Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Opposing Opposition Research

Dear Donald: Let us try to explain it to you. Yes, most politicians do some form of “opposition research” on their political campaign opponents. They look for some embarrassing personal incident, political misstatement, or questionable decision made, usually from some long-ago time in the opponent’s past – an action that is not appropriate in today’s climate. Then they use that information to either inform a rational debate on an issue, or far more often, use that information in the sleaziest and/or most distorted manner possible to defame their opponent. This element of campaigning has gone on since the first political vote in our Republic, and for better or worse has little chance of ending.

But the doing or receiving of “opposition research” for your campaign is not the issue that has provoked the latest well-deserved criticism of you. We already assume that you would welcome such dirt on a campaign opponent. Rather, it is the SOURCE of the research that is being called into fierce criticism. When you were asked, you stated that “of course” you would be interested in receiving such negative information, even if it came from a foreign source. “Give me a break – that’s the way it works.” And “no,” you saw no reason to call the FBI and report such an offer from a foreign source. And the Director of the FBI who said that is what you actually should do? Your answer was “he is wrong.”

Stated simply, he is not wrong. Your answer was wrong because existing federal law says contributions to American political campaigns from any foreign source – including of money, services, or “things of value” – are prohibited. Prohibited means it is illegal – for both the giver and the receiver. This legal prohibition has been publicly affirmed by the Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. Your answer was wrong because American elections are actions that Americans take towards governing this country, and governing America is not the business of non-Americans. Your answer was wrong because when foreign entities – governments, hired agents, or individual foreign citizens – seek to influence the American electorate, this is an assault against our Constitutional governance. The President of the United States – and every Congressperson and judge – has sworn to protect that Constitution above all else.

Failing to understand the distinction between obtaining opposition research, and it coming from a foreign source, is the universal criticism. To later say that you would “first examine the information to see if it was correct or inappropriate” and then, based on that review, decide whether or not to notify the FBI (“maybe”), does not change the intent or the impact of your words. It is the receipt of the information, not its quality, that is pertinent. Your position is ethically wrong and criminally liable.

Your statements were recorded and broadcast for all to hear. No amount of attempted backtracking and rewording can change them. No efforts at “clarifications” can undo the confirmation that you once again believe that you are above the spirit and fact of our laws, and the enforcement thereof. After two years of Mueller investigations and his findings about Russian influence on our 2016 election, you have clearly learned nothing about your legal and moral obligations regarding the sanctity and integrity of our American elections. Hence your claims of “no collusion” in 2016 have become even more unbelievable given your publicly stated willingness to collude in the future. Which explains your failure of leadership to strengthen protections for such sanctity and integrity going into our 2020 elections.

Your FBI Director was right. You were wrong. It would be nice if, for once, you could just simply acknowledge that. The country’s faith in its leadership deserves that. Then again, we won’t hold our collective breath waiting for it.

©   2019   Randy Bell             https://www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Friday, May 3, 2019

Marching Towards Constitutional Crisis

Let us be clear: Robert Mueller found ample evidence that Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice on numerous occasions. He fully detailed that evidence in his (redacted) report. That he did not then go forward with formally indicting Trump was not because “he could not reach a conclusion” – as claimed by AG William Barr’s misleading “summary memo” of a month ago. Rather, it was solely due to the DOJ’s old internal POLICY (not law or regulation) that – regardless of the crime or evidence thereof – a “sitting president” cannot be indicted. As an employee prosecutor in the Department of Justice, Mueller was obligated to abide by that policy, regardless of his findings. The unavoidable conclusion is that Trump’s conduct – if he were any other common citizen – would most certainly be criminally indictable if he were not the current President.

Concurrently, given his handling and release of the Mueller Report itself, its conclusions, and the undisclosed ongoing criminal investigations still in process, William Barr has lost any remaining shred of credibility regarding his follow-up to Mueller’s investigation. He has made blatant efforts to whitewash the President’s actions, and has misled (and lied to) Congress and the American public regarding his interpretation of, and personal actions regarding, the legal issues and processes involved. Even more significant and damaging, he has shown himself to be unable (or unwilling) to maintain the politically neutral and objective independence of the DOJ and FBI that is so critical to their effective functioning – and so critical to the trust Americans have in their top law enforcement agencies and officials.

The Executive Branch of our government is now being led by people with no respect for either the letter or the spirit of our Constitution, the law, legal process, and precedence. Rather, they act with a consistent arrogance that they are above the law, and the rules do not apply to them. They alone know what is best; they are free to act as they choose. It is an attitude that is the firm belief of the President himself. It is, in turn, a corrosive virus that ensnares and engulfs those ethically lesser individuals who come under the spell of the President’s influence.

Today, lying by government officials is taken as a normal, everyday event. White House and agency officials arbitrarily defy requests to give testimony to legitimate Congressional committees. Lobbyists, industry representatives, and unqualified personnel with minimal-to-no expertise are appointed to hold public offices. As a result of an unambiguous attack on governmental order and restraint, we are now mere steps away from a Constitutional Crisis unprecedented in our national history. Even for a country with a long history of self-serving political argument, we are entering a unique and extremely dangerous time for the very meaning of our always-fragile American democracy.

Meanwhile, for the sake of holding on to their party’s power, Republican Congresspersons sit idly by and say nothing publicly. (This in spite of what they said in 2016 about a potential Trump presidency, and the reality they acknowledge today behind closed doors). They say nothing while ignoring what they said regarding Democratic President Barack Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder. For a political party that has traditionally claimed to be the “law and order / Constitutional defender,” their hypocrisy rings loud and clear. They say nothing, even as the integrity and coequal role of Congress itself slowly dissipates and slips away. Power not Right, Self-interest not Principle, are the motivators.

Our country was founded by creative and visionary giants who, in spite of their ethical shortcomings and political self-interests, responded to a higher need at a difficult and critical moment of their times. Today, where are the successor statesmen/stateswomen in this moment when they are so badly needed?

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul.”   Jesus

©   2019   Randy Bell               https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Friday, March 29, 2019

Mueller And His Investigation

On Friday, March 23, 2019, Robert Mueller finished what he was charged to do, which was a portion – not everything – of a vast, far-reaching series of investigations. He turned over a report recapping what he did, and (perhaps explicitly or implicitly) what he did not do, and what conclusions he formed from that investigation. With the submission of that report, the investigation moved out of his hands.

This report was always destined to be a letdown for its political and mass audiences. Some portion of that audience was hoping to get a secret spy story competing with Hollywood’s best. Others wanted a roll call of lawbreakers – national and international – to be brought to justice at the public docks. Still others were waiting for vindication of their political hero, at long last defeating his antagonists with a vindictive “I told you so.” In the end, none of these scripts worked out as anticipated. So what do we truly know?

1. Only a few DOJ officials have actually seen “The Mueller Report.” The rest of us have seen the “Attorney General Barr” report – Barr’s four-page personal summary of Mueller’s findings. We know what Barr says did/did not happen; we have no substantiated idea what Mueller actually found. Beyond Barr’s four pages, all else is factually unknown. Given that Mueller’s report is reputed to be greater than 300 pages long, it is perhaps a concern that Barr could properly summarize it in just 36 hours after receiving it.

2. The official narrow charge to Robert Mueller was a) to investigate whether Russia operatives interfered with our 2016 election, and if so, b) whether members of the Trump campaign conspired with them to effect that interference. If other areas of wrong-doing were discovered in the course of his investigation, he was free to follow that trail and to refer such matters over to regular DOJ offices for follow-up (as apparently happened with Michael Cohen), but such avenues were not his focus. The exception to this scope was the added question of c) did Donald Trump commit “obstruction of justice” by seeking to undermine, impede, or block Mueller’s pursuit of his investigation.

3. According to the Barr report, Mueller concluded that: a) yes, Russia did interfere. Almost three dozen indictments of Russians confirmed that conclusion; b) no definitive evidence was found that Trump campaign officials criminally conspired with the Russians to commit that interference; c) whether Trump committed “obstruction of justice” was left unanswered – with both yes/no evidence being found, the question was deferred to the Attorney General to decide to answer. Barr  has said no; whether that answer is based on the evidence, or the DOJ’s 1974 internal opinion (now policy, not law) against indicting a sitting president, is not clear. (See previous essay, “Indicting A Sitting President,” March 9, 2019, on this blogsite.)

4. Trump seized upon the Barr report as definitive, and as usual, immediately lied about the findings. Trump correctly noted that Barr’s report exonerated him with about Russian collusion, but he also claimed that it cleared him of obstruction – which it most certainly did not. Barr has said he will not prosecute Trump on that charge, but has not clarified the basis of that decision. (Always playing the victim, Trump went one step further and lied that the entire investigation was illegal, which it most certainly was not.)

5. All of this ambiguity reinforces the need to release Mueller’s full report and supportive evidence, consistent with legitimate concerns of national security and grand jury secrecy. Given Barr’s views of the laws and power applicable to the presidency, as well as his written advance judgement about the investigation, he should have recused himself from its oversight. Coming into the investigation after the fact, appointed by the President being investigated – a President who has consistently demonstrated minimal respect for the law or DOJ/FBI agencies – makes Barr a non-credible interpreter of the Mueller investigation.

6. Congress has requested a copy of the original Muller report and supporting investigative materials, stating that Barr’s summary is inadequate for proper information, assessment, and potential Congressional follow-up. In his confirmation hearing, Barr committed to sharing the full report for “transparency,” consistent with “confidentiality requirements and applicable law.” This release needs to happen. It is reasonable that a review of the extensive background materials will take some time, but “all deliberate speed” should be the priority given the degree of unhelpful speculation that arises out of the silence.

7. The troubling concern from this “conclusion” of the Mueller investigation is the seeming many loose ends and unanswered questions that remain from this process, and therefore what may come next – or need to come next.
- It has been publicly acknowledged that several Trump campaign and/or transition officials (e.g. Flynn, Don Jr., Kushner, Stone) had conversations with Russian officials. If these conversations were so innocuous and non-conspiratorial, then why did so many lie so frequently about them?
- There are several investigations and indictments over Russian interference that are in process or not yet concluded by Mueller (e.g. Flynn, Stone, Butina). What will happen to these, and who will complete these actions? Barr has provided no guidance regarding these outstanding processes.
- Clearly some investigations have been handed off to, or initiated by, various DOJ offices. These cases cover a wide range of issues beyond Mueller’s original narrow charge. It is assumed that these cases will continue, including those with “sitting president” complications. Again, the guidance or decisions will Barr make regarding these legal processes is unknown.
- There are also federal and state investigations and lawsuits regarding the defunct Trump Foundation, Trump Company real estate dealings (tax, insurance and bank fraud), Emolument Clause violations, and campaign finance violations against Trump and others. These also need to run their course. The to-do list remains long.
- What ongoing, or new, investigations are occurring within the various field offices, out of the public view, that we do not even know about?

The most disturbing thing about this end-of-investigation phase, and the assessment thereof, is this: how can a top-level FBI investigation conclude that there was no Trump campaign/Russia collusion, or no obstruction of justice regarding that investigation, yet never have interviewed the key campaign players of Don, Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and Jerod? Or, for that matter, a live interview with Trump himself? Or, since supposedly agents/prosecutors usually interview only witnesses, not the “targets” of an investigation, is a different supposition warranted?

In the meantime, as this follow-up period unfolds, House Democrats should pursue legitimate investigations of potential wrongdoing. However, they need to focus their scope towards truly primary issues, not overreach and scattershot their energies. (The Senate should be doing the same thing, but this will not happen under the blind-eye rule of Mitch McConnell.) In the meantime, Congress should remember that there is a government to run, and a citizenry to serve – all of which has been done very badly the last several years. If Democrats – or much of the country – are looking to remove Trump from being the President, impeachment is not a feasible option (unless some far more damaging and convincing evidence surfaces). It must happen at the 2020 ballot box, and simply running an anti-Trump campaign will not be sufficient to win that election.

We need to deal with facts – both from the past and those still to come – not the speculation. The presidential storm may have paused, but it is far from done. Only one of many investigations has concluded; there are legitimate and necessary other investigations that need to continue. There is still far more to come, and it ain’t over ‘till it’s over. Stay tuned.

©   2019   Randy Bell             www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Indicting A Sitting President

“If the President does it, that means it is not illegal.”
—President Richard Nixon, interview with David Frost, 1977

INTRODUCTION: As criminal investigations continue to swirl around Donald Trump in increasing frequency and scope, the question that arises is whether a sitting president can be criminally indicted. This is not merely a theoretical, law-school discussion. Rather, it looms as the potential next upheaval following the last two years of presidential and governance turmoil.

CONSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT: When our country’s founders met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, they realized that an effective central government transcending the authority of the individual thirteen states was truly needed. However, they were only six years out from a costly Revolution to establish a new freedom in America, so a very different form of government was required. It was initially assumed that central power would be vested in a legislature – the Congress. It later emerged that a new and unique office – a “President” – was needed to lead the nation as a whole. To avoid replacing a king with yet another royal position came the idea of our Constitutional “checks and balances.” Three separate governmental branches, each with assigned powers, each serving as a check on each other. In the instance that one branch exceeded its power or failed in its duty, defined remedies would be available to correct the imbalance. If those remedies failed (as regarded the President or Congress), then citizens could make a correction through the ballot box.

EQUAL UNDER THE LAW: Our Founders firmly believed that no citizen should be above another, or receive special treatment or favors under the law. Our Declaration of Independence stated that “all men are created equal.” Over our history, fulfilling that intention of equality to all segments of our citizenry has been a major theme of politics, legislation, legal rulings – and a civil war. While not explicitly stated in the Constitution, it is reasonable to intuit that equality and fair treatment were implicit in the Founders’ view of government officeholders.

IMPEACHMENT – THE POLITICAL SOLUTION: If a President exceeds the designated authority of the office, or fails in performing his/her duties, or commits acts detrimental to the Presidency, then that person can be removed from their office by the process of Impeachment – e.g. a governmental trial.

Article I/Section 2 of the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power to Impeach (make formal charges against) the President. Article II/Section 4 specifies the reasons for impeachment are committing Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors (i.e. “Misconduct”). Specific definitions of these reasons are not provided, provoking one contemporary legal commentator to suggest that these terms mean “whatever Congress decides they mean” in a given impeachment proceeding. Also, these terms do not necessarily have the same standard as a criminal felony trial. A President can be impeached for actions not criminally indictable, and not impeached for indictable actions; these are two parallel but separate actions. Nowhere in the Constitution is “policy differences” given as a basis for impeachment.

Article I/Section 3 gives the Senate the sole power to try an impeachment; a guilty finding requires the assent of 2/3 of the senators. The bar for a finding of guilty does not require the same standard as in a criminal trial. If convicted, the President loses the job to the Vice President. After removal, the ex-President is disqualified from holding any future federal office, and is not protected from subsequent legal procedures applicable to his/her crimes. Rather, the ex-President “shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Judgment, and Punishment, according to Law.”

LACK OF STATUTE: The question rises of whether a sitting and unimpeached President is subject to criminal and/or civil proceedings due to his/her actions. The Constitution says nothing explicitly on this question. No single federal or state statute has addressed, nor has a court at any level ruled on, this direct question.

Courts have somewhat accepted the concept of “executive privilege” – the idea that some confidential or sensitive conversations and materials within the Executive branch are implicitly protected from disclosure. Executive Privilege is nowhere in the Constitution, although certain related decisions have been made by the court (e.g. Nixon ordered to turn over the White House tapes to the special prosecutor). However, this protection does not extend to conversations and materials involving criminal actions or deceit (similar to the rules governing attorney-client privilege). Applying this broad concept is difficult, and the Executive, Congress, and Courts often have differing opinions on specific items.

DOJ OPINION: In 1972, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an internal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted for criminal acts. Nevertheless, s/he could be named an “unindicted conspirator,” particularly when charging a group of conspirators. This Opinion has served as the DOJ’s bedrock operational policy ever since, although it has never been affirmed by Congress or the courts. The Opinion further allowed for indicting a president while in office, but postponing trial until after the president leaves office. This avoids issues of Constitutional separation of powers, as well as avoids Statute of Limitations issues.

DOING THE PRESIDENT’S WORK: The Presidency is a serious and highly demanding job, covering a wide range of responsibilities that affect national and world-wide outcomes. From that perspective, the President does require protection from legal harassment and “trivial” distractions that would hinder his/her performance – a protection that the courts have been willing to grant (up to a point) over the years. The 1972 DOJ Opinion stated, “The proper approach is to find the proper balance between the normal functions of the courts and the special responsibilities … of the Presidency … criminal proceedings against a President in office should not go beyond a point where they could result in so serious a  physical interference with the President’s performance of his official duties that it would amount to an incapacitation … The spectacle of an indicted President still trying to serve as Chief Executive boggles the imagination.”

In this age of knee-jerk lawsuits, subjecting the Presidency to only the most serious of concerns is warranted. But “most serious” is a judgment call. Over the last several decades, we, and our elected politicians, have not shown much capacity to make good, apolitical, subjective judgments about our government.

CONCLUSION: The question of whether a sitting President is immune from indictment for criminal activities committed before or after his/her election is subject to a wide range of unsettled legal opinion. 1) Impeaching a President removes that person from office, but demands no further follow-up political action. 2) “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors have meaning for Congress to consider in its deliberations, but they are independent of additional separate criminal actions, and may or may not overlap into justifiable criminal charges. 3) The Founders clearly presumed that a person serving as President is legally accountable at law for his/her actions, at some point in time and in some manner.

A President should be charged for crimes of a particularly serious nature. (“No man is above the law.”) Those charges can be prosecuted during the current term of office, or delayed until after, reflecting the seriousness of the crime. There should be no blanket DOJ policy of immunity, versus a policy adequate to meet differing times, needs and criticality.

Donald Trump said during his campaign that he could “walk down 5th Avenue and shoot someone and no one would care.” Presumably a number of people would most definitely care. The idea that a President could commit murder and be exempt from prosecution by virtue of simply holding that office is abhorrent on its face, akin to what we have seen with the dictator of North Korea and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. There needs to be a scalable guide by which to measure and hold accountable a President’s wrong-doing, and new statutes of federal law are needed to clarify this ambiguity.

Yet a note of caution. Donald Trump has divided this country as no other President before him. The zeal to protect him by his supporters, and the zeal to prosecute him by his detractors, should not override carefully thought out legislative and legal decisions. It is the Presidency that is at stake here, not one individual President. The decisions made, and actions taken in this current legal quagmire, will affect not just Donald Trump, but also set precedence for all future Presidents. Given that seriousness, all of us – citizens, Congresspersons, and legal officials – need to set aside our political interests in favor of what is right for our current and future country.

“Justice is indiscriminately due to all, without regard to numbers, wealth, or rank.”
—John Jay, first Chief Justice, writing for the Supreme Court, 1794

©   2019   Randy Bell             https://www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Company We Keep

It has often been said that we are known by the company we keep. Over the years I have begrudgingly come to recognize a measure of truth in this admonition. Granted, one’s circle of associates, and who she/he attracts into their orbit, is only one element of our overall assessment of a person’s judgment and character. But it is a valid criterion to consider, especially in the case of individuals who reach a position of great power and influence.

Donald Trump came into his presidency promising to bring “the best people” into his administration to effect his change agenda, and to “drain the swamp” of self-serving government employees and lobbyists (ex-politicians and otherwise) enriching themselves and their patrons. Yet two years in, the opposite result has occurred. Too many high level positions have been filled by persons with minimal experience or qualifications. Or by people hostile to the mission of the agency they are directing. Too often, appointees have exercised questionable ethical, self-enriching, or arrogant abuse of the privileges of their office.

One demonstration of Trump’s “company that he keeps” is the revolving door of people who have come into his Administration, and the record-setting turnover of these appointees. Such turnover reflects negatively not only on the individual, but quantitatively calls into question Trump’s judgment and processes for assessing people’s abilities and appropriateness for their job. Given that any new jobholder needs four to six months to begin to get their feet on the ground, Trump’s turnover record contributes to the level of chaos and amateurism we have seen. We need only to look at the track record to affirm this:

·        Secretary of Defense: Mattis (resigned in policy protest) → Shanahan+ (acting).
·     National Security Advisor: Flynn* → McMaster → Bolton.
·        Attorney General: Sessions → Whittaker* (acting) → Barr (nominated).
·         Director of FBI: Comey → Wray.
·        Secretary of State: Tillerson Pompeo.
·        United Nations Ambassador: Haley → Navert (nominated).
·        Director, CIA: Pompeo → Haspec.
·        Secretary of Interior: Zinke* → Bernhardt+ (acting).
·        EPA Head: Pruitt* → Wheeler+ (acting).
·        Secretary for Veteran’s Affairs: Shulkin → Wilkie.
·        Secretary of Health & Human Services: Price*   Azar+. 
·        White House Chief of Staff: Priebus Kelly → Mulvaney (acting; split job)
·        Director, Office of Management and Budget:  Mulvaney (concurrently, split job).
·        Director, Office of Consumer Financial Protection: Cordray → Mulvaney (acting; split job) → Kraninger
·        White House Counsel: McGhan → Cipollone.
·        Communications Director: Miller → Spicer (acting) → Dubkje → Scaramuchi → Hicks → Shine.
·        Press Secretary: Spicer Sanders.
·        Secretaries under the gun: Commerce: Ross*; Homeland Security: Nielsen; Treasury: Mnuchin*.

+Former lobbyist from industry now being supervised.
*Under ethics &/or criminal investigation for misuse of office &/or budgetary funds, by FBI, &/or Inspector General, &/or Congress, &/or state Attorney(s) General.

The second demonstration of Trump’s “company that he keeps” is the number of his associates outside of his administration appointments who are now mired in legal proceedings. It is a number that is continually expanding, driven by Congressional and Special Counsel investigations into Russian interference in our 2016 elections, and FBI and/or state investigations into sidebar criminal activities.

·        Donald Trump – obstruction of justice, potential collusion with foreign interests
·        Donald Trump – Emoluments Clause violations (NY and MD investigations)
·        Trump Foundation – dissolved for misuse; potential civil &/or criminal charges for Trump &/or children (NY investigation)
·        Trump New York real estate –illegal billings to evade family taxes (NY investigation)
·        Immigration fraud at Trump’s golf courses (state-level investigations)·        Mike Flynn – National Security Advisor (pleaded guilty; cooperating)
·        Bijan Kian and Kamil Alptekin – Flynn business associates (foreign agents for Turkey)
·        Roger Stone – long-time Trump friend, Republican “dirty trickster” (lying, obstruction)
·        Michael Cohen – Trump personal attorney (pleaded guilty: cooperating)
·        Paul Manafort – Trump Campaign Chairman (convicted; cooperation agreement cancelled)
·        Rick Gates – Deputy Trump Campaign Chairman (pleaded guilty)
·        Maria Buttina – Russian unregistered agent; infiltrated NRA (pleaded guilty; cooperating)
·        George Papadopolous – Trump Campaign foreign policy advisor  (pleaded guilty)
·        David Pecker – National Inquirer publisher facilitated hush money paid (granted immunity)
·        Matthew Whittaker  – Acting Attorney General; under FBI investigation – business fraud
·        Allen Wessilberg – Trump Business Organization – VP-Finance (granted immunity)
·        30+ Various Russian military / government / intelligence officials indicted

·        Potential indictments likely to come: Trump Inauguration Committee; Don Jr. / Eric / Ivanka Trump; Jarod Kushner; Jerome Corsi (Roger Stone deputy); Julian Assange (Wikileaks); Paul Erickson (Maria Buttina’s American boyfriend); the NRA (money laundering Russian Trump campaign donations).

One’s personal character lives within one’s mind and heart, demonstrated by one’s words and actions. That internal character in turn attracts people with their own character definitions. When a distinctive pattern emerges involving multiple associates attached to one powerful player, it behooves us to look closely at what portrait emerges. Others may not define us. But the people we attract, and the company we keep, can certainly reflect the substance of who we are for all to see.

©   2019   Randy Bell               www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Monday, January 7, 2019

Immigration Standoff & Shutdown

Once and for all: virtually no American is in favor of allowing would-be immigrants to enter America illegally. To suggest that a political party or group believes otherwise is simply political rhetoric, a lie, intended to divide the country and build some form of political advantage.

All immigrants seeking entry into the United States should follow a clearly defined process of rules and standard procedures. Where Americans do disagree is what measures should be in place to stop illegal immigration; how such awaiting immigrants should be humanely treated in the best spirit and traditions of America; how to be responsive to legitimate needs for granting asylum to people who are truly at risk for their lives; and how to meet the real demand that immigrants can fulfill as badly needed workers in our economy.

The solution to illegal immigration ultimately requires a package of coordinated efforts. There is no 1-shot “silver bullet” to solve this. Engaging in political stunts accomplishes nothing substantive (e.g. sending thousands of American troops – at a cost of over $200M – to camp out in Tucson, AZ – 60 miles north of the Mexican border – to provide  “backup support” to Border Patrol agents). Denigrating the nature and character of the immigrants knocking at our door, and lying about their supposed affiliations and circumstances, is of no help either. We will never figure out how to respond to any problem when we do not fully and accurately know who and what the problem truly is.

Donald Trump’s proposed “beautiful Wall” is an ineffective, expensive, and ultimately wasteful solution to the problem at the border. The principal audience that the Wall will benefit is the contractors who will get the contracts to build it. History is littered with the fallacy of defensive walls. The Great Wall of China virtually bankrupted sequential Chinese emperors seeking to build and maintain it, even as it ultimately failed to keep out invaders as was intended. Similarly, the Maginot Line in France proved to be false security as it failed to keep the Nazis out at the beginning of World War II. Russia’s “Iron Curtain” failed to keep Eastern Europeans inside their borders, and also ultimately failed.

In 2016 Trump promised his voters that he would build a Wall to protect us from “illegal immigrant invaders,” and all the “murderers, rapists, and gang members” (and subsequently including “diseased) supposedly (but not proven) found among them. He also promised Americans that Mexico would pay for that Wall; it would cost the taxpayer nothing. It was a package deal, an interdependent, two-part promise. The currently requested $5B is only a down payment towards a projected $30B cost. When Trump now opts to put it all on our credit card rather than Mexico’s, we certainly have a right to rethink this deal and consider better uses for our hard-earned money. Since he has already broken his promise to taxpayers and made the Wall our expense, we should therefore let him off the hook for not building the Wall.

If we are to be outraged at Trump’s broken promises, it should be about his lying to us that Mexico would pay for building the Wall, rather than about the Wall not being built. Therefore, I refuse to follow the President into an endless black hole / money pit to fix only one half of his broken promise. It is not my job to pick up after him and clean up the mess of his own making.

Today we are mired in the continual political and racial finger-pointing of blame, falsely portraying the nature of the people sitting at the border (or in detention camps, with families broken up and scattered across the country), and shutting down many government operations while we argue over a fraction of our 2019 national budget – a budget already four months overdue. Donald Trump stated publicly that he would be “proud to shut down the government” over his Wall, and would “take full responsibility for [the shutdown] and not blame the Democrats.” True to form, within days he reversed course and now incessantly totally blames the Democrats for the shutdown. Meanwhile, Republican representatives and senators sit on the sidelines, trusting nothing Trump says, while waiting for him to genuinely commit to whatever deal he ultimately strikes.

Instead of this wasteful rhetoric, we need to spend our time, energy, and money on finding and adequately funding real comprehensive solutions to this continuing issue. Expanding the size of our Border Patrol force; providing a variety of technology tools to identify and stop illegal immigrants at the point of entry; hiring sufficient immigration lawyers and judges to process immigration applications quickly, effectively, while judicially appropriately; providing adequate humane and sanitary facilities to house those detained and in process; identifying those immigrants who can successfully contribute to American society and our economy, and facilitate their entry, relocation, and assimilation.

In the meantime, we can also still retain our compassion for why these people are at our doorstep in the first place. Many are seeking to escape lives whose circumstances we cannot begin to fathom, circumstances that have driven them to undertake an almost impossible mission of extraordinary hardship. Their situation does not give them a free pass, but being compassionate while still applying an orderly process does not have to be an either/or choice. We are better and more creative than that. Our American values and immigrant traditions demand that we make the extra effort on our part. We need not fear the danger of an eight year old child knocking on our door.

©   2019   Randy Bell               www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Violence Of Political Hate

I am a survivor of the 1960s. “Survivor” may seem a questionable descriptor. But when I look back to those times, it seems appropriate. The 1960s changed everyone who passed through those times and events, even if with different outcomes. Some came away with their existing thinking reinforced and hardened. Others came away with wholly new views and perspectives than before. Everyone encountered a picture of America not seen before; all were confused about what was going on, their role in it, and where the country and its citizens were heading.

Perspectives were shaped differently by age, economic status, educational levels, cultural and racial identity, and geography. The Civil Rights movement of African-Americans said that 100 years of continuing de facto slavery, segregation, and 2nd-class status was a long enough wait; it was time for the promise of equality to be realized. The positive changes that gradually emerged, albeit all hard fought, inspired similar movements from other “left outs,” including women, Native-Americans, LBGTs, the disabled. Social structures and codes of conduct were thereby turned upside down, done in such a relatively short time period that it precluded easy assimilation. Humans can only absorb so much change per unit of time. The 1960s were a fast track of change.

Fear is a byproduct of “too-much-change” and/or “too speedy change.” We worried whether we could keep up with it all – so much new thinking was coming at us so fast – or whether our social order would survive (or even should it?). Is the government on “our side” or “their side?” Would the “new freedoms” take us to a new Shangri-La of equality and fulfillment, or destroy the communal ties that had bound us together? Some looked to follow the new change agents to places heretofore unknown; others looked to follow the defenders of the already known.

Perhaps inevitably, violent actions in support of both change and the status quo became the tool of protest against these times. The television cameras displayed into our homes the images and sounds of mobs shouting hateful epithets towards black children simply trying to go to school to get an equal education. They showed us live in real time the dogs and state police in Alabama wildly attacking black marchers claiming the equal right to vote without obstructions. They documented the burnt-out Freedom Buses which almost consumed their passengers in flames.

Ultimately but unsurprisingly in this climate of violence exposed for all to see, America crossed a line. Political assassination became an all-too-frequent mechanism of resistance. Three little black girls in a church basement were bombed into oblivion. Black leaders Malcom X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were shot and  killed.  John and Robert Kennedy – who, along with Dwight Eisenhower, were the first to deploy the power of federal judicial and law enforcement to protect the safety of citizen protesters instead of established business and political leaders – were killed. Three voting rights activists trying to register new black voters were kidnapped one night, murdered and buried in an earthen dam.

Viet Nam, of course, accelerated the crumbling of the existing social order in the second half of the 1960s. Over 50,000 young men would pay for this ultimate violence with their lives, given for a war that should never have been fought, done to protect political lies and their cover-up – a terrible price to pay. Television again brought the sounds and images into our homes on a daily basis. When the anti-war / anti-establishment groups began their counteractions, television was right there again at the ’68 Democratic convention, and the Pentagon and Capitol steps.

This was the violent reality of our time. One turned on his/her TV with caution. The desire for escapist entertainment would all too likely be superseded by yet another breaking news update. “We interrupt this broadcast for a special announcement” became the most dreaded phrase coming out of our sets. We wondered, “What now?”

We asked, “How could this be happening – in America?” “How and when does it stop?” We wondered, “Where are the leaders who can end this deadly chaos and get us back on track?” Would-be leaders of course did present themselves: “Law and Order” candidates carried the day as often happens in times of extensive social upheaval. Governor George Wallace of Alabama (he of “segregation now, segregation forever”) garnered 14% of the vote (2nd-most in history) as a 3rd-party candidate for president in 1968; Richard Nixon was carried into the White House.

Ending 1968, we had a cautious hope for change in direction, for ending the war and domestic violence, and a move toward reconciliation. But the social and anti-war issues were ignored while “Order” became the priority. It would take six more years before the country would finally settle down and find its bearings again. Wallace was shot in 1972 and disappeared from the political scene; Nixon got swallowed up and spit out in his Watergate scandal. The Viet Nam war finally ended. Enough finally became enough. The nation’s deep wounds gradually healed thanks to Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. But our blind faith in government was shattered, yet to return as of this day.

2018 marks 50 years since Richard Nixon’s election. The parallels between then and now abound. We are surrounded by racial and other senseless violence, for which only equally senseless “solutions” are offered. Killing is daily; mass killings occur regularly; outward animosity towards one another has become our “new normal.” Alongside our TVs, we now have cell phone and body camera videos documenting events in real-time, confronting our eyes, ears and opinions. Social media incessantly communicates unsocial insults, bigotry and falsehoods. Lies and/or silence from our leaders inflame the ugliness; calls for civility in speech and conduct go unanswered in favor of stoking the cultural antagonisms rather than soothing them. There seems no bottom to this barrel of negativity. Thankfully, good news stories, and reports of our humanity and magnanimity to one another, occasionally penetrate the noise. These keep us going forward each day and after difficult day.

As 2018 ends, 50 years after the pivotal events of 1968, we find ourselves asking ourselves once again, when will our continuing violence against each other finally become enough? In this season of faith and new year beginnings, we once again hold out cautious hope that ending our current pervasive climate of hate can move from being merely lip service to truly become our first national priority. That – in spite of our differences, in fact to honor those differences – we can commit to that great teaching that transcends all cultures and religions: to Love Our Neighbor.

©   2018   Randy Bell               www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com