All posts by Hal Gershowitz and Stephen Porter

Clinton-Russian Uranium Deal: Much Ado About…Not Much.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWhere there’s smoke…there’s smoke.

But not much fire—not in this case, anyway.

To listen to Fox News, one would think the Kremlin (or its operatives) bribed Hillary (or Bill) Clinton to hand over twenty percent of America’s uranium to Russia. It just isn’t so. It isn’t even close.  But it does make for great Kabuki in this bizarre political climate.  The Clintons or, more accurately, the Clinton Foundation may take a back seat to no one when it comes to pure guile where a buck is concerned, but avarice is not espionage or treason.

A few facts:

(1). Uranium One is a Canadian uranium mining company that has mining operations in Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan, South Africa as well as the United States.  In 2009, ARMZ (the full name of this acronym would cross the reader’s eyes), the mining subsidiary of Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear regulatory agency, acquired a 16.6 percent interest in Uranium One and increased its ownership in Uranium One to 51 percent a year later.

(2). Uranium One’s mining operation in Wyoming accounted for 20 percent of the then licensed uranium in-situ recovery production capacity in the United States. In-situ recovery is simply the extraction method currently used by ten of the eleven licensed US uranium producers. Today, Uranium One would account for only about 6% percent of in-situ recovery production capacity in the US because of additional production licenses that have been approved since 2010.  Uranium One also has exploratory projects in Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.

(3).  Any shipments of Uranium out of the county would have to be approved and, contrary to inferences on Fox News, there is no evidence that any uranium has ever been shipped to Russia.

(4). The acquisition of Uranium One by a Russian company (or any foreign entity) required multiple approvals by the United States including the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, which must review all foreign investments that raise potential national security concerns.

 (5). The Committee on Foreign Investments has nine members, including the secretaries of the treasury, state, defense, homeland security, commerce and energy; the attorney general; and representatives from two White House offices (the United States Trade Representative and the Office of Science and Technology Policy). So, the State Department had one vote on this committee.

The State Department’s representative who participated in the review of this transaction was Jose Fernandez, then Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, not Hillary Clinton.  Furthermore, additional agency approvals would be required before any uranium could be exported. While these agencies can approve the sale of a uranium mining operation, they cannot disapprove or stop such a sale. Only the President can do that. Thus, their approval is, essentially, advisory.

(6). It is important to note that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission also had to approve the transfer of these two uranium recovery licenses in Wyoming from Uranium One to the Russian company. The NRC announced it approved the transfer on Nov. 24, 2010. But as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission explained at the time “no uranium produced at either facility may be exported without US government approval.”

The reason the so-called Clinton-Russian uranium deal has provided so much grist for the anti-Hillary mill is because of the tone-deaf greed of the Clintons (or of the Clinton Foundation), which apparently has never seen a greenback that it didn’t like or a contributor that it wouldn’t embrace. We don’t doubt for a minute that the Russians thought that anything Clintonian was worth contributing to, but we don’t find a shred of evidence that there was, or even could have been, a quid per quo between contributions to the Clinton Foundation, or speaking fees for Bill Clinton, and all of the approvals necessary to finagle the approval of the Canadian Uranium One deal with the Russians.

The deal was underway at the very start of the Obama Administration when the White House wanted to “reset” relations with Russia.  Contrary to the Fox News drumbeat the United States DID NOT sell or transfer 20 percent of its uranium to Russia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not unilaterally approve the mining license transfer, nor could she have if she wanted to. It was not a State Department show.

There is plenty to criticize about how the Clinton Foundation and the Clintons operate. The donations from those with ties to Uranium One weren’t publicly disclosed by the Clinton Foundation, even though Hillary Clinton had an agreement with the White House that the foundation would disclose all contributors. Playing it smart-and-a-half, the Clinton Foundation disclosed donations from a Canadian charity, but not the donors to that charity who were associated with the uranium company.

Bill Clinton spoke at a conference in Moscow on June 29, 2010, for which he received $500,000 — which was after the Rosatom-Uranium One merger was announced in June 2010, but before it was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States in October 2010. The Clintons and their Foundation may slip and slide to avoid looking greedy, but that doesn’t equate to selling out the United States.  They didn’t and they couldn’t have in this instance even if they wanted to.

We would suggest that Republicans look elsewhere to divert attention from the foibles of the Trump White House. Forget the uranium mine in Wyoming.  Really, we strongly suspect there’s no there-there.

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Trump: The Rise of an American Cult of Personality

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWe suppose it had to happen sooner or later in America; the emergence of a leader whose followers are devoted to persona over and above, or even instead of, policy. “Drain the swamp” is not a policy. Ending free, open and unvetted immigration is not a policy if, in fact, there is no free, open and unvetted immigration in America.  We don’t usually associate the term Cult of Personality with American Politics. Certainly, we’ve had our share of charismatic leaders who were more likable, homespun, down to earth or just plain more popular than their opponents—think John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, or Barack Obama. They were certainly admired, but they were admired primarily because they were, at least in the moment, admirable.

“Cult of Personality” was coined as a political term by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in a speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party on February 25, 1956. He referred to the ardent followers of Joseph Stalin as a Cult of Personality that would condone anything the dictator commanded, including internecine banishment and murder. No, we’re not equating Trump with Stalin or other 20th Century dictators, but blind support of illiberal and incoherent pronouncements and a willingness to ignore behavior unbecoming a president or a presidential candidate is pretty much a modern American version of the antiquated Russo-Sino Cult of Personality.

In the bad old days, state-controlled media run by skillful propagandists carefully nurtured various Cults of Personality (think followers of Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler). Today, it doesn’t take state-run media.  All it takes are social media sycophants creating or passing along, non-stop and unmitigated praise of a political personality.  And with literally billions of Facebook, Twitter and Google users throughout the world, it is small wonder that Trump takes to Twitter and Facebook as often as he does.

No President in history has, nor could they have, deliberately and so studiously cranked out missives to so many people throughout the world. Trump himself has 42 million followers on Twitter and 22 million “likes” on Facebook. Add to this the number of “shares” and “retweets” his comments garner, and he personally reaches, on a daily basis, an incredible number of people. Then, of course, his utterances and his behavior garner more newsprint and broadcast coverage every day than any other president in history.

Sociologist, Robert N. Bellah has written, “It is hard to determine the extent to which the media reflect the cult of personality in American politics and to what extent they have created it. Surely, they did not create it all alone, but just as surely, they have contributed to it. In any case, American politics is dominated by the personalities of political leaders to an extent rare in the modem world…in the personalized politics of recent years the “charisma” of the leader may be almost entirely a product of media exposure.”  And, we would add, no one has manipulated American media as has President Donald Trump. 

 While we might identify political cultists with the likes of Stalin, Mao Zedong, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Kim Jong-un today, political cults can arise anywhere, as long as there is a distinctive political figure, with a keen sense of media.

In America, we don’t have huge banners hanging from public buildings with the likeness of our Presidents. Traditionally, we might simply see buildings festooned with American flags rather than the likenesses of our presidents.  Interestingly, we do have large skyscrapers in our major cities emblazoned with the name (often in lights) of our current President, who either built the structures or “leased” his name to the developers. That’s not a criticism, just an observation of a new phenomenon in American politics.

Trump also has the biggest, outsized personality of any president in memory.

National Public Radio recently asked four historians for their take on how the presidency has changed Trump and how Trump has changed the presidency. Their answers are illuminating. H.W Brands, author of biographies of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan: “Previous candidates who get elected are almost always sobered by the office and the responsibility they take on,” Brands says. “Donald Trump shows no evidence of that. He’s the same Trump that he was when he was the host of his reality TV show. He’s the same Trump that he was when he was a candidate.”

Douglas Brinkley, author of biographies of Gerald Ford, John F, Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and both Roosevelts: “By tweeting incessantly, he sets the agenda for the media and controls the narrative. Richard Nixon ate up a lot of clock trying to destroy the press. Trump now has a mechanism to do it because he’s not beholden in any way, shape, or form to traditional media…So by going over them, it gives him an instant kind of power and credibility… every day he wants the lead story to be ‘Trump.’ Even if it’s controversial, it allows him to be the dominant force in American politics.”

Barbara Perry, director of the Center for Presidential Studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and editor of books on George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton: Perry says Trump has used his dominance to change the traditional relationship between a president and his party…”But because Trump has succeeded in remaking the party in his own ethno-nationalist, populist image, he has managed to confine that public criticism to just a handful of Republicans. And all of them share one important characteristic — they are no longer running for office. Perry says Trump and his former political adviser Steve Bannon have created a new party line for the GOP. “It does appear that they have cowed the party regulars. They’ve cowed the party traditionalists,” Perry says. “We have seen it already with the Jeff Flakes in the party, who are having to step aside and actually step out of politics at least for a while. And if that happens, if people who oppose him leave the party, or leave politics, that will be a success for him.”

William Inboden, associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and onetime staffer in the George W. Bush White House: “…He’s ignored the traditional boundary between the chief executive and the Justice Department, repeatedly calling on the FBI and the DOJ (agencies that are supposed to be independent when it comes to criminal investigations) to go after his political enemies.” Inboden wonders how many of the changes Trump has made to the office will outlive his tenure.”

President Trump brooks no criticism. He is a political pugilist looking to scrum with anyone who has the temerity to question his judgment. Millions of Americans, fed up with Washington elitism cheer him on. They channel their dissatisfaction with the ways of Washington into support for a President who gives voice to their dissatisfaction, even though he evidences little skill at governing. We’ve seen this before in history. It generally hasn’t ended well.

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The Coalition That Made Trump President

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWho elected Donald Trump?—conservatives?…free traders?…isolationists?…well educated?…less educated?…bigots?…high-income voters?…low- income voters?…anti-immigration voters?…liberal immigration voters?…pro government-mandated health care voters…anti government-mandated healthcare voters? The answer is Yes.

Many people are still asking, “How did this happen?” The question, of course, refers to the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. Dr. Emily Ekins, Director of Polling at the Cato Institute, has provided the most definitive answer that we’ve seen yet to that nettlesome question.  Her analysis of data relating to the 2016 election provides some interesting answers to the questions people are still asking.

She observes, that like all elections, there is no one type of voter in a country as diverse as America that puts anyone into the White House.  It’s always an amalgam of voters, a coalition of voters, often with different interests who decide who sits in the oval office. This election was no different. There was no basket of deplorables, but there was a basket of converging interests.

That basket consisted of five different types of voters. The largest, (31% of the basket) was, as might be expected, simply staunch conservatives. They were no more likely to vote for Hillary than staunch liberals were to vote for Trump.

The next largest segment of the Trump coalition was (is) what Ekins calls the free marketers. While they probably voted for other Republicans in the primaries, they cast their ballots for Trump over Hillary on election day. They made up about 25% of the Trump coalition. They have the highest level of education and income among the Trump voters. They also are, ironically, favorable towards immigrants and racial minorities.  As Ekins, notes, they look just like Democrats on those questions. They really want to make it easier to legally immigrate to the United States, They are, by and large, free traders and free marketers, so government controlled healthcare is not a high priority with these voters. They also happen to be very fiscally conservative.  Not surprisingly, they were not prepared to turn the national fisc over to Hillary Clinton.

The group Ekins calls “the preservationists” is the group most people assume were the typical Trump voters, but they were, in fact, only about two voters out of every ten of the coalition. They have lower levels of education and, correspondingly, lower levels of income. They are the underemployed, with about half relying on Medicaid.  Ironically, they are the least like Republicans in the Trump coalition. They like raising taxes on the wealthy, they’re very concerned about Medicare,  and they’re actually more economically progressive.  On the other hand, they’re not very receptive to immigration. They don’t like illegal immigration nor are they particularly fond of legal immigration.  While they seem like Democrats by many criteria, they actually want to make it much harder for people to legally immigrate to the United States.  Perhaps, more than any other issue, immigration is what draws them to Trump.

A little farther down the food chain, we have the anti-elites who make up about nineteen percent of the Trump coalition. They rather uniformly are progressive on economic issues, and they have no particular problem with immigration. They did, however, have a problem with Hillary Clinton and were probably the group most influenced by the anti-Clinton news coverage.  This group seems to offset the voters who were undoubtedly negatively influenced by the anti-Trump news coverage.

Finally, but not surprisingly, the Trump coalition was topped off by the five percent who were simply disengaged voters. These are the voters who typically answer “I don’t know,” to most of the issue-oriented questions pollsters ask. About the only things about which they seem to have pretty firm opinions are concern about immigration and elites. Both groups make them uncomfortable.  The “disengaged” voters tend to be a little bit younger, have a little bit less education, don’t pay much attention to politics, but are skeptical about immigration. Trump was unambiguous about his animus toward immigrants and that got him what he needed from the otherwise disengaged voter.

One thing that really stands out in Ekins analysis of polling data is that liberal immigration policies are somewhat of a minefield in today’s political environment. Cutting immigration across the board would find very little opposition across the American body politic. Even those who don’t consider themselves anti-immigration warmed up to the idea of Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from certain countries.  Given the vital role immigration has played in the growth and success of the American experiment, we find it sad that immigration has become, (as it has always been) perhaps, the easiest issue to demagogue.

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Do We Have a Fascist in the White House?

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThe term fascism was “born” in 1921. Its proud father was Benito Mussolini. Interestingly, the adjective “goofy” was born in that same year.

Referring to President Trump as a fascist has become de rigueur in many circles. We’ve toyed with that sobriquet ourselves, as well as with its 1921 birth mate mentioned in our opening paragraph. Alas, we find President Trump’s antics and governing style to be more “goofy” than fascist. We’re not suggesting that one is necessarily cause for less alarm than the other. We just think it’s a good idea to know with what or with whom we are dealing. While President Trump’s demeanor and behavior are eerily, almost comically, reminiscent of the late Italian dictator, a key tenet of Mussolini’s fascism is, and we quote from Il Duce, himself “The growth of empire! That is, to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence.”  Mussolini also preached that the State is Everything and that the individual is always subservient to the State. Trump evidences no such philosophy.

President Trump may be a thin-skinned, narcissist and remarkably lacking in the qualities we like to identify with those we send to sit in the Oval Office, but he is no expansionist and he is not a statist. His dream of “making America great again” does not anticipate empire nor does it embrace any notion of manifest destiny. His game plan, if one exists at all, for Making America Great Again is economic growth, stronger exports and a positive balance of payments.

We can explore the efficacy of his program(s) to Make America Great Again (assuming such a program exists) in a future essay, but today we deal with Trump the Fascist, which is easy to do because he simply isn’t. He is bombastic, intolerant of criticism, inarticulate and, unquestionably, vindictive, but none of that makes him a fascist. It might make him dangerous, but not a fascist. We see no evidence that President Trump wants to plant the American flag anywhere other than, perhaps, at every NFL team’s bench.

Now, we believe our readers know that we have not been happy with President Trump. We would rather see him working back on the 26th floor of Trump Tower in New York than in the Oval Office in Washington. That’s because we don’t think he has a worldview to lead the free world, and we don’t believe he identifies with the diverse and wonderful mix of humanity that is the United States of America. Some of his statements regarding trade suggest an incredibly narrow view of world trade and a loathsome view of those with whom we trade (Mexico is our third largest export partner).

We believe, as we have written in some of our columns, that the “anything goes” school of criticizing Trump will return him to the oval office in 2020, assuming Independent Counsel Mueller finds nothing impeachable with which to charge the President. Calling Trump a fascist, as many critics have done, and are doing, will backfire when the voters go to the poles three years from now.

In spite of all the ridiculous coverage devoted to President’s Trump’s call to the widow of a fallen American soldier last week, we believe most Americans will, and should, view the call as an attempt to provide comfort and pay respect, however inarticulate some may judge that call to have been. Some commentators referred to Trump as treasonous last week. Salon, the leftist news and opinion website proudly ran the headline just prior to Trump’s inauguration, “Congratulations, America — you did it! An actual fascist is now your official president.”

Many Americans, especially those on either coast, love this sort of hyperbolic political scrumming. Most Americans, however, don’t.

And, no we didn’t elect a fascist. and no he isn’t one. President Trump is a lot of things we don’t particularly care for. We think he’s a demagogue, a nativist, a poor leader, narrow-minded, unread, over-rated, and an outstanding candidate to replace James Buchanan as our pick as America’s worst choice for president. But he’s not a fascist and he probably didn’t collude with the Russians to steal the election.

There is plenty of which to be critical with this President. But keep criticizing him with complete abandon, with an anything goes agenda, with constant ridicule, as various media outlets are doing, and we’ll see the 45th President become the 46th President.

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Political Ataxia: The Threatening Collapse of the Republican Party

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThe utter lack of cohesion and coordination within the Republican Party represents a type of political ataxia that could well prove terminal. Other than those Republicans for whom utter stalemate is a cause célèbre, the unease among serious Republicans is growing, maybe, exponentially. Utter collapse is no longer a far-fetched fear. It could happen. Just ask any old Whigs who are still around holding out for the return to the good old days. The reader will recall that the Whigs (circa 1854) were pathetically ambivalent about the expansion of slavery in the United States, and from its ruins rose the modern Republican Party, which was determined to stop the spread and scourge of slavery.

A new orthodoxy, consisting of a gaggle of Republicans who see any cooperation and compromise in the halls of Congress as heresy, has all but paralyzed the party. The new orthodoxy takes its cues from no one—not the party leadership, not the White House and not from voters who reside in other districts. They do not fear being labeled as obstructionists—in fact, they rather like the epithet. They have, more or less, congealed into the so-called Freedom Caucus, of which there are only about three dozen members. They, along with the strangest White House circus we have ever seen, could very well bring down the Republican Party in the mid-term elections next year. President Trump, the ringmaster in the oval tent, marches to his own drummer and no one can predict where his parade will lead, nor, it seems, can anyone influence its course. Truth be told, the so-called Freedom Caucus could care less how little gets done. Their congressional seats are probably pretty safe.

The founding fathers did not evolve the concept of co-equal branches of government out of naiveté.  They intended that the executive branch and the legislative branch, each having the best interests of the country at heart, would work hard to hammer out consensus wherever they could to accomplish what could be accomplished in the country’s best interest. They established a system that demanded a willingness to give and take, and to debate long and hard, but ultimately to do the nation’s business.

Trumpian White-House tumult has created an aura of confusion, if not bedlam, in Washington. The danger, of course, is that the nation will not just see a lack of Republican party discipline, but rather an abundance of Republican party incompetence. And when that happens, the Party could be dispatched to the political wilderness from which it may never return.

The Republicans in Congress have, so far, cut the President a lot of slack. They know he has weathered some rather incredible challenges. His record of verbal inanities would have sent almost all political aspirants to the dustbin of history faster than one could say, “when you’re a celebrity you can grab…,” but Trump, so far, has been immune to hoof-and-mouth disease. That’s because American voters have grown tired, even fed-up, with politics as usual in Washington – politics that seem oblivious to the voters’ needs and anxieties. American voters were remarkably and collectively ready to give the ruling class a proverbial poke in the eye. And did they ever. With one ridiculous debate performance after another, candidate Trump’s ratings went up. Each debate inanity represented another chance to poke the ruling class in the eye, and did the electorate poke, right through election night.

But now, ten months into the Trump presidency, the Republican Congress has produced nothing, literally nothing. The President has gotten into a nuclear, school-yard shoving match with the goofy kid from Pyongyang. He has demanded a ransom for the basic humanity of resolving the Dreamers’ issue by demanding the funding of a wall on our southern border; you know the one for which Mexico was going to pay. We’ve unilaterally walked from the Paris climate accord, and decertified the Iran nuclear agreement without any of our allies walking with us.

The voters gave the GOP an opportunity of a lifetime. They gave the Republicans everything—both houses of Congress, the White House, thirty-four governorships and control of both chambers of thirty-two state houses. When much is given, much is expected. The voters expected repeal and replacement of Obamacare with something better. They wanted to see America respected once again throughout the world. They wanted a Congress that got busy doing the work of the country.

The Republicans face the voters again in one year. The American people will take stock of what the Republicans have produced, compared to what they promised. This doesn’t look like a Party making America Great Again.

The Republican party may be approaching a state of extremis. The American body politic gave Washington a poke in the eye last November. The Republican Party might soon learn the American voter is an equal-opportunity eye poker. It might be a poke from which the GOP doesn’t survive.

Available at Audible, Amazon, Kindle, Nook and Barnes and Noble.

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Time to REDO the Second Amendment

(Excerpted from an essay we originally published five years ago.)

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsActually, we think it is.

Notice we said, “redo” not “repeal”.

While it is sometimes difficult to divine what the framers intended with any particular provision of the constitution, that isn’t true with respect to the second amendment. The driving motivation for the second amendment was to assure that the people could protect themselves against their own government were it to turn despotic or tyrannical.  Many of the great thinkers and patriots of the day weighed in. Noah Webster argued, “…The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.”

George Mason argued, “To disarm the people…(would be) the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”  Writing after the ratification of the Constitution, but before the election of the first Congress, James Monroe wrote, “the right to keep and bear arms” in a list of basic “human rights,” which, he proposed, should be added to the Constitution.

Patrick Henry, in the Virginia ratification convention June 5, 1788, eloquently argued for the dual rights to arms and resistance to oppression. He said, “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”

The most influential framer of the Constitution, James Madison, often referred to as the father of the constitution, compared in Federalist No. 46, the federal government of the United States to the European kingdoms, which he contemptuously described as “afraid to trust the people with arms.” He assured his fellow citizens that they need never fear their government because of “the advantage of being armed….”.

Like it or not, that’s the thinking that informed our greatest minds as the second amendment was considered and finally codified into the sinews of the American body politic.  Gun control activists who constantly, and rhetorically, ask, “Who needs assault rifles or machine guns to hunt?” miss the point and render their case irrelevant.  The second amendment was never about hunting.  Subsequent history cannot negate the original history.  Only thoughtful and, perhaps, brave lawmakers can do that and, then, only with the overwhelming support and consent of the people through referendum (think constitutional amendment).  That could be a long slog, but we think it’s about time to begin slogging.

So where does this leave us?  First, we must remember that the ballot had not yet, in 1788, been demonstrated to be a plausible or an effective way to guarantee that, in America, governments would govern only with the consent of the governed.  America, during its relatively brief history, has, through the ballot box, changed direction time and time again.  We have demonstrated that we can throw the rascals out whenever the people decide to throw them out.  We’ve never had to march them out with the arms we bear.

Furthermore, there is no longer parity between the arms available to a standing army and the civilian citizens of the country.  The day has long since passed when civilian militias and standing government armies would both, essentially, be equally armed only with rifles and side arms.  For a citizen militia to have parity with a standing armed force it would have to have automatic weapons, armored vehicles, artillery, missiles, aircraft, anti-aircraft, incendiary and explosive weapons, unmanned drones and who knows what else.  No sane person would, today, entertain such a thought.

So, perhaps the second amendment would be more relevant today were it re-amended with a 28th amendment to the constitution to guarantee the right of the people to own and use firearms for personal self-defense as well as for the protection of home and property against criminal intruders, and for legal recreational sport and hunting.  Such a reorientation of our constitutional right to bear arms would allow for sensible regulation of firearms.

It is true, as second amendment advocates rightfully remind us, that assault weapons (semi-automatic rifles) are, relatively, rarely used in the commission of a crime in the United States.  But it is also true (as we would remind them) that assault weapons (including semi-automatic pistols) have been the weapons of choice in 100% of the 29 massacres (assaults in which four or more people were victims) that have taken place in the United States since 1984.  We have reviewed each of these grotesque attacks and found that semi-automatic rifles or semi-automatic pistols (i.e. assault weapons) have been used in every such massacre, resulting in over 600 casualties, including 278 deaths.  That seems to us to be more than enough justification for rethinking our gun laws. At some point, enough is enough.

For example, the types of weapons to which the people would have a constitutional right could be rationally restricted (in addition to hunting) to that required to protect a home from intruders without being sufficient to mow down scores or hundreds of people in an open field a mile away (or innocent children in a classroom).

Today, any machine gun manufactured and registered prior to May 1986 can be purchased almost anywhere in the United States.  In fact, we counted 39 states that allow the private ownership of fully automatic machine guns to any non-felon 21 years of age or older.  Generally, the only requirement is that the weapon be registered with ATF.  That means anyone qualified to own a pistol, is qualified to own a machine gun.  It is estimated that there are about 120,000 machine guns owned by civilians in the United States.  While we acknowledge that (with but two exceptions); no legally owned machine guns have been used to commit a homicide in America during the past 70 years, we ask who in their right mind doesn’t dread the thought of a future, first-time machine-gun massacre at some elementary school or shopping mall and wouldn’t want to take steps now to impede, if not stop, that future event from happening.

Mass shootings have occurred consistently throughout our history in every region of the country. These attacks have become increasingly more lethal as large capacity ammunition magazines (defined as more than 10-rounds) have become more available.  They enable an assailant to rapidly fire off as many as 100-rounds without having to reload the firearm. They are designed for military use in order to kill greater numbers of people more effectively. Large capacity ammunition magazines have facilitated some of the worst mass murders ever committed in the United States.

We will not presume to recommend solutions to the problems resulting from the ubiquitous presence of firearms in America.  We simply recognize that sensible gun control cannot any longer remain the third rail of American politics.   Mass murder has occurred in every region of the country and it is, therefore, the federal government’s responsibility to evolve uniform measures to protect Americans.  It seems rather ludicrous to us for politicians to continuously state that any Administration’s primary responsibility is to protect America from foreign aggressors while insisting that the federal government should have a very limited role in protecting Americans from domestic aggressors.

We question the rationale that allows large capacity ammunition magazines designed for the armed services to be sold with only cursory regulation in the retail American marketplace.

Strict and timely gun registration requirements should follow a gun regardless of how many times the weapon may change owners.  There should be strict consequences for a prior owner of a gun if that gun is used in a crime when the prior owner had not reported the sale (or gift) within a statutory very brief period of time.

Gun control advocates and gun control opponents are active in both political parties in America.  While most of the money raised and contributed to politicians by the National Rifle Association generally goes to Republicans, we note that in the 110th Congress, then-Representative Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, introduced a bill on June 12, 2008, to reinstate the assault weapons ban (that had expired) for ten years and expand the list of banned weapons. The Bill, H.R. 6257, the Assault Weapons Ban Reauthorization Act of 2008, had four co-sponsors, all Republicans: Michael N. Castle of Delaware,  Mike Ferguson of New Jersey, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Christopher Shays of Connecticut. The Bill never got out of committee and died at the end of the Democratically controlled 110th Congress.

If ever there was a time when Democrats and Republicans could work cooperatively to seriously address the problems that are a by-product of our gun culture, it is now.

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NFL Players Taking the Knee: Yes, Insulting is a Right.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThe NFL players who choose to “take the knee” to protest police brutality or all forms of inequality in America are certainly within their rights. So are the club owners who kneel with them.  That’s not even debatable.  In fact, it is, ironically, just one of the things that make this country so wonderful. Let an athlete in China or North Korea, or Myanmar, or Russia try to do the same thing and we would probably see the last of that athlete for decades, if not forever.

So, let’s not debate whether they have the right to kneel instead of standing respectfully during the national anthem. Insulting anyone or any national symbol is a universal right in America. It is a lame protest, but it is a right. The owners who kneel with their players are simply demonstrating that they think they know where their bread is buttered. But do they? They might look across the field, or over their shoulders, to the tens of thousands of fans who are standing and proudly singing their country’s national anthem.

The players contend that they are kneeling because they really have no other powerful platform on which to express their grievances. Really? A quick check of their Facebook and Twitter pages suggests otherwise. The top twenty NFL players alone have over 55,000,000 regular followers with their combined Facebook and Twitter pages.  Just the top twenty! That’s not a bad platform.

Now, we happen to think they have a very legitimate grievance, one that all Americans should share. We do have some serious problems in America.  To whatever extent racially-motivated police brutality or any other brutality exists anywhere in America, it should be condemned thoroughly, loudly and clearly. So should every remaining vestige of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, fascism and every other irrational hatred. Such calumnies are a body blow to the very fiber of America.  But showing collective disrespect to America serves the bigot’s interest far more than it serves the protester’s interest. And refusing to show respect for the flag or the national anthem is pure oxygen for those who wish to divide us.

Most Americans love their country and most Americans deeply respect its flag and its national anthem—as well they should. So, when the flag or the national anthem is disrespected, tens of millions of Americans are offended and insulted, not because they question anyone’s right to offend or insult, but because they rightfully feel that the insult is also directed at them. It suggests that those who stand for the national anthem with their hands over their hearts, must not share the same sense of indignation at the corrosive and, sometimes, deadly prejudice that continues to hang on in America. And that simply isn’t true. It just hasn’t turned them against their country nor motivated them to recoil from its flag or anthem. Quite the contrary.  When true Americans stand for the flag and the anthem they stand against those who choose bigotry over brotherhood.

Now, we recognize that President Trump’s targeting of the NFL players at his Huntsville Alabama rally a week ago was toxic and, we suspect, it resulted in the reaction he intended. Nearly every player joined the protest by kneeling for the anthem the following week along with some owners, and the kneeling controversy probably became the cause célèbre the President intended it to be. Much of the country and the media was and are talking about it, choosing sides, and voicing their collective opinions to anyone who will listen.  More than anything last week’s protest was about Trump, and his clumsy reality-show showboating. The flag and the anthem, however, are much bigger than Trump, and that might be the understatement of the year.

Sadly, the kneeling controversy poisons the proverbial well. Relatively few people seem to be talking about the social and cultural problems that truly exist in America. Most are talking about the efficacy of kneeling as a protest. The injustices that need to be addressed are elbowed aside as millions of Americans weigh in on how they feel about the kneeling protest. Ballplayers are being interviewed and asked to opine on the protest controversy. Constructive dialogue yields to anger. Trump wins.

We’ve read dozens of statements by NFL players and they are obviously heartfelt.  However, we believe Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, made the most sense: “I disagree with what the president said and how he said it. I think it’s very unbecoming of the office of President of the United States to talk like that to a great people. And obviously, he’s disappointed a lot of people. But as it pertains to the national anthem, I will always feel that if you are an American that the national anthem is the opportunity for us all to stand up together, to be unified and to show respect for our country.”

Our country is trying.  It will not, and cannot, ever be perfect. There will always be injustices and setbacks. But what we stand for is worthy of our respect, and without it there is little hope.

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Three Cheers for No Labels and the Problem Solvers Caucus

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWashington would have nodded approvingly. Last week a relatively small group of serious men and women, some from Congress and some from the private sector met, as they have recently from time to time, to discuss a rather radical idea—getting positive and constructive things done again in our nation’s capital. If we might borrow from Broadway’s “Hamilton,” we were privileged to be in the room where it happened.

We’re talking about the “Ideas Summit” of The New Center followed by the meeting of its parent organization, No Labels. No Labels consists of good and decent Republicans and Democrats who have come together to work constructively under the banner of America rather than the banner of one party or another. They have not abandoned their respective parties. They simply recognize that sometimes party loyalty demands too much, and that the nation’s business enjoys primacy over either party’s political agenda. They are serious men and women who recognize the wisdom of our first President and are chastened by his plea to the nation 221 years ago when he left office and bid his countrymen farewell.

Consider how prescient Washington’s words were.

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.” 

George Washington would have been pleased with what was transpiring at the No Labels meeting last week.  Already, about ten percent of the House of Representatives have formed a “Problem Solvers” caucus—Democrats and Republicans alike whose only agenda is a commitment to earnestly do the nation’s business. They go to work every day to exercise their best judgment, as the constitution intended, and not to bow down to the demands of passing populist or party sentiment. Our brilliant representative form of government was conceived with a patriotic commitment to reason and justice and order, and a concurrent wariness of the potential tyranny of the masses.  President Washington recognized that political parties could become potent engines that too often might wind up being controlled by cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men who might usurp for themselves the reins of government. Washington probably understood the inevitability of the rise of political parties in America, but we think he would have rejoiced at the notion of a Problem Solvers Caucus and a movement such as No Labels serving as a gyroscope to keep the nation centered.

No Labels and the Problem Solvers Caucus represent the alternative to the very vocal interest groups that seem to have seized both political parties in America. Government cannot function without compromise, and the extremes on the left and right make compromise extremely difficult. It is no coincidence that our most effective presidents were generally great compromisers. Jefferson was a compromiser, so was Lincoln and Reagan. Even Richard Nixon, a flawed and as right-leaning a President as we ever had, understood the necessity of compromise.  Remember it was under Nixon that we passed the Clean Air Act and established the Environmental Protection Agency.  We even had wage-price controls under Nixon and the final abolition of the gold standard.

No Labels has attracted some of the nation’s best thinkers, and many public-spirited leaders from both the public and private sectors.  Former Senator Joe Lieberman, co-chair of No Labels and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair both spoke at the opening session last week. Tom Reed (R-NY), co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus discussed what we’ll call the art of the possible. Tax reform, another run at passing some immigration reform, a massive infrastructure commitment and the corporate repatriation of trillions of dollars held abroad all seem within the realm of the possible. It’s amazing what can be accomplished or, at least, seriously attempted when we put labels aside.

So, we think George Washington would have really liked what we saw in New York last week. He would have seen an alternative to the factionalism and the type of tribalism that threatens our democracy today. Our first President was incredibly perceptive. He warned that political parties…“ agitate(s) the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection, and opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government through the channel of party passions.”  Sound familiar?

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Trump-Schumer-Pelosi Deal: Roll Out the Barrel

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsZing boom tararrel!

Come December we suspect the Democrats are going to roll out the barrel, and, yes sir, they’re going to have a barrel of fun.

So what was he thinking–President Trump, that is. Well, he wasn’t. Not really.  Tying the funding for Hurricane Harvey relief to a debt ceiling extension measure was a dubious idea to begin with unless someone thought it presented an opportunity to (1) secure a very long-term extension of the debt ceiling beyond the 2018 mid-term elections, or (2) do away with the ceiling altogether. In any event, neither objective was accomplished.  The ninety-day extension will end at the very time President Trump wants to get his cherished tax reform plan through Congress, and maybe progress on other key initiatives such as immigration, health care, and government spending.  The pressure will be much greater on Trump than on Schumer and Pelosi not to let the government be shut down over a tax measure that will be seen as benefitting wealthy tax payers. Trust us, a government shutdown over the debt ceiling would hurt Trump and the Republicans far more than it would hurt Schumer, Pelosi and the Democrats. This, the Art of the Deal?  We don’t think so.

Lifting the debt ceiling was not an immediate requisite to funding for the Harvey disaster anyway.  Ryan and other leading Republican House members had, as a matter of principle, intended to advance an initial disaster-relief bill that wasn’t tied to an increase in the debt ceiling.  While there was no question that the debt ceiling had to be addressed, it didnt have to be coupled with initial disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey.  House conservatives wanted to tie raising the debt to fiscally responsible concessions on federal spending and leave the debt-ceiling provision out of the disaster funding package.

The original White House disaster aid request was to  include $5.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $450 million for the Small Business Administration,  which would have covered funding demands through the Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year.  Then, raising the debt ceiling could have been dealt with as an entirely separate matter and for a decidedly longer period of time.

Mitch McConnell,  running things in the Senate,  would have joined disaster relief money and a much longer increase in the debt ceiling and passed the two together. That would have would kicked the debt ceiling vote past the 2018 elections. Such a bill might have lost some votes in the House, but it probably would have passed.  Now, it would appear, that Schumer and Pelosi can hold all manner of Republican initiatives, such as tax reform, hostage to a debt ceiling increase in 90 days. The Democrats came to the White House meeting this week with few cards to play, and yet seemed to parlay a weak hand and into a royal flush.  Come December, when the Administration won’t be able to get much done without a debt ceiling deal, the Democrats are going to be sitting with a very strong hand. It will be a hand dealt to them by none other than President Trump,

We suspect the Democrats are going to have a good December.  How good?  Click (or paste and copy) this link and picture Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi leading the party. https://playback.fm/charts/top-100-songs/video/1939/Will-Glahe–his-Orchestra-Beer-Barrel-Polka-Roll-out-the-Barrel .

 

 

 

Trump between a rock and a hard place on DACA.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsHoisted on his own petard.

First some history. In 2001 Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced legislation to give legal status to undocumented children (who were brought here by their undocumented parents), which we now know as the DREAM Act. However, the DREAM Act just couldn’t muster the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster in the Senate. But for the obscure and esoteric rules of the United States Senate, we wouldn’t have a DACA crisis today.

Once again, in December of 2010, both houses of Congress, Democrats and Republicans working together, voted for legislation that would have given legal status to undocumented children so that these young men and women could go to school, get a driver’s license, serve in the military and otherwise contribute to the vitality of the country. Very few of these boys and girls even knew they lacked legal status. On average, these children were about six-and-a-half years of age when they were brought to the United States. They had the temerity to think they were Americans and they behaved like Americans—good, law-abiding Americans who got into trouble with the law at a significantly lower rate than their native-born peers.

Unfortunately, the bi-partisan legislation, again, failed to achieve the 60% vote required by Senate rules, and these young people have been in limbo ever since. Eight hundred thousand of the estimated 1.3 million undocumented young men and women have applied for and been given temporary legal status by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that former President Obama put into effect by executive order in 2012.  It was an intelligent, humane and presidential act by Obama.

When candidate Donald Trump was campaigning for the presidency he made quite an issue of the nation’s immigration quagmire.  Decades of deliberate government leniency and considerable neglect had resulted in millions of residents who have no legal status here in the United States—an estimated 11 to 12 million to be (almost) exact. Slightly over 10% of these undocumented residents were brought here as children. They were raised here, many know no other country, some speak no other language and often have no knowledge or recollection of the country from which they were brought here. What a juicy target for demagogic politicians.

Enter candidate Donald Trump.

Candidate Trump railed against the undocumented residents living here.  And, truth be told, they were fair game. They were after all undocumented (a euphemism for illegal). But candidate Trump, sensing a vast sympathetic swath of the American electorate really poured it on. They were not merely undocumented they were, as implied by Trump, largely murderers, rapists, robbers and all manner of evil doers, while some, he allowed, were probably normal human beings.

To his credit President Trump, once in office, tempered his vitriol toward the undocumented children, and deferred any action to rescind DACA. But President Trump has now been hoisted on his own petard. A gaggle of Republican Attorneys General, in effect, have issued an ultimatum that unless President Trump rescinds DACA this week, they will file suit in Federal court to force the issue, and they probably have a viable case. They will ask a federal judge who already ruled that one Obama-era deferred action program is unconstitutional (the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program, or DAPA, which was stopped before going into effect in 2015) to do the same for DACA.

It appears that the Trump administration is maneuvering to give the president more time to decide what to do with DACA. Here’s the President’s dilemma. In addition to the question of whether or not to fight the states in court to protect DACA, Trump has to figure out what to do with the program.

It probably can’t continue as it is. President Trump could compromise by declaring that people can keep their current work permits, but no new DACA applications will be considered. That would preclude youngsters who are currently 15 years of age or younger from protections (they were not included in DACA), as well as the hundreds of thousands more who might be eligible but never applied.

So, then, one might ask what happens when DACA recipients’ current two-year work permits expire in the months ahead.  Good question.  We don’t know.  No one does.

President Trump could, theoretically, allow current DACA recipients to renew one more time to give Congress time to pass legislation rectifying the problem. Or he could set a deadline after which no new DACA renewals would be approved. That would mean that thousands of youngster would, once again, find themselves in limbo.

It’s a mess. If DACA is terminated immigrants would have to leave their full-time jobs in order to comply with the law or continue working illegally. While those who are in school might be able to remain, they would probably have trouble retaining their financial assistance, and, of course, they probably couldn’t apply for jobs once they graduated.

Then there is the matter of the extensive personal information DACA applicants gave to the government when they applied. They could now be easily tracked down, arrested, and placed in deportation proceedings once they no longer had DACA protection. DACA information had been protected from ICE agents by privacy regulations, but President Trump relaxed those restrictions as soon as he was inaugurated.

Should DACA be terminated, former DACA kids could continue to live as they had been living with DACA although they would then be in real risk of deportation.  As we said earlier.  It’s a real mess.

 

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