A Teacher with a Gun

A Teacher with a Gun

I was a classroom teacher for twenty-six years in both high school and middle school. I was the Dean of Students in a high school for eight years. Please, don’t make me be a teacher with a gun.

It’s not that I’m afraid. Though it’s difficult to know how you’ll act if the worst happens (ask that deputy in Florida) I knew that part of my job as Dean of Students was to find the shooter. Yes, we talked about all of this, one administrator bolted in his office with the video screens, a phone, and a window to the outside; one administrator directing staff and students; and one administrator to go find the shooter.

Our hope was to have enough communication with students before that event, that we could avoid it. We studied Columbine, and saw the signals they missed. We worked to develop lines of communication in our one thousand-student school, so that we knew our kids, the good and the bad and the silent. It wasn’t that the potential shooter would come talk to us (though kids often find ways to cry out for help, if someone’s listening, Nicklas Cruz did) but they almost always talk to someone, a friend or a classmate; and that someone needs to trust an adult will listen.

And if they don’t talk directly to someone, they post. Students would walk into my office and let me know what was being said or shown on social media, something even the best prepared adults aren’t able to access. Whether it was pictures of weapons or threats of harm, it gave us the opportunity to intervene.

That was our job: establish trust. We hired staff that could relate to kids, and we opened our doors. You can’t just develop rapport when there’s a crisis, it has to be day to day. But it’s tough to do with a gun and holster and your hip: a loaded firearm somehow changes the conversation.

We had a Sheriff’s deputy, a school resource officer. He was there because of the ultimate threat, but he helped with a myriad of discipline/legal issues. And because he was a good one, he also found a group of kids that related to him, he opened lines of communication. But the uniform and the gun made him stand out and defined his role.

Not to think about how many fights I jumped into, both as a Dean and as a teacher.  Many times my years as a wrestling coach helped to mitigate a fight, keeping kids from hurting each other more. Do that with a loaded gun? What happens if it comes loose, gets in the hands of a kid stoked with adrenaline, goes off accidently. A school shooting created by the addition of a weapon.

Introducing more weapons into a high school or middle school environment is like putting gas on a fire. In an emotional time of life, when kids are struggling with all kinds of turmoil, you don’t need the constant reminder of deadly force, of an “ultimate solution” to a problem. And it’s not always just kids. Adults in schools are subject to the same stresses, and sometimes, they crack as well. Schools don’t publicize that, but it certainly happens. What if they had a gun?

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” We hear that over and over. And, it’s reasonable to look at the establishment that has the most guns, the military, to see how they handle them. In military life, guns are highly controlled. In base, most soldiers are disarmed most of the time. Their military weapons are brought out for use, then carefully cleaned and put back in storage. The military police carry sidearms, and the guards at the perimeter patrol with weapons, but generally, folks aren’t armed.

So if the military has it figured out, a highly disciplined organization like that, why would we assume students with be safer if teachers had guns? It seems like the contrary so much more likely, guns introducing life and death choices into almost every scenario.

We are desperate to protect our kids. We want our schools to be safe, nurturing, and accepting. As other institutions in our society have changed, schools are taking on more and more of the responsibility of caring for kids: from health and nutrition to guidance and mental health. And, as our schools serve everyone, we need our schools to be accessible to those with differences. None of those goals are served by adding deadly weapons to the hallways.

Schools should take reasonable actions. They should control access, they should develop cooperation with law enforcement, they should develop rapid response plans. Most of all, they should listen to their kids. What they don’t need is a teacher with a gun. Guns are society’s problem that comes into school. Fix that.

 

 

Nixon Went to China

Nixon Went to China

A little History

Richard Nixon was a World War II vet, who made his political career based on his anti-Communism. As a Republican Congressman, he was a key part of the House Un-American Activities Committee, searching for Communists in US society. He was in on the beginning of what we now call McCarthyism. He won his first Senatorial race in 1950, running in California against Helen Gahagan Douglas. While this wasn’t the only “ugly” campaign of 1950, Nixon went to great lengths to claim that Douglas was a Communist sympathizer. To give his candidacy even more momentum, the Korean War broke out in the middle of the election cycle.

Nixon went on to be a highly visible member of the Senate, and was used to “balance” the more moderate Dwight Eisenhower on the 1952 Presidential ticket. Nixon, the ultimate anti-Communist, became Vice President. After eight years as VP, a close Presidential defeat to Kennedy in 1960, and an abject failure in the 1964 California Governor’s race, Nixon came back to win the Presidency in 1968. He ran on a Vietnam “peace plan” which ultimately led the US to stay in the war for another six years.

Nixon’s chief foreign policy advisor was Henry Kissinger, later Secretary of State. Kissinger believed in a world view of “Real-Politik,” which attempted to balance the US against foreign adversaries. He saw that a key to ending the Vietnam War was to get China to help balance Soviet (Russian) influence on the North Vietnamese. The problem was that since the 1950’s, Chinese Communism was seen as the ultimate failure of US policy.

And in 1972, Nixon was at the height of his power. He was running for re-election, and it was before the Watergate crisis was revealed, the “cancer” that would eat away his Presidency. To open communication with Mao Zedong, the Communist dictator of China, was the ultimate betrayal of what Richard Nixon stood for his entire political life. The nation: both Democrats and Republicans trusted in that reputation.

He could go to China. He had the credentials, and the ability to convince his followers, that this was not a betrayal of American values. Only Nixon could go to China.  He went.

Today

Donald Trump is struggling.   The “Russiagate” crisis is eroding his Presidency, the constant drip of damage: from security clearances to marital infidelity to Mueller indictments; distracts from any focus his Presidency has found. He goes to great lengths to maintain his base, the thirty percent who seem to deem any of his actions as acceptable.

Yesterday Trump sat in a meeting with kids and parents of school shootings. While we can marvel that it required “notes” to make sure the President was empathetic, in reality it was a gutsy move by the Presidential staff. They took a huge risk putting him out there, and, while Trump seemed unable to display the real feeling that other Presidents would have found (GW Bush or Obama), he did seem to listen to them.

He is still the President. And he is the leader of “his base.” They are also the most adamant against any form of gun control. He has followed their lead, and they have lead him to the Oval Office.

Trump could “go to China.” He could (and from time to time seems to want to) lead his base to a different view. He could overcome his own addiction to NRA values: he could propose a plan of gun and ammunition control, background checks, and mental health care. If he were to propose the “Trump Child Protection Plan,” he would provide cover for the Republican legislators. They could find “the courage” to follow his lead.

Trump could go to China. It could be his legacy. It might be the only positive that he can leave.

I watched the CNN Town Hall with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, parents and faculty last night. I came away with the following observations:

I am incredibly inspired by the kids, parents and faculty of the school. They are articulate, driven, and focused – they have found purpose in their grief.

I am amazed by the Administrators (Superintendent and Principal). They are true leaders: as a teacher/coach/administrator I could work for those guys. That’s my ultimate compliment.

I don’t agree with Marco Rubio, but I admire his courage for standing on that stage. He took the abuse, and showed compassion and thoughtful responses.

Bill Nelson missed the compassion part, he was busy running for re-election against Governor Rick Scott.

And when the NRA lady came on – I couldn’t stand her logical contortions. I turned it off.

 

Defending the FBI

Defending the FBI

What an odd position I find myself in – defending the FBI.

I remember the FBI of the 1960’s, the end of the J. Edgar Hoover era, when their were illegal wiretaps on Martin Luther King, and files of what today we would call “kompromat” in a cabinet in Hoover’s office. And while I grew up watching “The FBI -in Color” on TV, where every crime was solved and the nation protected, I also knew that the Bureau was protecting the status quo, from the Vietnam War to the White House during Watergate. I often quoted the George Carlin line about wiretaps when answering the phone, “…f**k Hoover, may I help you.”

And it was only sixteen months ago that I was railing against the FBI Director, James Comey, who so clearly tipped the scales in the Presidential election, announcing at the last minute that the Clinton email investigation was reopened. I believed (and still do) that his hand was forced by his own agency, with leaks about the Weiner Laptop already coming out of the New York office. I suspect Comey acted to cut off his own department’s duplicity, though that’s a question I don’t think will ever be answered.

So here I am today, defending the FBI, an agency under attack from those that have for generations been there greatest supporters. From Fox News to Congress to the White House, the FBI is being dragged through the mud. Like any massive agency (35,000) it is a bureaucracy, and sometimes things get lost. In the Parkland shooter case, two warnings out of thousands were in some way mishandled, and a possible way to prevent the disaster was missed.

That needs to be fixed. Just as after 9-11 the Bureau had to “up its game” to stop terrorism, in the same way it will need to find answers to its current bureaucratic maze. The term is “stovepiping;” when information gets stuck in one column of authority, and not shared with others. We discovered the concept after 9-11, when multiple branches and agencies had bits of information about the terrorists: if all of that had come together before 9-11, we might have avoided the attack. The fact that we have prevented that kind of organized mass terrorism since speaks to the effectiveness of the solutions put in place. I’m sure the FBI will resolve this one as well.

And while the current criticism of the FBI has some validity, the reality is that much of it is based in politics. The President and his supporters have made one pillar of their defense that the FBI is on a political “witch hunt,” led by “Deep State” bureaucrats that hate Trump. If they can de-legitimize the FBI, they give Republican Congressmen a way to deny a possible Trump impeachment.

For a moment, let’s look at facts. The FBI opened investigations into the Trump campaign after receiving information about possible Russian contacts from varying sources, including Papadoupolos drinking and talking too much in London, the Page wiretaps, and warnings from Allied foreign intelligence agencies. After President Trump fired Director Comey, the investigation was put under the direction of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He continues to lead his mix of attorneys and FBI investigators, already indicting Papadoupolos, Flynn, Manafort, and Gates, and thirteen more Russians.

Mueller, ironically, is the former FBI Director who reformed the Bureau after 9-11, taking it from a primarily crime fighting agency to one geared to stop terrorism. His reputation is so solid, that the Trump defenders can’t attack him directly. So instead, they launch volley after volley at the FBI.

It must feel like the ultimate betrayal to the leadership of the Bureau. They are known to be generally conservative, law supporting and abiding, and less diverse than any other government agency. They are the very model of the modern day Republican, at least what the model Republican was before Trump.

Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity: that is the motto of the FBI. Robert Mueller is the absolute embodiment of that motto, and he will plow forward with the work he has begun. And the FBI leadership will continue to do their job, despite their portrayal in the “Trump World” media. The danger is to their ability to do their work. If the integrity of the FBI is in question, if the national trust in them is lost; then why would the young Islamic man come to them with word of a terrorist plot, and why would world agencies share the most sensitive information with them?

That is the danger of the Trump strategy. To protect themselves from Mueller, they are trying to discredit the agency with the primary mission of defending us. Even with its flaws, we must defend the FBI.

 

 

 

Inch by Inch

Inch by Inch

Lost in the sadness of last week was the new set of indictments brought by the Mueller investigation. They are directed towards the Russians who attacked the American political process by manipulating social media. The indictments clearly point out that not only were they sowing disruption, but they were clearly taking sides in the election. It also outlines a large operation, including stolen identities, laundered money, and real events planned. This was not a four hundred pound man in bed, or a kid in the basement.

While one of the indicted is a US citizen, the rest are Russians, and probably unreachable by the US justice system. So why did Mueller go to the effort of a thirty-seven page document, calling for trials that will likely never occur?

There has been an ongoing “backstory” about the Russia investigation stating that even if the Russians did attack our system, and even if the Trump campaign cooperated with them, they were no crimes committed here. This theory was best articulated by Professor Alan Dershowitz (see the previous essay: Fake News.) The indictment lays the groundwork for the criminality of what happened in the last election with the charge, Conspiracy against the United States; one that attempted to invalidate the public confidence in the legitimacy of the election. While there are also the other charges, the Conspiracy charge lays the basis for further prosecutions.

The charge is one of common sense. The core basis of the United States is the free election of the government. If someone attacks that core basis, it must in fact, be a crime, and therefore prosecutable. Folks who plot together to make that attack are then conspiring against the United States. With the existence of the conspiracy against the United States, anyone who knowingly cooperated in that conspiracy becomes subject to criminal action. While some, notably President Trump, claims there was NO COLLUSION, this puts a criminal definition on the possible actions of US citizens who aided the Russian effort to subvert our electoral process.

Since November of 2016, we have used the term COLLUSION to describe what actions the Trump campaign may have taken with Russia to influence the election. But now we have a more clear reality, and a legal definition. We are not using the legally undefined term COLLUSION, we are now using the quite clear legal term of CONSPIRACY.

For those of us who remember, conspiracy is what helped bring down the Nixon administration in Watergate. In the final indictment brought against the seven highest ranking Nixon officials, including the Chief of Staff, HR Halderman, the core charge was conspiracy to orchestrate the cover-up of the break-in, or legally, conspiracy to obstruct justice. There was an unnamed additional “unindicted co-conspirator:” later found to be the President of the United States, Richard Nixon.

Mueller is laying the groundwork for indictments further down the road. He is also undercutting another key element in the Trump legal package, that Trump has been acting in “defense” of himself from an unwarranted investigation of a non-existent crime. That defense tries to negate possible obstruction of justice charges: if the Russia investigation was about a “fake crime,” then Trump’s firing of Comey, attacks on the FBI, and barrage of “Tweets” about the investigation are, to him, justifiable. Mueller, through these indictments, has shown that a crime was committed, and the investigation is real.

This is not the end of the Mueller investigation.  Other lines of inquiry are still wide open.   There is a clear-cut obstruction of justice case to be made. There are both financial irregularities of those involved in the Trump campaign, and also undue influence brought about by those irregularities. And there is the possible conspiracy with the Russian government to use stolen documents (the Clinton and DNC emails) to subvert the election. What this current indictment does is lay the table of criminality for further actions.

The President claims that these indictments “prove” that there was no involvement by himself or his campaign. What these indictments actually prove, is that inch by inch, the Mueller investigation is moving closer to its final outcome. That may prove to be a bad one for the Trumps.

 

Comment –There are some things that should be so sacred, that even President Trump won’t touch them. The deaths of seventeen in the Florida school shooting should be one. Instead, this:

Trump’s Tweet:

“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign — there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”

Conflating these events is what is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

And finally, I am amazed at the articulate and reasoned statements of the students in Florida. As their Superintendent said: if our generation doesn’t fix this, theirs will!!!!

 

Again

Again

We’ve taken up vacation residence in Florida. We are ensconced in our camper, a few minutes from the beach. It’s warm, it’s ‘chill’; it’s palm trees and sand. It’s not the ice I slipped on Monday morning at home in Ohio, landing flat on my face (laughing).

But the reality of America found its way here to our little paradise. Yesterday, about a hundred miles away, seventeen kids and teachers were killed and fifteen more wounded in another school shooting. There were heroes, including a football coach who threw himself in front of the kids, teachers who followed the plan, and kids who led others to safety. And there was the deranged shooter, again.

I read a friend’s Facebook post, asking what we can do about this crisis in America. This was one of many school shootings in 2018; it’s only six weeks. There was the usual back and forth, degenerating to arming teachers and guards, the claim there’s nothing that can be done, and personal attacks (my friend, a teacher, was warned not to advocate for his views in his classroom – I know he’s far too good a teacher to do that.) I didn’t chime in, it’s a conversation we’ve had so many times before I don’t feel like there’s much to add to that debate.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. Preamble to the United States Constitution

The Preamble outlines what the national government should do. Past improving of our Union, the next three goals: establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for common defense require us to do more than take “a pass” on this issue. It is the primary duty of a nation to protect its children. We cannot avoid dealing with this because it’s too hard, or there’s too much conflict in the Second Amendment, or we are too politically divided on so many other issues. We must protect our children, we must keep them from becoming targets and outlets for the deranged. It’s that simple.

National crisis after crisis, we have had “blue ribbon” commissions to determine what went wrong, and what we can do differently. Those commissions have had an impact: note that the 911 Commission helped put in place policies that have protected us from similar attacks for the past seventeen years. How can this NOT be a national crisis, demanding our best come forward to propose resolutions.

Here’s my list of where to start. I’ll save the most controversial (and most effective) until last.

We must do a better job of taking care of the mentally ill. Event after event, we find that the perpetrators were somehow deranged, and that they were known to mental health professionals. It isn’t that the professionals failed, but that we as a society must empower them to do their job better. It means more money, more people involved, and a willingness to recognize that mental health is a public health crisis. We have no problem quarantining those with highly contagious diseases, we need to look at how we can find those who are dangerously mentally ill before they get the opportunity to prove it. There are serious civil rights issues involved, we must balance rights and responsibilities.

Schools have an obligation as well. As the front line in dealing with students, schools often know where potential problems are. In the most recent case, students were somehow not surprised who the shooter was; several said that, if there was going to be a shooter, he was the most likely. The school administration should have known the same. This also requires money, time, and personnel.

As a former high school Dean of Students, it was a major part of my job to “know” the school, to be able to have a read on students, and to keep lines of communications open to every faction of kids. When something was wrong, when someone was threatening or quietly demanding attention, that connection gave students access to  an adult who could do something about it. This is the lesson learned from Columbine: the shooters were planning the attack for a year, and literally had a page in the yearbook. School administrators didn’t know what was happening. The school needs to recognize that not every “different” kid is a threat, but that kids that feel “different” can sometimes feel pushed to act. Again, there are civil rights issues on the line, schools need personnel who can deal with those kids and those issues.

There is security to be considered. While we don’t want our kids to go to school in armed fortresses, we do need to do a better job of securing our kids. Yesterday the National Security Administration headquarters was attacked by a car trying to breach the entrance, three were injured, shots fired. The car was stopped and those involved taken into custody. While we cannot guard our kids as tightly as we do our national secrets, and we cannot expect or want our schools to be fortresses, what more can be done to protect them? I do not advocate arming teachers or patrolling schools with semi-automatic weapons. Introducing more deadly weapons into the school environment seems to be a “gas on the fire” approach – what happens when the next shooter is a guard or a teacher? But there are reasonable measures that schools can take to try to protect their kids.

And finally, the ultimate question: why is America the leading country for these kinds of attacks? I read a different friend’s Facebook post claiming that it is not the inanimate object (the gun) but a failure in American values. There is a laundry list of American “failures,” from lacking school prayer, to video games, to working Moms. But other countries have all of those same “flaws,” yet absent political terrorists, don’t have the same problem. What’s missing, why don’t they have massacres like the US? There IS an obvious answer.

President Obama (my more conservative readers just clicked off) said that he would talk about guns every time there was a shooting, until America realized it was time to do something about it. In the 1920’s, when the weapons of World War I came back to the US in the form of “Tommy Guns” and the like, the police were outgunned by the criminals. We did something about it; we outlawed the automatic weapons. Today we are taking the approach that we should simply arm the “guards” better, giving them more powerful weapons. It isn’t working here, we aren’t preventing the violence, the loss, and the sadness.

We are at an intersection of fear and money. Fear, often generated by those who have the most financial incentive, that we will lose our 2nd Amendment rights and our freedom by increased control of guns. Money, buying the political influence to keep arming our citizens with sophisticated weapons of war and profiting from their sales. We must reach some agreement that our children are at least a part of this equation, they have been left out so far.

We need a National Commission to take a hard look at what we are doing. We need to attack this issue on multiple fronts, including reducing the availability of weaponry. We need to start. Why: because a Nation that cannot protect its children – sucks. We must begin, because we will certainly have to go through this again and again until we do.

 

Sadly – here are links to the other essays I have written on this subject:

It’s Not About Hunting

False Outrage

Guns and Sadness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this Our America?

Is This Our America?

As the Senate begins its debate on immigration and DACA there is a dark underside to America’s actions against illegal immigrants. There is a basic question on the table:  what is America, and how should we see those who have come here from other countries?

No one would argue against removing those who have come to the United States illegally to commit crimes. Drug dealers and gang members obviously have no place here; we’ve got enough troubles with home grown ones. But the Trump Administration and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have now taken the view that EVERY illegal immigrant is a criminal. They argue that the fact that since they have not followed the immigration laws they have committed a crime, and therefore should be thrown out.

There IS a basic logic to this, and when General Kelly was the Secretary of Homeland Security he made the point that if we want to change the law, we have a Congress that is capable of doing it. His view was until the law was changed, it was the Administration’s job to blindly enforce it  The problem with that simple logic is that it is NOT a simple problem. Most immigrants, legal and illegal, come to the United States for opportunity, to improve their lives. Most work hard, live hard, and do the best they can to support their families, both here in the United States and those they left behind. We have developed an economy that DEPENDS on the work of those immigrants, including those here illegally, and we are not prepared to deal with the economic consequences of removing them.

So what the Trump administration has done is set quotas on how many “illegals” ICE must remove. If they can’t find enough MS-13 gang members, then they must reach it some other way. This number proves to “the base” that they are getting “rid” of undesirables, with all of the dark racial undertones that implies; but the result is capricious: the long established view that United States’ law should be enforced in an evenhanded manner with due process is lost.

Instead we have a “secret police,” snatching otherwise law abiding folks and hustling them out of the country before anyone has a chance to react. They deny due process by claiming that the status of illegal immigrant absolves authorities of guaranteeing protection. A university professor, currently on a legal work visa, was taken from his home in Lawrence, Kansas and thrust on a plane to Bangladesh, a country he left thirty years ago. The charge: he had twice overstayed visas during his thirty years in Kansas. His wife and children, US citizens, were threatened with arrest if they tried to hug him goodbye. He was not a member of MS-13. He was not a potential terrorist. He was a taxpayer, benefiting his community, and legally registered.

A man in Tukwila, Washington saw a trespasser in his yard, after a series of car break-ins. He called the police, who were unable to arrest the suspect without probable cause. But they did arrest the caller, who they found had an administrative (not court approved) warrant filed by ICE for his detention. He is a carpenter, who fled brutal gang violence in Honduras. The Tukwila police now say they should not have executed such an administrative warrant, but in the meantime the caller is in ICE custody.

Is this our America? In a country that was created by immigrants, is this how we want it to be? In a nation that uses over eleven million illegally entered immigrants for all kinds of labor, do we want to drive them into the shadows; unable to call the police, unable to pay taxes? Is this what we are about?

General Kelly is right about one thing. Congress needs to step up and deal with the issue. But in the meantime, the United States should not be a nation where there is the shadow of a police state, where you need to have “your papers” ready to prove your citizenship at any moment. The term “WOP” was a pejorative of the early twentieth century for Italian immigrants, it originated from an abbreviation of Without Papers. Are we to equal the prejudice and racism of the 1920’s? Is that our America?

We are at War

We are at War

President Trump has asked for a military parade to celebrate American might.  It is usual for Americans to celebrate great victories with parades, including the famous Grand Army of the Republic march after the Civil War, and the famous tickertape parades as veterans returned from World Wars One and Two.  The key to all of these:  victory in war.

 The Department of Homeland Security acknowledged this week that at least twenty-one state Board of Elections were targeted by Russian government hackers, and that some of those were “penetrated.”  While no one is stating that they had any impact of voting or vote counting, it does feel like all those credit cards that get hacked – you really don’t know what happened to the information.

Mike Farb at unhackthevote.com presents a volume of statistical evidence leading to the conclusion that the vote was in fact altered.  While I can’t do the mathematics to determine his validity, it certainly raises serious questions about the election of 2016.

 What we do know for sure is that the Russian State is working to persuade Americans through social media.  Facebook, Twitter, Google, and all the rest have been infiltrated with the goal of altering American opinions in a variety of directions.  They amplify extreme views, build false causes, and spread outrageous stories to inflame American consciousness.  Their goal:  disruption of the American political process.

 And while in the past couple of years they have tended to support the extreme political right, there is no reason to believe they will stay there.  If amplifying the left serves the purpose of disruption, they will move to that direction.  Their goal is disruption and portraying the American democracy as foolish and unworthy of emulation.  It’s about lifting Russia over the United States.

 Intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance, author of The Plot to Hack America suggested that a Russian attack on American voting in 2018 might side with the Democrats, in order to raise questions about the legitimacy of a “wave” election some see coming.  Again, the Russian side is chaos and disorder, not Republican or Democrat.  They want to put Americans against each other, unwilling to accept the apparent electoral outcomes.  Has that already occurred?

Secretary of State Tillerson acknowledged Russian actions towards our democracy this week.  The good news:  someone at the cabinet level recognizes we have a problem.  The bad news:  he sees little that can be done to stop it from continuing, stating that efforts would be useless against changing Russian tactics.  Other high ranking members of the government have quietly accepted the facts, but the Trump Administration has yet to make them a priority.  As with many issues dealing with Russian government, they remain strangely silent, even discounting their impact on the United States.

Four years ago, three years ago, two years ago:  if it were known that a foreign government was attempting to interrupt or alter our elections, it would have been considered the ultimate attack.  Better than a bomb or a gun; this attack goes straight to the validity of American institutions.  A nation with its core functions under attack must consider itself at war, and must move to defend itself.  We have not.

It’s not time for a parade.  It’s time to muster a defense, to prepare for the upcoming elections by working to guarantee the validity of the vote, and to make the American political discourse free from foreign interference.  It will take an enormous amount of cooperation.  The private sector includes the social media giants who are working for a worldwide clientele.  While they are headquartered in the United States, they see themselves as world corporations, with limited loyalties.  The public sector includes fifty-one different electoral systems, each made up of even more electoral systems at the local level.  Each of those systems guards their prerogatives jealously; it would be difficult under the best situation for them to cooperate. 

This is not the best situation:  it’s much closer to the worst.  It’s not a left or right, Democrat or Republican, Trump or anti-Trump thing.  It’s an American thing:  we are at war, and we need to act like it.

Note:  It’s been a calendar year since I began blogging on Trump World.  This is the 140th installment.  And while there has been progression from the dismay of the election to the “hard work” of living with this Presidency, I hope these essays have raised some concerns, or at least peaked interest.  Today’s political world moves so fast:  it’s Thursday, it’s hard to remember the issue of Monday (oh yeah, the Dow dropped), much less February 10th 2017!!!

 

If This Be Treason

If This Be Treason

Patrick Henry was a member of the Virginia legislature, the House of Burgesses, before the American Revolution. In a speech following the imposition of the Stamp Act by the British Government, Henry mentioned several leaders who had been assassinated, then mentioned King George’s name – and was interrupted by cries of treason. Henry then explained that he meant that the King should learn from the fate of his predecessors, but stated: “…if this be Treason, make the most of it.”

Treason is a carefully defined word in our Constitution, one of the few crimes actually mentioned:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. US Constitution – Article 3, Section 3

President Trump in one of his famous off-hand remarks to a sympathetic crowd in Cincinnati, suggested that Democrats were treasonous for not applauding him during the State of the Union address. Later his spokesperson claimed it as a “joke,” but to his base, this was more than a “dog whistle.” It was a clarion warning that those who oppose the President:  those that seek to challenge him or even remove him from office for Russia are in fact committing treason.

It is the same claim some members of Congress have made. They see a “cabal” of Federal agents in a “secret society,” plotting to prevent Trump from gaining the Presidency. (By the way, some Democrats are seeing a similar scene, but this to prevent Hillary Clinton from gaining the Presidency by using the FBI to raise questions about the emails, see Clinton advisor Lanny Davis’s new book.) And now, the Trump surrogates are trying to turn the tables, claiming that the FBI investigation of the Russia matter is in fact a “treason” investigation of the President (Matt Schlapp, MSNBC the morning of 2/7/18.)

This is the not so subtle point the President has made throughout the fall, when he characterized the actions of some NFL football players who kneeled in protest during the playing of the National Anthem. The flag of the United States represents our country… “…to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” He has conflated this with the military, the President, and a sanitized story of our history and heritage.

Treason: we’ve learned about it from the start – Benedict Arnold. We see it as the ultimate crime, to go against your nation. Yet even Arnold was not a “black and white” case, was he treasonous against the United States, or was he treasonous against Great Britain in the first place? As Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”  This nation was born in treason.

The term “treason” today is being used as a wedge to drive the electorate even farther apart from each other. President Trump is using it to energize his base against the “treasonous Clintonians,” and now, to push them even farther with the false claim (fake news) that the Democrats are crying that HE committed treason. When this all works (and it will) it will create even greater cover for Trump from the Mueller results:  if it’s all treason then you MUST take a side – you cannot stand with traitors.

Our nation has a proud tradition of protest. From the writing of the Declaration of Independence, we have been willing to stand against authority, and speak out against perceived injustice. It is as American as – well – America. Democrats chose not to applaud a President they disagree with, just as Republicans did with his predecessor. This is American, not treason. To use such a term lightly (and I don’t believe it was accidently thrown in) is irresponsible. To use it purposefully, to further polarize our national discussion, is NOT treason, but it is wrong.

 

On a whole other note: it’s all about getting older. I need reading glasses to see my computer screen, and I bought the discount pack at the drug store. When I put them on (I tried all three pairs) I found that while the letters got bigger, they were blurred. For two days I struggled with these blurry glasses and headaches, and finally determined to return them. I went back to an older pair of reading glasses – when I noticed a thin line on the lenses of the new pair. Upon further examination – the new lenses were protected by a plastic film, which I couldn’t see without my glasses. Now I wear the new ones, humbled once again, and reminded of all the times I laughed at my father. Bet he’s getting the last laugh now!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fate of the Republic

The Fate of the Republic

James Madison and the other founding fathers were faced with a difficult task. The nation was failing: the debt of the Revolution was in default, the settlers on the frontier were without protection, the multiple currencies in use had fluctuating values, and the states were more like wary opponents than compatriots in a cause. The national government, the Articles of Confederation Congress, was put together under pressure of war and concern for a tyrannical King. It wasn’t working.

Madison knew that for a Nation to function there had to be an Executive who could make decisions and enforce the laws, something that the Confederation Congress was unable to do. Madison also knew that for a Nation to work there had to be a means of financing that allowed the National government to act. And Madison knew that a Nation required a National currency.

Madison also recognized the danger of singular power, entrusted into a single person. He, and his fellow authors in the hot Philadelphia summer of 1786, developed a governmental structure balanced between three branches of government, the power to create laws in the legislative, the power to enforce those laws in the executive, and the power to determine the legality of laws in the judiciary. In this complex system, where the legislative branch had the most power, they believed that no one branch would gain supremacy.

Enter the era of the Trump Presidency, when many fear for the fate of our Republic. Their fear has some basis in fact: one branch, the legislative, is acting (according to them) as subordinate to the Executive. Congress is failing to “check” or “balance” the actions of the President, and therefore some see the dark shadow of a more autocratic form of government on the horizon. They add that the Trump habit of constantly degrading those that hold office in the institutions of all the branches of government, and demanding those in the executive branch owe personal loyalty to him; demonstrate a real risk to Madison’s plan.

While factually what the doomsayers are saying is correct – they site examples of other nations that have slipped into autocracies – I still believe in the ultimate success of the Republic. As we struggle with a political fight that has drawn in our structural institutions: the courts, the intelligence agencies, and even Congressional Committees; we can fall back on the structure of the Constitutional Convention to ultimately “right the ship.”

How will this occur? It’s happening already. First, while all of the noise about memos and warrants is going on, the Congress continues to exercise its authority with bipartisan cooperation in the Senate Intelligence Committee. They are still investigating, and they will reach conclusions about what occurred in 2016 and what can be done about it.

Second, the Mueller investigation continues, and will continue even without Mueller himself (if necessary.) The key is the information that Mueller gains, if he is prevented from using it, then the FBI, or US Attorneys, or at the worst, state Attorney Generals will be able to take that information and prosecute in the Courts.   Mueller won’t be able to indict the sitting President anyway; as far as Donald Trump is concerned, it isn’t Mueller, but Congress that holds his fate.

Third, there are folks from both political parties who are working to reveal the truth. Senators Burr (R – North Carolina) and Warner (D – Virginia) are the most obvious example, but the Republicans who run the Justice Department: Wray, Rosenstein, and perhaps Mueller himself, are moving forward towards the truth.

It is a matter of time. My associates in the “Resistance” will say that it is taking far too long, that too much damage is being done, that each day of a Trump administration is another day of illegitimacy. And while I agree with them, I also know that the crisis we are now in has precedence in history. The Presidencies of Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon each went on far longer than they should have, but each was resolved: and the Republic moved on.

Will Congress follow the lead of the Reconstruction Congress of 1868 and exercise their power of impeachment against President Trump? Will they make the ultimate choice of country over party that the Republicans made in 1974 and ask the President to resign? We don’t yet know those answers. Whatever they do, it will take more time; impeachment is an excruciatingly slow process, with the President in full authority until the end.

And what if Congress does not? What if the fears of the “Resistance” are realized, and the Republican led Congress chooses to back this President, regardless of his actions?

Madison and the other founders had a further fall back position for the Republic: elections. This November the nation will have a referendum on the Republican conduct of the Congress. Every member of the House of Representatives and thirty-four members of the Senate are up for re-election. If the nation so desires, change can occur. Ask the people of Alabama.

From the perspective of the “Resistance,” any action that takes time takes too long. It will take years to undo the perceived damage done by the Trump Presidency (especially in the Courts.) What seemed unimaginable on election night of 2016 may well be what the nation is stuck with; four years of Donald Trump. Damage will be done, but the Constitution was not written for the “twenty-four hour news cycle.” It was written for a much longer term, and in that longer time, the system will work. The Republic will survive.

 

 

Not Very Bright Guys

Not Very Bright Guys

Look, forget the myths the media’s created about the White House–the truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand – “Deep Throat” in all the President’s Men

The MEMO was released today. We are all now able to read a Top Secret Document. Chuck Rosenberg, former head of the DEA, US Attorney and FBI Chief Counsel; put it this way: “…this is the mediocre work of a first year law student.”

Three and a half pages long, the memo has multiple factual inaccuracies. What the memo asserts is that the FBI and the FISA courts issued a warrant to wiretap Carter Page based on the Steele Dossier and that Democratic Federal law enforcement agencies were spying on the Trump campaign without legal grounds. It does raise some real questions about what the Russians and Page were doing that caused FISA warrants to be renewed four times.

Devin Nunes, the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, supposedly recused from involvement in the “Russia” investigation, is the “author” of this memo. It was actually ghost written by his Committee staff with some collaboration by the White House. Nunes himself never read the underlying intelligence documents. Those that have read them, state that the documentation does not support the conclusions of the memo, and leaves out a great deal of alternative information.

The Democrats on the Intelligence Committee asked to attach a minority report to the memo, but they were denied: maybe in a week, they were told. So Nunes and his boys get the opportunity to play for a week without a Congressional contradiction.  To use Trumpian language this memo is really the definition of a “nothing burger.” So what value does this memo have, and what is the intent of the Trump Administration to put this hatchet job out?

First, the memo distracts from the ongoing pressure placed by the Mueller Investigation. We are now “all a twitter” about the memo, in the week the Mueller has determined that the President of the United States must answer questions. It’s also the week that we find out the Hope Hicks was on a phone call with Donald Junior, telling him the emails about the Russian meeting will never be seen. The President was supposedly on the phone too.

It has given Fox and the Freedom Caucus gang the opportunity to claim they have discovered a “plot” to overthrow the duly elected President, supplying more red meat for the Trump crowd.

Second, it changed the subject from an empty State of the Union Address, full of symbolism but without substance.

Third, it sets the stage for the ultimate Trump defense. Trump will claim that the evidence that shows his campaign was infiltrated and coordinating with the Russians, was in fact gathered “illegally” according to the Nunes memo. He will claim that the information gathered was the “fruit of the poisonous tree” (see last June’s blog Fruit of the Poisonous Tree) and therefore nothing that comes from it can be used in court. By the way, even if that were completely true – which it is not – it still could be used in an Impeachment hearing – not bound by Judicial rules.

And finally, it may foreshadow the next round of attacks on the FBI and Justice Department. To the Trump Presidency, what others might term obstruction of justice, Trump declares is a defense against the illegal acts of his own Justice Department (which he claims is a partisan arm of the Democratic Party – led by Republican Jeff Sessions, Republican Rod Rosenstein, Republican Chris Wray, and previously Republican James Comey.)

The Memo itself outlines the four officials who signed applications for FISA warrants against Carter Page: James Comey, Sally Yates, Andrew McCabe, and Rod Rosenstein. Their fates were: Comey and Yates fired, McCabe clearly forced out. The Memo presents a false case against Rod Rosenstein, the current Deputy Attorney General, and acting Attorney General in regards to the Mueller investigation. Trump might use that case to fire Rosenstein, then try to appoint a more “cooperative” Deputy AG to try to control Mueller. Should Mueller “buck” a new boss, then that would create grounds for firing him.

It’s a false document, but it could have real consequences. The real concern is not that Nunes would bring this, or that Trump would use it.   What is of concern is that the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives has bought into it. I’m sure they realize that the document itself isn’t persuasive, but they (Ryan, McCarthy and the like) are willing to accept the possible outcomes, including a slow motion “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Many have held out hope that the “decent” Republicans would see the evidence of Trump’s involvement with the Russians, and turn against him. Even more, we expected that the more moderate wing of the House Republicans would distance themselves from this kind of show. They have not. The only result of that negligence is that for justice to prevail, the Republicans must lose control of the Congress. That way, whatever Mueller comes up with, even if he is fired and gone; others will have the opportunity to bring the truth of what happened in 2016 to light.