Trump

Invoking the 25Th Amendment Must Be a Last Resort

The anonymous Trump Administration “senior official” who penned a piece in Thursday’s New York Times said nothing new.

And there is the shame of this piece.

The Trump Administration has been a vortex of fire and fury, a cacophony of boasts and lies, a scandal of incompetence and fawning since January 21,2017.

Virtues – we know – are the flip side of faults. In my case – I do not suffer fools – politely or patiently.

Personally, the President Donald J Trump’s behavior disturbed me even before his election.

I’ve known and worked with more than a few multi-national company CEOs with egos and tempers. But none of them displayed the lack of self-control or self-awareness of our President.

In July,2017, I penned a blog that included illustrations of the President’s behavior — far out of the norm and so potentially fraught. My bottom-line even then — time to consider invoking the 25th Amendment.

Now we learn that some Trump Administration members were discussing the remedy as well.

But they decided it would – “provoke a Constitutional Crisis”. They were correct.

Removing a Sitting President Should Not Become a Norm

Invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Donald J. Trump from office would be a very serious step — create a precedent.

The Amendment – ratified in 1967 – was first discussed toward the end of Woodrow Wilson’s time in office when he was at least partially incapacitated by a stroke. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s declining health and death in office raised the issue again. Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack was another data point as Congress pondered a process forward. The tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy was the final impetus needed.

Subsequent Presidents have used the Amendment during medical procedures in which they were sedated. The Vice President assumes the responsibility until the President can “sign back in”.

In 1973 when Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation resulted in the ascendance of Gerald Ford to Vice Presidency and subsequently the Presidency – the 25th Amendment succession provisions were followed.

The 25th Amendment has never been used to involuntarily remove a President from office.

There is no doubt majority of Americans – including members of both parties in Congress — do not want use of either Articles of Impeachment or the 25th Amendment to become “politics as usual”.

Unless the President is unable to do the job or has provably committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” – average citizens and politicians, alike, prefer to use the traditional expression of our disapproval — removing a President at the ballot box.

If Vice President Pence were to become convinced President Trump was incapacitated, he would initiate the 25th Amendment process by securing agreement from a simple majority of administration’s cabinet secretaries that the President could not perform the duties of his office.

Next, he would petition Congress to appoint him as the Acting President based on the President’s incapacity. Congress would hear testimony and vote. If two-thirds majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed, President Trump would be replaced by the Vice President.

The moment a request to remove President Trump reached Congress, some members would release a hue and cry claiming the request was an act of political retribution perpetrated by the “elite media” and the “political elite” – the “Hollywood types” — the “Resistance” – the (awful) “pink hats”.

And there in lies the risk. No matter how justified the use of the amendment in this instance, the Freedom Caucus, the “base” – the Grand Old Party of Trump (GOPT) — would claim it was “political”. The leadership of both parties fear most of all giving voters the impression they are allowing the far left or far right “base” to use politics to remove a President they could not beat at the polls.

Dissent Begins at the Ballot Box

But can a President who uses Twitter daily – many times a day – to underscore how impetus, dishonest, bellicose, belligerent, and banal he is be allowed the “nuclear football”?

Can a President subject to fits of temper and flights of fancy about his own accomplishments in office be allowed to continue careening from issue to issue without ever reaching resolution?

Can a President who refuses to tell his own Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense or Director of National Intelligence what he discussed with Russia’s Putin be trusted to conduct foreign policy – to keep our nation safe?

As fraught the potential precedent of invoking the 25th Amendment might be – isn’t it equally perilous to cheer Donald J. Trump on as he redefines the presidency in the model of “mad King George III?

The anonymous “senior official” correctly cautioned the greatest risk to our democracy is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility”.

It is not enough “senior official” to invoke the memory of Senator John McCain or to pray – between the lines of your op-ed — for a Mueller Miracle. It is time for you to do what John McCain would do if he were able.

You must come forward and confront head on the danger President Trump presents to the nation. You must force Vice President Pence to do what he knows is his responsibility to the country.

When the smoke clears, the American people will laud you for the courage to “put country first”!

The Folly of August Impeachment Talk

President Trump’s business and political associates had a bad week this week.

Based on the 16 guilty findings, it is clear the President does not pick the “best” to work for him.

It is, highly likely, as Michael Cohen’s guilty plea tried to establish, President Trump and his presidential campaign violated at least some Federal Election Commission rules – if not some election laws.

But is a combination of poor hiring decisions, technical campaign violations, a clear record of misogyny, erratic tweeting, and a failure to comprehend what it means to be President of the United States – leader of the Free World – enough to overturn the legitimately decided 2016 election?

Based on precedent, the answer is NO:

  • The Obama campaigns paid roughly $350K in fines for campaign finance law violations and no one suggested a “high crime” or “misdemeanor” had been committed.
  • John Edwards was charged with directing campaign contributions to the support of his mistress and the jury found him not guilty.
  • Bill Clinton was impeached by the Republican House of Representatives on charges of perjury. The Senate acknowledged his wrongdoing but did not vote to find him guilty of either a high crime or misdemeanor.

In fact, President Clinton’s approval rate rose two points during the impeachment trial in the Senate.

But Clinton did have to surrender his Arkansas law license after admitting that he had lied to the Special Counsel under oath — felony perjury.

Impeachment is not a political instrument. That’s the purpose of elections.

It must be used only in defense of Constitutional liberty or the rule of law. It requires strong bi-partisan support from the American people.

Smoke or Fire: The President Still Has A Job to Do

Privately, some fellow Republican members of the House, agree with Oklahoma Republican, Tom Cole, who told CNBC, the day after the guilty plea and guilty verdicts he is “concerned about the President’s potential wrong doing”. Where there’s smoke, and there’s a lot of smoke, there may well be fire.”

But, at this point, the President is not charged with any actual misconduct – except the excessive and intemperate use of his Twitter account.

“Former government ‘experts’ are earning millions reading the legalistic T leaves on cable television through a lens of politics – pro-Trump (“it’s a witch hunt”) or anti-Trump (forecasting the proverbial “other shoe to drop”). The result is a more polarized electorate.

Meanwhile the Mueller investigators and the US Attorney in Manhattan continue their work – in silence – realizing that they must reach an incontrovertible conclusion based entirely on proven facts. Nothing else, either clearing the President of any wrong doing or finding him an “an “un-indicted co-conspirator” will be accepted by the American people.

And in the meantime, we have a country to run.

On most days, the main stream media and social media are so taken up with rumor and innuendo about the President’s state of mind and potential criminality – sometimes punctuated with brief coverage of a fiery conflagration or massive hurricane – the average citizen can easily forget:

Congress must pass a $857 Billion budget package by the end of September to avoid a government shutdown.

The Senate is scheduled to confirm a 9th member of the Supreme Court to replace Justice Kennedy before the Supreme Court resumes deliberations in October.

Congress Needs to Step Up to Do the People’s Business

And while all these problems remain critical and unresolved, where is Congress?

Chris Collins is probably negotiating a deal with the US Attorney in Manhattan to keep his son out of jail after their indictment for insider trading and lying to the FBI.

Duncan Hunter is defending himself against charges of misappropriation of $250K in campaign contributions by throwing his wife under the proverbial “bus”.

Paul Ryan is in the Grand Tetons with a bunch of wealthy Republican donors. I “liked” his Instagram picture rock climbing with his brother!

And 432 others are running to the microphones to argue for President’s impeachment or alternatively to “rile-up” the GOP base to prevent Donald Trump’s impeachment.

Issues Instead of Sound Bites

Fact is, unless Robert Mueller’s crack team of federal attorneys and investigators build a case against President Trump clearly demonstrating his guilt on charges of conspiracy with the Russians or the use of the Presidency to obstruct justice or tamper with witnesses — there are going to be no Articles of Impeachment.

Even if the President is found to, also, have cheated on his income taxes there will be NO Articles of Impeachment. Too many members of Congress, also, cheat on their taxes!

This is true even if the Democrats, as expected, take back control of the House of Representatives.

Why waste the time and national energy when there is no conceivable path to the 67 Senate votes needed to convict and impeach this President?

It is time you and I – the voters and taxpayers — demand that Congress return to Washington and do their job: Run the country. Act as the co-equal branch of government they are! Lead!

Find bi-partisan compromises to address the issues facing the nation and send legislation to the President to “take it or leave it”.

If the members of Congress cannot tackle the nation’s critical issues with public, not political purpose, then we should impeach them at the ballot box in November.

$25 Billion Investment in Border Security

My parents were refugees from Hitler. They were well educated, English speaking and able to rapidly assimilate into American life in the late 1930s.

Despite their best efforts; government bureaucracy, anti-Semitism and the speed with which Hitler seized most of Central and Western Europe thwarted their efforts to save their families from Nazi concentration camps.

They lived the American Dream but they both died in their late 90s still suffering from “survivor guilt” – still wondering what more they could have done for their parents and siblings – still missing them, still grieving for them.

On the day she died, my mother asked her care giver to pack a bag for her – saying she was going on a journey to visit her mother – my grandmother.

Desperation Drives Migration

When a young mother in Guatemala or Honduras makes the decision to pay a smuggler several thousand dollars to help her and her child/children leave their home, traveling thousands of miles north, she recognizes she is leaving everyone else in her life behind.

What drives her is the same certainty my parents felt – there is no other choice but to flee or to perish.

She is setting forth – knowing it is likely she will never see her parents or her siblings again.

She realizes – though she must dismiss the possibility in order to start the journey – she may not survive to reach the United States border with Mexico.

She, also, realizes – but is told by the smuggler not to worry – that US authorities may not let her remain in the United States.

If she is allowed to remain, alone except for her child/children, in a strange land with a strange language — the life that lies ahead will be full of new danger and challenges.

To leave everything familiar behind, to undertake that journey in the face of such overwhelming uncertainty – she must be truly desperate.

America Should Spend $25 Billion Wisely

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson points out – to stop the flow of undocumented migrants we have to change the conditions on the ground in their home countries.

Underlying all the murder and mayhem – the fear and the poverty these families are fleeing — are the two dependent scourges of illegal drugs and the cartels that have become rich and powerful from Los Angeles to San Salvador — growing, transporting and selling these poisons.

The combination of leftist guerilla bands – supported by Cuba — and drug cartels have left innocent populations terrorized and victimized for generations.

It is estimated that 3.4 million Central Americans have fled to the United States since 2012.

What they are leaving behind is a triangle of failing nation-states that represent a clear and present danger to the safety of the United States’

Without a population able to resist, the cartels become the only “government” in the region – armed, violent, and aggressive toward their neighbors – an opportunity for Hezbollah and Iran anxious to expand their participation in the cocaine trade north from South America.

Without a “legitimate” economy, cocaine and violent gang members are the region’s chief exports to the United States.

Since the later years of the Reagan Administration various American governments have provided intelligence and drug interdiction support to weak governments throughout the region but a few brave Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officers are not an army equipped to fight the cartels.

Deter Migration by Reducing Central America Violence

US Special Forces are in Syria training Syrians to fight for their homeland. They are in Iraq training Iraqis. They are in the heroin capital of the world – Afghanistan – training Afghanis.

Navy Seal (and other Special Forces) advisers can help the military of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to fight back.

Why not send American soldier/advisers south to intervene on the behalf of the families who are suffering under intolerable conditions.

If we deploy a portion of President Trump’s $25 Billion “security budget” to train soldiers in Central America to fight back against the drug cartels and remaining rag-tag guerilla bands, the US military advisers can do what a few DEA agents can’t — help Central American police and military forces to slow, if not stop, the production and transport of cocaine to the United States.

Slowing the flow of cocaine from Central America will save US lives while reducing health care costs.

US Special Forces have more than just military skills. They train farmers to raise legitimate crops profitably. They help civic leaders to create the basic instruments of governments – community councils, schools, health clinics – that serve the people, build civil societies.

But none of this potential to change conditions on the ground can be achieved without the precursor of a strong diplomatic effort to persuade and reassure Central American governments. But diplomacy cannot begin until the Trump Administration appoints ambassadors to these war-torn countries.

Process Asylum Claims Locally

In addition to fully staffed embassies, the administration should use some of the “security budget” to expand our consular services so that people who have a legitimate fear of persecution from gangs etc. can easily and safely apply for US asylum from a facility in their country of origin.

Asylum affidavits begun in the country of origin would be easier and faster to verify.

If asylum is warranted, these families – mainly women and children – would be able to travel safely to the United States. Their arrival and settlement pre-arranged.

If asylum is not warranted, they would be saved the dangerous and costly journey and an even more uncertain future upon their return.

In addition to expanded consular services, the US government – including our security services – should encourage (and partner with) US and international “non-governmental organizations” to provide shelter for those seeking asylum and an escape from violence in their home countries – create “safe zones”.

An Antidote to Desperation

The antidote to desperation is hope and the United States of America must give these people hope.

The people of Central America are young and hard-working. A cessation of violence would open the opportunity for economic expansion in the region — a benefit to the entire North American continent.

A reduction in the fear of violence and expanded economic opportunity are, in fact, the only way to stop the northward migration no matter how high the wall and how difficult the journey.

These goals are worth fighting for and our neighbors to the south would surely agree – if the United States came with a rational solution — no different than in Teddy Roosevelt’s time – “speak softly” but offer a “big stick”.

California Can’t Be a 21st Century Superpower Acting Like a 19th Century Rebel

When California entered the Union in 1850 Independence, Missouri, marked the western edge of American civilization.

From Independence to Sutter’s Fort on the Sacramento River there was no United States — just a vast and often forbidding wilderness and towering mountains that must be crossed.

To get to California across that wilderness, travelers attempted a 2000 mile journey by wagon, horseback or on foot.

The journey consumed many months and many early settlers died in the attempt

The entire population of the United States was just over 23 million people – of which approximately 19 million were non-Hispanic whites — immigrants from Europe and their descendants. Congress would not grant birth right citizenship to Native Americans for another 75 years.

Mail between the new state government and the national government was mainly carried from Washington to Panama by steamship, trekked on foot or by donkey overland across the Isthmus of Panama and then carried from Panama to Sacramento by a second steamship – a journey measured in months not days. Mail (and gold bullion) from Sacramento made the same journey — in reverse. Construction on Panama Canal would not begin for another half century.

As an experiment in accelerated communication – President Buchannan’s second annual message to Congress was carried overland on horseback to Sacramento in just 17 days.

Geography Determined the Distribution of Power

California’s distance from the national capital – in the middle of the 19th century — best illustrates the jurisdictional ambiguity – the push and pull between state sovereignty and federalism — the point where the power of a state government ends and the national government begins.

Awash in gold and fortune seekers, and with only sporadic communication and instruction from Congress or the President, Californians took it upon themselves to form a state government capable of maintaining law and order, adjudicating land claims and establishing regulations to control the actions of private actors – banks, land agents, merchants – and ordinary citizens.

The federal government’s presence was limited – principally – to small US Army (Cavalry) and US Navy outposts established following the end of the Mexican War in 1848.

Congressional action in 1862 authorized the sale of federal bonds to underwrite the construction of the first transcontinental railroad (system) and a parallel telegraph line linking California to the established rail lines east of the Missouri River.

Land grants along the railway right of way helped to hasten settlement of some of the more fertile areas along the right-of-way – reducing but not ending California’s isolation — while making the early investors the wealthiest men in California.

California in the 21st century is no different from California in the 1850s and 1860s. Whether immigration, addressing climate change, and defining the government’s role in health care – California wants to ignore the rules but refuses to give up the money that come with those rules.

How the 16th Amendment Intruded on California’s Independence

By ratifying the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913, the states agreed to allow the Congress to directly tax citizens, equally, in every state for purely “national” purposes.

Direct taxation combined with the concept of the guarantee of the “full faith and credit of the United States” changed everything.

From 1914 forward — slowly, steadily in small steps and big leaps the power of the federal purse has fallen more directly on the shoulders of every American citizen – who, now pay — on average — about one-third of their gross income on federal payroll and state and federal income taxes.

Over time those “national purposes” have intruded into traditional areas of state government responsibility as basic as the social safety net, highway construction, healthcare, public education, and emergency preparedness – “bribed” with bushels of federal dollars generated through higher and higher federal taxes and more and more federal borrowing.

Each intrusion had an early and specific purpose that benefited citizens but money is seductive – and “free money” more seductive.

“Free money” stimulates legislative creative thinking about how more “free money” could do much more good with “no new taxes”.

For example, it is worth asking ourselves if California would allocated $600 million in gasoline and general sales taxes to build a 1.75 mile subway connecting San Francisco’s financial district with the developing (but earthquake sensitive) “south-of-market” unless they were assured of a “matching” federal grant of $983 million from the Interstate Highway Trust Fund?

“Free Money”

When payroll and income taxes no longer yielded enough revenue for the various and sundry purposes – Congress thought up new “indirect” taxes embedded in the point-of-sale purchase price of the product.

For example, President Eisenhower advocated the building of an integrated interstate highway system as a matter of national security.

Congress agreed, imposing a federal gasoline tax through the Federal Highway Act of 1956. The Act was a 10 year program with only one purpose — to build an Interstate Highway System: For example, Interstate 80 from San Francisco to Washington D.C. and Interstate 5 from the Mexican Border to the Canadian border.

President Eisenhower believed it was the states’ responsibility to build off-ramps from the interstate highways onto their state highways.

Fast-forward to today, Congress is debating yet another increase in the federal gasoline tax to help big coastal cities build transit systems, local expressways etc… paid for big city commuters but, also, by citizens from Nevada, Wyoming, Nebraska, West Virginia etc.– who depend on cars and trucks for all their transportation needs!

Ending the Jurisdictional Ambiguity

In both the 19th and 20th century, Congress’ used the lure of “free money” to link California more closely to Washington. In the 19th century the bribe was plentiful public land used to stimulate investment in the transcontinental railroad and in the 20 century it was the bounty of federal tax dollars.

In the 21st century — in the shadow of some 30 laws suits against the federal government — Sacramento and Washington must finally settle the issue: Is California one of 50 federated states or the Republic of California.

If “California Values” are the political rejection of the traditional values of the majority of Americans in the other 49 – then California must take financial responsibility for living with those values.

If California wants to have an “open border policy” – citizens of the other 49 states shouldn’t be expected to share in paying the resulting security, social welfare, and education costs. “California Values” should be paid for by Californians.

If California wants to battle climate change by enforcing stricter car emission limits and gasoline mileage requirements — California should be able to enforce those stricter measurements.

But California’s stricter emission standards will increase the cost of a new automobile by a few thousand dollars. Will consumers be willing to pay more for smaller, lighter imports that meet the higher California standards?  Will USA car manufacturers step up and compete  – let the market place decide.

If California believes a single payer health care system that dictates access and provides the same level of free health care to anyone in the state – citizens, residents, and continuously arriving undocumented migrants alike — then California tax payers have to agree to pay for that program without additional federal dollars.

If California wants to build a “high speed railroad” to link San Francisco and Los Angeles good, but just as a few wealthy Californians were the prime movers behind the first transcontinental railroad – the legislature should persuade the billionaires at Facebook, Google, Apple, Paypal etc. to pay for the railway they expect to benefit from.

When faced with the responsibility to pay for their choices, I am willing to bet real money California tax payers and consumers will choose linkage to “free money” and start expecting their elected officials to follow the rules.

Graphic Courtesy of Snopes.Com

President Trump’s Opioid Plan Falls Short

President Trump declared his determination to end the opioid epidemic — over the next “7 years” in a New Hampshire speech.

The location was not a coincidence. New Hampshire has the third highest rate of death by opioid overdose — ending the crisis a cornerstone of state politics.

Opioid addiction and related deaths have reached a crisis point in the United States.

The death of more than 64,000 Americans in 2016 (the last year for which there is total data) underscores the urgency of the problem.

My head was nodding in agreement as the President tick-off his administration’s planned actions:

  • Research to develop non-addictive pain medications.
  • New pain management training for doctors to discourage unnecessary use of opioids.
  • Changing Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) opioid prescription reimbursement policies to minimize over-prescription and over- dispensing.
  • Increased spending for in-patient treatment of addicts.
  • Increased reimbursement for mental health treatment in the Medicaid program.
  • Donations – by the manufacturer – of two boxes of the overdose antidote Narcan to every high school and college in the country.
  • Stiffer jail sentences for drug dealers.
    • Even the potential of the death penalty for drug dealers
  • New vocational training programs in prisons to help first-time offenders get the skills they need to become “productive citizens” when they leave prison.

Illegal Immigration Not the Root Cause of Opioid Crisis

And then the President went further – returning to familiar themes we hear at campaign-style rallies, reporter gaggles and other formal speeches:

  • The Opioid Crisis is worsened by Sanctuary Cities that protect MS 13 members.
  • Fentanyl is smuggled in from Mexico. USA must build a southern border wall to keep smugglers and their drugs out of USA.
  • Countries that have the death penalty for drug dealers don’t have a “drug problem”. “Maybe the USA needs a death penalty for drug dealers.”

One does not have to support Sanctuary Cities to see how coincidental the relationship between sanctuary cities and a flood of drugs on the streets of America.

MS13 is a criminal cartel formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s – who deal in drugs and other criminality because that’s where the money is! The majority of members are birthright citizens who can be imprisoned but not deported.

Didn’t Attorney General Sessions, sitting in the audience, brief the President on current law?

  • There is a federal death penalty for drug dealers who peddle more than $20 million of “junk”.
  • The majority of drug convictions are in state criminal courts muting a federal death penalty.

Time for a War on Fentanyl

116 preventable deaths every day – 365 days a year for several years is not an epidemic — it is a “black plague” requiring drastic action not “happy talk”!

Most of these deaths involve a synthetic opioid known as fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a legal drug, synthetic opioid, used in some medically appropriate anesthesia and pain killers – under government license.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported an increase of 512 percent in fentanyl related opioid deaths from 2012 to 2016.

A 512 percent increase in deaths from the illegal distribution of a controlled substance is an exigent circumstance.

The distribution of fentanyl on American streets must be stopped – stopped now — stopped at the source.

Kill the Opioid Crisis at the Source: China

The principle source of illegal fentanyl, today, is China.

The opiate trade with China dates back more than two centuries to when American clipper ships made the dangerous voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to trade opiates, tea, and silks with China.

Clipper ships have been replaced with airplanes that carry cargo for the United States Postal Service (USPS).

In January,2018, following a year-long investigation, the United States Senate reported $766 million worth of fentanyl was “imported” from China via internet purchases delivered by the USPS. The Senate further reported the postal service had failed to purchase or deploy electronic tracking equipment to identify and stop suspicious packages from China or anywhere else.

According to NBC News, industrial quantities of Chinese fentanyl slip into the USA from Mexico.

This fentanyl crosses at perfectly legal ports of entry smuggled in cars or trucks. In terms the President would understand, fentanyl drives through the “gates in the wall” he wants to build.

The Rand Corporation argues, stopping drug trafficking through legal ports of entry requires the deployment of additional uniformed and trained personnel using sophisticated electronic detection equipment. Like the postal service, US Customs has failed to deploy these proven and effective assets.

China Can Stop Fentanyl Trade

The Chinese government gives lip service to cracking down on the fentanyl trade but has done little or nothing to close down a plethora of online sites in Chinese cyber-space that are selling fentanyl.

The President should impose serious and immediate trade penalties on China for their failure to crack down on the $766 million China to USA illegal fentanyl trade.

  • More than tariffs, perhaps some outright product bans.
  • Conduct an evidentiary hearing at the UN Security Council.

In addition, the President should issue an Executive Order authorizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and USPS to purchase and deploy the currently available electronic tracking equipment needed to identify suspected fentanyl shipments from China or Mexico.

The equipment must be installed and operating reliably within 90 days – by the first of July! There can be no excuses.

Then the President must activate sufficient numbers of well-trained National Guard members to support, train, and supplement the postal and customs personnel.

The goal of this effort, in addition to all the other steps the President suggested in New Hampshire, should be to reduce the death rate from 116 people per day to less than 50 per day by the end of 2018 and to reduce that number to less than 25 a day by the end of 2019.

Cutting the fentanyl supply chain is the one thing that will make the rest of President Trump’s “plan” work to eradicate death by fentanyl.

Illustration courtesy of The Brookside Associates

No Teenager Next Door Should Own a Gun

The children of Florida are demanding #NeverAgain.

Never may not be possible in a society awash with guns — but America can do much more to prevent school children from being murdered in their classrooms.

The students of Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School are showing us the way. Through articulate arguments and determination, they (and their parents and teachers) are turning their grief, fear and anger into action.

Florida politicians would be wise to heed their resolve and their promise to use their first vote to insure that “something changes”.

It’s not just Florida politicians who should take notice.

In 2020 3.9 million children born since the 1999 Columbine Massacre will vote in their first presidential election. These young people have grown up accustomed to “active shooter” drills in their schools. In the 13 years since Sandy Hook there have been 200 school shootings and 400 students have been killed.

 

Their fear is our shame. When our legislators took campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association (NRA) instead of passing reasonable gun safety legislation after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after any one of 198 other school shootings – voters should have voted them out of office. But we didn’t.

In business when we see a pattern of adverse activity, we quickly work to identify the potential corrective action and implement them to alter the trajectory of the pattern.

For example, most of these child killers have a lot in common:

  • All of them exhibited signs of social alienation or mental illness
  • All of the school shootings were student on student violence
  • Most of them obtained their weapons legally
  • Many had parents who overcompensated — repeatedly – effectively covering-up and excusing for their child’s abnormal behavior
  • With few exceptions, they were able to pass a National Instant Criminal (Background) Check (NICS).

It’s time to implement sensible corrective action:

  1. Raise the National Gun Ownership Age to 21.

Science tells us that the adolescent brain is not fully formed – that impulse control is not yet mature. It makes zero sense to allow an adolescent who cannot buy a beer to buy a powerful semi-automatic gun and high capacity ammunition magazines. Congress should raise the national age limit for gun ownership to 21.

The lack of impulse control magnifies the normal angst teenagers experience as they evolve from childhood toward adulthood.

The lack of impulse control leads teenagers to sometimes treat one another cruelly. Bullying is not new, but bullying magnified hundreds, thousands of times through social media can have deadly consequences.

  1. Include Juvenile Mental Health Records in NICS

Pediatricians no longer believe that children who exhibit mental illness as early as during their toddler years will “grow out of the problem”– mental illness – ranging from Asperger Syndrome to bi-polar disorder (manic depressive) to attention deficit disorder and anxiety disorders.

While juvenile criminal records might appropriately be sealed in most states the same is not true of mental health records because those illnesses are likely to follow the child into adulthood.

It is not necessary to unseal those records to put a “flag” into NICS requiring further investigation for juvenile offenders and diagnosed mental illness.

Such a flag would not preclude gun ownership, but would require further investigation before granting the permit to purchase.

  1. Authorities Must Follow-up On Every Credible Threat Reported

The FBI was warned twice about Nikolaz Cruz and did not follow-up. The FBI has committed to improving their threat evaluation process.

Many states have laws that require the temporary surrender of fire arms in cases of spousal abuse or if law enforcement deems the gun owner to be a danger to themselves or others. These are called “Red Flag Laws”.

Florida does not have such a law. Even if the Miami Field Office of the FBI had contacted Nikolaz Cruz – it is not likely they could have disarmed him.

  1. Implement Strict Training and Licensing Requirements

A gun is a powerful weapon. A life can be transformed or lost in an instance – deliberately or by accident. No one should be allowed to own or use such an instrument without rigorous training and evaluation.

No state would issue a driver’s license to an adolescent (or adult) who cannot demonstrate the ability to drive a car – cars can (and do) kill.

Why is it different for guns?

An examiner testing an applicant’s ability to use a gun safely might, also, be able to pick-up signs of a potential risk.

A gun licensing program would not be a guarantee against gun violence but it might reduce the number and frequency of shootings.

None of these measures would infringe on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

March in Solidarity #Neveragain

Strengthening the NICS background check system and, even licensing firearms, wouldn’t guarantee the elimination of gun violence in our schools, churches, concerts, or airports, but tighter controls might save lives?

A complex, urban society needs realistic checks and balances between personal liberty and the common good.

That’s why all of us need to mark March 24 on our calendars.

It’s time to MARCH in solidarity with the students of Parkland, Florida, our own children and in memory of the 400 school children killed over the last decade.

Graphic courtesy of (WKYT TV) Nicholasville, Kt.

Perverting the Purpose of Congressional Oversight

Early in my son’s elementary school career I routinely got notes from his teachers asking me to stop by the following morning.

“What happened,” I would ask him? I’d listen to his story.

The next morning I would talk with the teacher.

Only after I’d heard both sides, I’d make up my own mind about what actually happened and how I should react.

You will find an analogy in the charges and counter-charges between the Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee over the FBI’s surveillance of Carter Page.

I am convinced that the truth lies in the middle – between what I call “dueling memos”.

The specifics of the Carter Page FISA warrant and the two memos that claim to interpret that surveillance are of less consequence. The incontrovertible fact is that both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee have abused Congress’s important oversight role for transparently political motives.

The committee’s objective should have been to determine the facts on a bi-partisan basis and in co-operation with Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI.

If they concluded the foreign intelligence surveillance process permitted an abuse of Mr. Page’s constitutional rights, they should have worked with DOJ and the FBI to craft a legislative remedy to prevent similar future abuse and then brought an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) during the recent Patriot Act renewal process. https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/18/politics/fisa-reauthorization-senate-vote/index.html

Putting the Brakes on Intelligence Activities

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was passed in 1978 — in the wake of disturbing revelations of US intelligence abuses leaked to the press associated with the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal – writ large.

In testimony before a 1975 committee chaired by Idaho Senator Frank Church (D), Americans were shocked to learn the US Army had spied on Americans in America.

Further, the Church Committee and other Senate committees – including the Watergate investigation — uncovered CIA domestic operations against anti-Vietnam War protesters. These activities violated several US laws.

More alarming, press leaks and Congressional investigation found the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco was not the only CIA conducted attempted coup against a foreign government or assassination of foreign leaders.

It was clear to Congress much closer oversight over the national intelligence community was urgently needed. Intelligence oversight that strictly balances national security with protecting the rights of individual Americans began with the first Permanent Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1976 leading to the 1978 legislation.

To protect the national security, the legislation established a system of permanent congressional oversight of each individual intelligence agency in the US government and over any co-operation or co-ordination between the separate intelligence agencies.

To protect the rights of individual Americans who might come under scrutiny from one or more of these intelligence agencies, Congress established the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court system.

CLICK HERE FOR FISA COURT PRIMER

The nature of intelligence assumes that most of the oversight would be conducted “behind closed doors” by members of Congress and others with appropriate security clearances and safe guards.

As citizens, we should be able to trust the committee members are acting in our (collective) best interests.

Oversight is intended to continuously improve the performance of our intelligence agencies:

  • Insure sufficient resources (budget) are allocated to each agency’s mission
  • Insure each agency is fully compliant with Constitutional and lawful restrictions
  • Insure investigation of any potential overreach or unlawful conduct by any agency personnel is dealt with through civil service administrative practices
  • Identify any opportunities for improved outcomes for the national security

Dueling Memos

In my career, I have taken many corporate management teams through detailed post-mortems. These exercises are conducted after situations that have perceived to be extraordinarily successful of to have failed.

The objective is not to find fault or award promotions.

The objective is to find facts and to use those facts to develop corrective actions driven by those facts.

The facts of the FISA warrant to monitor the electronic communications of Carter Page should have been investigated and adjudicated by the House Intelligence Committee exactly in the manner suggested by FBI Director Christopher Wray. He asked for, and was refused, an opportunity to provide a briefing to clarify why and what triggered the FBI interest in Mr. Page.

In closed door testimony a flow chart of events should have been examined — each step in the flow chart annotated with the factual evidence and surrounding circumstances.

Those circumstances would, obviously, include any discipline meted out to FBI officers determined to have violated policy or law.

The FBI Director would, also, have pointed to any steps in the process requiring procedural or legal improvement.

Whether or not the new FBI Director and the oversight committee found process or legal improvements were required:

  • there’d have been no need for disclosure of national security secrets
  • no loss of public confidence in the FBI and
  • no personal platform for either Devin Nunes (R) or Adam Schiff(D) individual political ambitions

Most importantly, the American people would be reassured that all the elected representatives and the government agencies were working effectively protect national security and individual privacy — simultaneously.

FISA PRIMER

The media frequently mentions the “FISA Courts” while reporting on National Security Agency (NSA), FBI and other intelligence activities that may involve US citizens.

Below is a brief description of the court’s purpose and how it works.

FISA Courts

The Federal Intelligence Surveillance Courts are commonly referred to as FISA Courts – because they were created by the FISA legislation.

The judges of the FISA Court hear and rule on requests for warrants to allow domestic national law enforcement and counter-intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance of a US citizen who they claim could be or could become an agent of a foreign government or non-state actors (terrorists).

FISA Court judges are chosen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from the various US District Courts around the nation and serve a 7 year term before returning to US District Court responsibilities.

Under the law, the judges are bound by law to apply a much higher standard than a normal criminal surveillance warrant. Criminal courts require a reasonable investigative suspicion to prove the need for the warrant. The FISA Court judge must see concrete evidence that a surveillance warrant against an individual is justified.

To further protect the rights of the individual suspect, FISA warrants expire after 90 days. If the FBI or the National Security Agency (NSA) applies for a renewal of a surveillance warrant, they must show the judge that the expiring warrant got results – i.e. added new evidence to the initial affidavit to the court.

FISA Abuses

FISA judges are not perfect people, either. It is possible that they make mistakes.

There have been a number of instances in which Congress has stepped in to place limits on the FISA Courts.

In 2002 and 2005 when the Bush Administration went beyond the letter of the law in pursuing terror suspects Congress stepped in limit NSA surveillance activities.

Similarly, in 2011 Congress felt that the Obama Administration had abused its power when it secretly authorized the National Security Agency to conduct bulk searches of the “meta-data” of US citizen’s phone records.

While partisan members of the Intelligence Committees expressed concern over the “excesses” of these previous administrations, the investigation of the alleged abuse and the drafting of corrective legislation was performed thoughtfully and in a bi-partisan manner committed to properly protecting the privacy of American citizens – while, also, protecting the national security.

 

Las Vegas: Why Money Beats Mass Murder. Every Time.

Sunday was an ordinary evening. The Seahawks beat the Colts on Sunday Night Football.

It was 10:30 PM. Could I squeeze in my recorded episode of Blue Bloods before the 11 o’clock news and bed?

I turned the television back to a breaking news story: A mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas.

By the time I went to bed at 1:45 AM, the Clark County Sheriff had given the first casualty report: 2 dead and 50 some odd injured.

When I woke at 7:30 AM the numbers had changed as the gun smoke cleared: 59 dead and 527 (plus) injured.

The massacre at the Highway 91 Concert is the worst mass shooting in American history.

Perhaps country star Blake Shelton expressed it best – ending an early Monday morning tweet with one word: Why?

Uniquely American

There’s nothing more uniquely American than country music. Music descendent directly from the folk traditions of Appalachia –family stories and legends set to a tune and sung so that they could be remembered and passed down generation upon generation.

People from all walks of life were in Las Vegas because they love their families, they love country music, and they enjoy the party atmosphere of a music festival.

And then gun fire broke out. In less than 10 minutes 59 innocent Americans were dead – killed by an enigma hiding in a hotel suite nearly a third of mile away from his victims.

It happened because there is, also, nothing as unique as America’s fascination with guns.

More specifically: Semi-automatic guns.

Begging the questions:

Why Do Americans need Semi-Automatic Weapons?

  • Why do sportsmen (hunters) need or want guns (semi-automatic assault rifles) manufactured for the sole purpose of killing human beings?
  • Why didn’t Congress renew the Assault Rifle Ban in 2004 – when it expired?
  • Why didn’t Congress act after the shooting at Fort Hood in 2009 when 13 service members and law enforcement personnel were killed?

Between 2009 and 2014 9 more mass casualty events caused by semi-automatic rifle fire took innocent 209 lives including 20 children under the age of 7 at Sandy Hook (Connecticut). http://www.marketwatch.com/story/these-are-the-10-deadliest-mass-shootings-in-us-history-2017-10-02

In 2011 Congresswoman Gabby Gifford was shot and nearly killed by a semi-automatic rifle at a constituent meeting in Arizona.

Or what about Congressman Steve Scalise who was shot and nearly killed on a baseball practice field in Arlington, Virginia early this summer?

Why isn’t it alarming enough – horrific enough — that 93 people die by gunfire in this country every day?

The answer is simple: Money.

Here’s Why Money Wins Over Mass Murder

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has made millions for its officers, executives, and lobbyists over the years by claiming that any limits on gun rights would inevitably lead to the revocation of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution – the right to bear arms.

The NRA collects $350 million in member dues by promoting the idea if citizens cannot buy semi-automatic assault weapons, the government is going to come into their homes and take their guns or worse.

The NRA uses their member’s contributions to bribe (campaign contributions), scare, and cajole members of Congress into supporting their nonsensical argument – even when the bullets are whizzing over the heads of Congress members!

But lobbying and campaign contributions are not limited only to the NRA, there are, also, the manufacturers of assault rifles and ammunition. Those weapons start at $1000 – they can be really expensive.

All that money is drowning out the 90 percent of Americans who support both stronger background checks and limits on the sale of semi-automatic rifles and armor piercing bullets — including a majority of members of the NRA.

Time for Voters to Mobilize

Based on precedent, the deaths of 59 innocent people in Las Vegas and the injury of some 500 more will not move Congress very far.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has said it is likely that Congress will not now bring up legislation to allow “silencing” of automatic weapons but that is little comfort to the families of the dead and wounded.

What is needed a national mobilization of voters. It is time that the voices of innocent Americans are heard more loudly on Capitol Hill than the voices of lobbyists.

It is time to call or write – or do both – your Congress member and your Senators and demand a debate on and passage of legislation to ban the sale and manufacturing of semi-automatic assault rifles, armor piercing bullets, and the kits that convert semi to fully automatic rifles – banned since 1934.

It must be made clear to every member that a failure to vote for reasonable gun safety legislation means that you will not vote to re-elect that member in November 2018 – it’s a matter of your life and safety.

 

Bump stock image courtesy of CNBC

Time for a Four Star Cyber General

Cyber is everywhere in our lives today and it is our greatest strategic weakness.

In 2015, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security determined Chinese sources, likely the Chinese Army, hacked the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management stealing 21.5 million applications for security clearances. Not only were vital statistics like social security number and credit history vacuumed up but, also, family relationships and social networks. Not even such a blatant and dangerous data security breach spurred the government beyond holding a couple of face saving Congressional hearings. —

Wikileaks disclosed information hacked from the CIA that exposed our ability to track terrorists through their cell phones. The result tipped off the terrorists who’ve returned to more primitive but harder to track methods of communication.

Global “ransom ware” attacks on hospitals have done little to prompt even a single Congressional hearing.

Equifax Credit Bureau was so careless with data they collect from all Americans involuntarily that hackers roamed undetected through their huge credit databases for nearly four months stealing the information of nearly half of the American people – using — what appears to be — a specific set of selection criteria. The government’s response: Consumers can sue Equifax.

The Security and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR System was hacked a year ago (August, 2016). It is likely that some person or persons or country unknown had access to the financial reporting data of every publically traded American or multi-national corporation before that information was made public, as required by law. Congress and the American people were not told until the appointment of a new SEC Chairman in September, 2017.

For almost a year, hackers were able to use (or sell)”insider trader information” to trade on specific stocks before the company’s public announcement of earnings. Such trading is a federal crime.

Just last week, the Department of Homeland Security released a list of 21 states where Russians successfully or semi-successfully hacked into state election systems prior to the 2016 Presidential election.

Taken together these are hostile acts against the nation and the people of the United States – as surely as if those bits and bytes were bullets.

In this war of bits, bytes, and the dark web, there is no “frontline” and Congress is not doing its job: Building an army to protect you and I – the American people – from a nefarious global network of economic terrorists.

No American is Safe:

Almost every aspect of daily American life is connected to the World Wide Web.

When you:

  • Apply for a job
  • Apply for a mortgage or rental approval
  • Watch television
  • Shop – online and off
  • Buy groceries at the local grocery store
  • Dial 911 an emergency
  • Catch up with friends
  • Make a medical appointment
  • Pay the basic monthly bills
  • Save for retirement etc.

The details of every transaction are collected by numerous public and private interests – irrespective of your Constitutional right to privacy. Under the best of circumstances, this data is summarized and sold to better “target” you as a customer.

In the hands of a criminal this data can be used to steal your identity. It can be used to blackmail you into – for example — spying against your employer, your neighbors or friends. It might allow a health insurance company illegal access to your genetic profile.

Protect Our National Infrastructure

There is no part of the infrastructure that we all depend on that does not, also, depend on technology:

  • Weather forecasting
  • Water storage and transport
  • Power generation and transport
  • Farming
  • Air travel
  • Rail travel
  • Ocean and river craft
  • Your family car
  • Corner gas station
  • Hospitals
  • Police Stations
  • Jails
  • Military Installations and Military Hardware etc.

It is not classified information that our government, private and public utilities and other quasi-government agencies have acknowledged their vulnerability to cyber attack.

Stop for a moment and think what the consequences would be if, for example, your electric utility provider were held for ransom by a hostile government or non-state-actor. Denied electric power, many activities we take for granted would quickly stop. What would the social consequences be if gasoline pumps stopped pumping, grocery stores couldn’t refrigerate or even checkout your groceries, ATMs could not dispense cash, and credit card transactions could not be verified across a wide section of America.

Every automaker and others including Apple and Google are working on the “inevitable” driverless car — navigation via the Internet. WHAT IF a terrorist or state actor hacked into the driverless car fleet and turned our interstate highways into real-time bumper cars?

CYBER WARFARE IS NOT STAR WARS

Several states have started to regulate autonomous vehicles, remote home security and other technologies that could put Americans at risk. Not so Congress.

Congress is worried about other things: for example, to build or not to build a wall on our southern border.

Daily reports of massive data breaches, repeated theft of Americans personal data by criminals and hostile state actors, over several years, haven’t prompted Congress or the President – past or present – to take the necessary steps to protect every day Americans from this new and potent threat.

Congress and state governments have been repeatedly briefed on the vulnerabilities of our power grid and communication systems to cyber attack. But none of those briefings have moved Congress to debate or legislate additional cyber security measures outside the reactive Homeland Security Department’s Computer Emergency Reaction Term.

It is well past time that Congress acts pro-actively to establish a cabinet level CYBER SECURITY Department to coordinate all military, intelligence, law enforcement and private sector cyber security initiatives.

Every American has a right to expect Congress to take all steps necessary to protect the life, liberty, privacy and security of every citizen.

As much as we expect our military to be one step ahead of our potential enemies – so must our cyber sleuths.

Graphic courtesy of us.123rf.com