constitution, the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which provides that federal officeholders may not “accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state” without Congress’s approval.

The mainstream media has covered Trump’s conflicts doggedly. But the steady drip-drip-drip of evidence hasn’t captured the public’s attention like Russia has, or motivated any serious response by the government—no investigations are under way, either in Congress or the Justice Department.
Unlike with bribery statutes, a violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause doesn’t require proof that an official gave something in return. It’s designed to protect against not just quid pro quo corruption, but also the mere appearance of improper influence on government officials.

With that understanding, CREW argues in its suit that Trump’s business interests are “creating countless conflicts of interest, as well as unprecedented influence by foreign governments, and have resulted and will further result in numerous violations of the Constitution.” As an example, the group cites foreign governments’ lavish spending at Trump’s hotel and restaurants, particularly at the Trump International Hotel just steps away from the White House, in some cases at the prodding of Trump’s agents. After the election, the Trump International hosted more than 100 foreign diplomats for a tour, sending them home with goody bags and brochures in an attempt to encourage their patronage. Former Mexican diplomat Arturo Sarukhan has said that the State Department urged diplomats to stay at the Trump International while on official visits.

Delegations from at least eight countries have obliged. In September, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and other members of his administration were seen hobnobbing in meeting rooms at the hotel, bringing in what is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. Saudi Arabia has spent more than a quarter of a million
dollars—$190,000 on lodging, $78,000 on catering, and $1,600 on parking—at the hotel in connection with its lobbying against legislation that would allow American citizens to sue foreign governments over terrorist attacks.

And the Kuwaiti embassy suddenly changed the venue for its National Day celebration last February from the Four Seasons to the Trump International, paying an estimated $40,000 to $60,000. A source with knowledge of the conversations between the hotel and the embassy told ThinkProgress that Trump Organization members had pressured the Kuwaiti ambassador to cancel the embassy’s “save the date” reservation at the Four Seasons, where it had held the event in the past. Perhaps it’s purely a coincidence that neither Saudi Arabia nor Kuwait were among the Muslim-majority nations singled out by Trump’s travel ban.

Moreover, foreign governments continue to hold leases on units in Trump buildings. Trump Tower’s largest commercial tenant is the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which pays nearly $2 million per year for office space—and whose lease is up for renewal in 2019. Other governments, including Saudi Arabia, India, Afghanistan, and Qatar, continue to pay collective charges of at least $225,000 annually on units purchased prior to Trump’s election.

The full extent of these arrangements, of course, is unknown. If Congress or the Justice Department investigated, they could very well uncover many more examples.

In an ostensible attempt to mitigate such impropriety, Trump has pledged to donate the profits he receives from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, forfeiting funds earned in 2017 sometime in 2018. But it’s an empty promise, because there is no way to know if he’s following through unless he provides transparency into his business operations. Instead, Trump has gone to great lengths to keep his dealings secret, refusing to disclose his tax returns and leaving the public to wonder just how enmeshed with foreign governments he really is. It’s possible that he plans to donate all the proceeds, but his pattern of secrecy leaves little reason to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Curiously, Trump has an easy way to protect himself from running afoul of the Constitution while still profiteering from foreign governments. The Founding Fathers inserted flexibility into the Emoluments Clause by allowing public officials to disclose foreign emoluments and request the approval of Congress. Yet Trump has not even bothered to make this request, and Congress, controlled by the GOP, hasn’t demanded that he do so. The question is, why not just do this simple paperwork? Is it arrogance? Sloppiness? Or the fear that once the process of disclosing the foreign payments starts, facts will come out that Trump doesn’t want shared?

Moreover, Trump’s emoluments from foreign governments may extend beyond traceable cash payments. The Trump Organization has earned regulatory benefits like intellectual property rights in a number of foreign countries, most notably China, Russia, Mexico, and Indonesia.

In the decade before he became president, the Chinese government granted Trump seventy-seven trademarks. In the last year alone, it has granted at least thirty-nine, some of which it had previously rejected. The now-protected marks include those for spa and massage services, golf clubs, hotels, insurance, finance and real estate companies, restaurants, bars, and more. In one case, the Chinese green-lighted a Trump trademark application in February only days after he spoke with President Xi Jinping, pledging to uphold the “One China Policy” and maintaining the U.S.’s position that Taiwan is part of China (the opposite position from the one he campaigned on). “If this isn’t a violation of the Emoluments Clause,” noted Senator Dianne Feinstein, “I don’t know what is.” (First daughter Ivanka Trump pulled a similar trick last April, hosting, with her husband, Jared Kushner, a surf-and-turf dinner with the Chinese president at Mar-a-Lago the same day her company won provisional monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand merchandise and spa services in the world’s second-largest market.)

The framers, with their eighteenth-century understanding of economics, may not have foreseen a world in which emoluments take the form of intellectual property rights in a foreign market. But they could envision scenarios in which the president might be tempted to accept a foreign policy deal sweetened with direct personal benefits—precisely the kind of conflict of interest they aimed to prevent with the Emoluments Clause.

Corruption Type 2: Domestic Emoluments
The framers weren’t just worried about foreign influences. They intended the Domestic Emoluments Clause to ensure that Congress, other parts of the federal government, and the states “can neither weaken [the president’s] fortitude by operating on his necessities, nor corrupt his integrity by appealing to his avarice,” as Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers. It entitles the president to receive a salary (currently $400,000 a year) and benefits fixed by Congress, but prohibits him from taking any other profits from the public—whether from the federal government or from any of the states.

Trump doesn’t just rely on others to put money into his businesses—he patronizes them himself with stunning frequency, having spent more than 100 days at them, nearly a third of his presidency, while in office. Each visit funnels public money to Trump’s business, mainly in the form of exorbitant security costs.
Trump violates this provision, many constitutional scholars have argued, when state or federal entities patronize his properties and spend taxpayer money. Although the full extent of these violations is unknown, public reporting has confirmed that the president is at least receiving some revenue from state and federal officials through the businesses that he owns.

Business at the Trump International Hotel in the Old Post Office Building, which it leases from the federal General Services Administration, has been booming. It’s become a place to see and be seen for D.C. Republicans, including cabinet officials and members of Congress. And it’s where Maine Governor Paul LePage stayed during publicly funded travel to Washington over the summer, spending at least $2,250 just on accommodations for his security team.

Trump’s continued control over the hotel would seem to violate a provision in the contract that prohibits any U.S. elected official from participating in the lease or benefiting from it in any way. But the GSA has allowed him to keep the sixty-year lease based on his promise—totally unsubstantiated—not to receive profits until after he
leaves office. The GSA’s director is a presidential appointee, meaning Trump is both the landlord and tenant of this prime federally owned real estate.

The forty-six-story Trump SoHo Hotel in Manhattan has also been a lucrative source of public dollars. State pension funds in California, New York, Texas, Arizona, Montana, Michigan, and Missouri reportedly contributed millions to an investment fund that owns the hotel and has compensated the Trump Organization. The arrangement predated Trump’s inauguration by several years, but he continued to receive quarterly payments from the fund for almost a year after taking office. California’s pension fund alone paid the investment fund more than $1.7 million in management fees for the first three months of 2017. The Trump Organization, which received a cut of the hotel’s revenue, only severed ties with the investment fund in November, citing a decline in business in the deeply Democratic city.

But Trump doesn’t just rely on others to put money into his businesses—he patronizes them himself with stunning frequency, having spent more than 100 days at them, nearly a third of his presidency, while in office. Unlike any previous president, Trump’s vacation properties are for-profit enterprises, meaning each visit funnels public money to Trump’s business, mainly in the form of exorbitant security costs. Secret Service has blown through its budget due to Trump’s frequent travel expenses, requesting an additional $60 million to protect the first family in March. Trump’s detail reportedly paid Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s luxury club in Palm Beach, Florida, at least $63,000 between February and April, and has spent at least $144,975 on golf cart rentals at Trump properties in New Jersey, Virginia, and Palm Beach as of November. And last spring, the Defense Department signed a $2.39 million eighteen-month lease for space in Trump Tower for a military office meant to provide various presidential services, including access to nuclear launch codes.

Again, it’s theoretically possible that these dollars aren’t ending up in Trump’s bank account. Perhaps Trump’s businesses have provided every working lunch and hotel room to the government free of charge. But given Trump’s refusal to be transparent about that information, there is no way to confirm it. And even if Trump did start donating the revenue derived from public money, each visit would still amount to taxpayer-supported advertising for his properties.

The Domestic Emoluments Clause has long been interpreted as allowing presidents to receive some governmental perks that fall outside his salary, including security and other expenses when they travel. George W. Bush received these whenever he spent time at his Crawford ranch, just as Barack Obama did when he vacationed in Hawaii. Never before, however, have these expenses gone into the coffers of a company owned by the president himself, as happens every time Trump visits Mar-a-Largo or golfs at one of his clubs. At the very least, each visit appears to involve a transfer of taxpayer money to Trump’s bottom line—which looks like the kind of “appealing to his avarice” that the founders were afraid of.

Corruption Type 3: Slimy, but Probably Legal
Many presidents have been independently wealthy, but none before Trump entered the White House with a massive on-going business empire—or brazenly used the office to drive up that empire’s value.

Almost immediately following his inauguration, the annual membership rate at Mar-a-Lago, which Trump has dubbed his “Winter White House,” doubled, from $100,000 to $200,000, reflecting Trump’s eagerness to capitalize on the market value of access to the leader of the free world. In February, Mar-a-Lago management sold a tennis shirt featuring a “45” on the sleeve in reference to Trump, the forty-fifth president. By April, rates at the Trump International Hotel had jumped to at least $660 per night, an increase in hundreds from before his election. And in November, the president plugged his New Jersey golf course during a foreign policy speech in Seoul.

As sleazy as it is for a president to trade on his office to pad his bottom line, what’s truly shocking is that, when the money comes from private sources, there appears to be nothing illegal about it.
Despite Trump’s vow that his companies would make no new foreign deals while he is in office, the Trump Organization is actively expanding its portfolio and, in the past year, has opened two residential projects in India, a golf club in Dubai, and a hotel in Vancouver, while two real estate projects in Indonesia are still in the works. Trump insists that the public should take him at his word that he has no involvement in the Trump Organization, yet he continues to talk shop with his sons as they charge forward in promoting the brand worldwide.

As sleazy as it is for a president to trade on his office to pad his bottom line—and to continue to make international business deals while being responsible for America’s well-being—what’s truly shocking is that there appears to be nothing illegal about it. The Emoluments Clauses target domestic and foreign government payments, but say nothing about profiteering from private sources.

That means Trump doesn’t run afoul of the Constitution each time private organizations host an event at his properties, even if they are actively lobbying the government. And they do—frequently. At least fifteen interest groups—including the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, the private prison company GEO Group, and conservative organizations including the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Fund for American Studies—have all hosted events at Trump hotels in the last year and are registered lobbyists.

Among the most extravagant events was a $400,000 Red Cross ball hosted at Mar-a-Lago in February and themed “From Vienna to Versailles,” referencing the route traveled by Marie Antoinette in 1770 before she was married to the last French king, Louis XVI. (And long before the couple were beheaded in the French Revolution.) With the first lady on his arm, Trump himself attended, greeted with explosive applause from the party goers upon his arrival.

For the private organizations that dote on his hotels, Trump is likely to return the favor. He has shown himself to be susceptible to flattery, receiving twice-daily briefings on favorable press coverage of himself and condemning his media critics as universally “failing.”

Where the Constitution cannot regulate the president’s profiteering from private sources, federal ethics rules are also impotent. The rules bar executive branch employees from soliciting and accepting “gifts” from private interest groups, particularly if they have used their position to do so or have received a benefit for “being influenced in the performance of an official act,” according to the Office of Government Ethics. And political appointees, including Trump’s cabinet members, are explicitly prohibited from accepting “gifts or gratuities from registered lobbyists or lobbying organizations.” (Both White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have already been accused of violating those rules.)

But Trump isn’t subject to the same restrictions. Congress exempted the president from the 1978 Ethics of Government Act and the 1989 Ethics Reform Act, out of fear that presidents would have to recuse themselves from policy decisions. “They made a judgment call to rely on accountability and conscience as the restraint on presidential profiteering,” said Jed Shugerman, a law professor at Fordham University. “And for most of American history, those norms were sufficient.”

It looks like it might be time to rethink that judgment call.

Nicole Narea
Nicole Narea is a reporter based in New York City who covers public policy from a legal perspective.

© 2018 Washington Monthly.