Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Impeachment Deja Vu

For those of us that lived through the turmoil of the late-1960s/1970, I have previously remarked that our current times have an eerily familiar sound and feel to that time. So it is with the current drumbeat marching us undeterred towards our fourth instance of presidential impeachment proceedings. This fourth instance (out of 45 presidents) seems like a drama we have already seen before, a repeat of history with minimal rewrites of the script. Consider the following:

1. The President:
1974: Republican President Richard M. Nixon (RMN).
2019: Republican President Donald J. Trump (DJT).

2. The President’s Goal:
RMN: To obtain political dirt on his reelection Democratic opponent, George McGovern.
DJT: To obtain political dirt on a leading reelection Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

In both instances, the central issue was/is about using illegal “dirty tricks” to win reelection.

3. The Crime:
RMN: The break-in and wiretapping of the DNC headquarters (June 1972), and using the power of the federal government to cover it up for two years.
DJT: Soliciting help from a foreign leader in generating political dirt, coerced by illegally withholding Congressionally-mandated military aid to that leader, and using the power of the federal government to cover it up (April October, 2019)

4. The Perpetrators:
RMN: His reelection committee; Howard Hunt, Gordon Liddy, several Cuban freedom fighters.
DJT: His personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, multiple Ukrainians (foreign and naturalized citizens) now under indictment.

5. Principal Enablers:
RMN: Aides Haldeman, Ehrlichman, ex-AG Mitchell, Acting FBI Director Gray; other staffers.
DJT: Secretary of State Pompeo, Acting Chief of Staff/Director OMB Mulvaney; AG Barr; various other staffers.

6. The Congressional Investigation:
RMN: Senate Watergate Committee, conducted on a bipartisan basis. Assisted by Special Prosecutor appointed by Department of Justice.
DJT: Joint House Intelligence Committee (lead), Foreign Affairs Committee, Oversight Committee, but not conducted on a bipartisan basis. No special prosecutor made available by DOJ for House committees; seeking the details of the prosecutorial work of Robert Mueller.

7. Revealing The Inside Story – Breaking Through The Wall Of Silence:
RMN: John Dean; Jeb Magruder; Alexander Butterfield; others then followed.
DJT: An unnamed CIA whistleblower; Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch; Ambassador William Taylor; others then following.

8. The Guilty  Confession (“The Smoking Gun”):
RMN: The “White House tapes,” recorded in the Oval Office, Cabinet Room, and Nixon’s private office.
DJT: The “notes” of Trump’s phone call to Ukraine president. (Official transcript remains hidden on private server and unreleased.)

9. The Firings:
RMN: Fired his Attorney General (Elliot Richardson), the Deputy Attorney AG (William Ruckelshaus) in order to force the Solicitor General (Robert Bork) to fire the investigating Special Prosecutor (Archibald Cox) pressing for the release of the White House tapes. The pushback was so strong that Bork appointed Leon Jaworksi as replacement Prosecutor, who then continued (successfully) to go after the tapes. (The “Saturday Night Massacre.”)
DJT: Has fired more of his appointees at this point in his term than any other president to this date, including numerous senior members of the DOJ, FBI and CIA who have not supported his defense claims.

10. The Stonewalling:
RMN: Fought turning over any documents under “executive privilege,” until overruled by the courts. Tapes turned over by Supreme Court ruling.
DJT: Citing “executive privilege,” fighting turning over any documents; forbidding any Executive Branch testimony (people testifying anyway); claiming a president cannot be subject to ANY step in the judicial process (including being investigated); claiming impeachment process itself is illegal; appealing (mostly losing) adverse court decisions.

11. The Impeachment Charges:
RMN: Charged with obstructing justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.
DJT: Likely to be the same; other charges potentially to be added.

12. The Outcome:
RMN: On July 30, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three Articles of Impeachment and sent them to the House floor for a vote. On August 7, senior Republican Senators Barry Goldwater, Hugh Scott, and Representative John Rhodes advised Nixon that he had no chance of surviving an impeachment vote by both political parties. Nixon resigned as President the next day, before the full House could formally vote on the Impeachment charges. President Gerald Ford issued a full and unconditional pardon of Nixon on September 8. In all, 69 associates of Nixon were indicted on various charges; 48 were found guilty. After his resignation, around 1/3rd of the American voters continued to express support for Richard Nixon.

DJT: To Be Determined.


How this current impeachment process, or the election in November 2020, will ultimately work out is unknown. Virtually nothing has been foreseeable and expectable for the past three years. Will it follow historical precedent? Will it chart a brand new course? What is assured is that America’s structures will be further pulled apart, our relationships with each other will be even more deeply divided, and our country’s core values will be tested as never before. This course of events will prove unhealthy and dangerous regardless of one’s political views and positions, requiring years of deliberate work thereafter to set right. In the end, will facts, the rule of law, and our principles of Constitutional government prevail? The jury is literally still out on these critical questions.

©   2019   Randy Bell     

Friday, October 4, 2019

Invitation To Impeachment

For months, Donald Trump taunted Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats by daring them to impeach him. When the day came that Pelosi decided to open an Inquiry into his conduct, Trump was surprised and caught entirely flatfooted in his response. His surprise was somewhat surprising itself, because Trump is inevitably his own worst enemy and brings most of his bad press on himself. In this case, if he wanted to start an impeachment inquiry into himself, he certainly took the steps necessary to do just that.

Step 1: Announce in a nationally broadcast interview for all to see and hear that, if offered political dirt (“oppo research”) on an opponent by a foreign entity (ILLEGAL), you would certainly take it, and “maybe” tell the FBI after you reviewed it.

Step 2: On a phone call, solicit help from a foreign leader to dig up political dirt on a potential political opponent in your 2020 reelection campaign. It is a CRIME for foreigners to involve themselves in a U.S. election – as well as to request such involvement from them.

Step 3: Add emphasis to your request by holding up Congressionally budgeted and authorized foreign aid until that leader “plays ball” with your requested help. Congress has the exclusive power to appropriate taxpayer funds per the Constitution. Holding up (or redirecting) such funding, as well as hiding that fact from Congress, is Constitutionally ILLEGAL. Trading that funding as an inducement for that leader to commit an illegal action is somewhere between Extortion and/or Bribery – a CRIME.

Step 4: Hide the evidence of your criminal conversation with that foreign leader. Hiding or destroying evidence of criminal conduct is a CRIME of cover-up. Misclassifying the security level of the transcript of your phone call in order to further hide evidence is a CRIME.

Step 5: When a whistleblower reports your criminal activity through established and protected legal channels, threaten to a) disclose his/her identity, and b) retaliate &/or arrest &/or execute that person. Threatening a whistleblower with exposure and/or retaliation is a CRIME.

Step 6: Threaten those persons who gave information to the whistleblower with similar retaliation / arrest / execution for being “spies.” Attempting to influence testimony, tamper with or block witnesses from testifying freely and honestly in court or to Congress is a CRIME.

Step 7: Assert “executive privilege” to keep administration personnel from revealing actions, or conversations, about illegal activity. Similar to the restriction on attorney-client privilege, if the conversation is in regard to the commission of a crime, the right to executive privilege is VOID.

Step 8: Accuse the whistleblower of being a “partisan hack” driven by political motives, and basing his/her accusation on “2nd-hand knowledge”(i.e. hearsay). Then release your own “Notes” from the phone conversation that corroborates the whistleblower’s accusations nearly 100%. If the accusation is proven true, it does not matter what the whistleblower’s motivation was or what was the source of the allegation. The only relevant issue is that you admitted to being GUILTY as accused.

Step 9: Extend a web of conspiracy to achieve this political “dirt digging” objective by referring the foreign leader to various personnel within the U.S. State Department as well as the U.S. Attorney General for follow-up. Government employees are prohibited from doing political campaign work on business time; to do so is a CRIME. Assisting anyone in the commission of a crime is also a CRIME.

Step 10: Send your unpaid “personal attorney,” who is not a government employee and was supposedly hired to defend you against the Mueller investigation, overseas to work out with relevant people the details of the foreign political interference. Non-governmental, private citizens who purport to be acting for the government and seek to conduct foreign policy affairs with other countries are committing a CRIME.

Beyond the above CRIMINAL steps, not all bad decisions are a crime. Sometimes those bad decisions are just plain stupid.

Stupid 1: For three months, wage a reasonably successful media campaign to convince your base voters that the Mueller Report (erroneously) “exonerated” you from colluding with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. Then do a national television interview and say you would absolutely accept opposition research from a foreign power even though it would be ILLEGAL – such illegality supposedly made clear to you at the time. (See Step1 above.)

Stupid 2: Two months later, actually solicit such dirt from a different foreign leader, and then confirm that in your phone call Notes. This essentially said to American voters that, “I got away with it once. Why not do it again?” This arrogance made the allegation of 2016 cooperation with the Russians all the more plausible – if not likely.

Stupid 3: Continue to deny that Russia took actions to help with your 2016 election. The entire American intelligence community – along with several foreign intelligence agencies – as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee have all agreed that Russia did so. Your continued rejection of their conclusions, and (mis-)using the Attorney General of the United States to discredit all of these agencies, only confirms voters’ doubts about your intentions and your inexplicable continued fealty to Vladimir Putin. However it happened, you won the 2016 election. Declare victory once and for all and move on. Trying to rerun the 2016 election is likely to defeat you in the 2020 election.


It is truly sad, even if somewhat inevitable, that the last three years have brought us to this place. This impeachment inquiry is not just a matter of Donald Trump. There are many other casualties that are, and will be, caught up and hurt in this event. One is American democracy and our shared citizenship. Another are the various civil servants across the government who have been, or will be, dragged into this. Some will be innocent of motivation, simply trying to do their jobs as they know it, with their reputation shattered nonetheless. They deserve our compassion. Others will be active perpetrators, blinded by ambition for power and fame, their reputations deservedly shattered.

The biggest loser is Ukraine and Europe. For around 70 years, America has been the backbone of European peace and security – to our great benefit – by its NATO commitment to aid others if they are attacked. That commitment was extended to Ukraine on a bipartisan basis in 2014 when it was attacked by Russia. It is a “hot war” that Ukraine continues to fight to this day for its very existence. By his series of actions, Trump has pulled the rug out from  under Ukraine in favor of satisfying Vladimir Putin. That alarming message to Ukraine and Europe – that America no longer has your back and can no longer be counted upon – will take years to correct. That is the biggest loss of all.

Taking all of the above together, this is why the Impeachment Inquiry is underway. Mr. Trump, you asked for this. You created the means for this. You got what you wished for. Now what?

©    2019   Randy Bell  

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Descent Into Inhumanity

In early August 2019, a form letter was sent out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to a targeted group of non-citizens currently living in the U.S. The letters served as official notification to revoke the special exemption immigration visa status that these recipients are currently under. This program is being completely and immediately shut down, even though there has been no advance announcement or public discussion about such a policy change. The recipients have been given notice to leave the country within 33 days of the mailing date – a chunk of that time already having expired as a result of the bureaucratic mailing process itself.

Who are these dangerous and fearsome targets of this policy change? Mostly children, and their families that have accompanied them, who legally entered the U.S. to receive life-saving medical treatment needed due to their otherwise fatal disease. They include children with such things as cystic fibrosis, heart disease, transplant recipients, and cancer. All would-be fatal conditions except for the care they are receiving, care not available to them in their home country. Care that their doctors say is vitally needed, without which their short-term death is assured.

Take one case that has surfaced in the unfolding news stories relating to this situation. Years ago a seven-year-old girl came to the U.S. from Guatemala, suffering from a very rare enzyme disease certain to kill her. The research hospital affiliated with the University of California-San Francisco invited her to come here to voluntarily participate in a clinical trial being established to find a cure for her disease. Her participation in this group was critical, because given the very rarity of the disease, assembling such a trial group would be very difficult. Fortunately, she was granted legal entry; she came; she participated. Thanks to her contribution, a life-saving treatment (not a cure) was developed. For most of these afflicted children, seeing teenage years is a highly unlikely prospect. However, thanks to this treatment program, she is now 24 years old, recently graduated from college, and thinking about attending graduate school. But to accomplish all of this, she must receive a drug injection on a weekly basis to keep her alive. In thanks for her contribution to health science and helping others to live, she has now been given 33 days to leave the country. 33 days to return to Guatemala, which has no such requisite medical facilities. 33 days not to look forward to the rest of her emerging life, but 33 days to begin her deathwatch. Some may argue that the people on our southern border seeking entrance to the U.S. may or may not be truly in fear for their lives in their home country. There is no such debate about these “33-day people,” Send them home; sentence them to their death.

The DHS visa termination letter not only unilaterally ends this humanitarian visa program, it makes no case-by-case distinction regarding the individuals involved and their respective situations. It further states that there is no appeal to this decision, and thereby no appeal process in place. Upon inquiry from media reporters, DHS cannot even clarify whose idea this was, where it came from, how the decision was reached and by whom, and what supposed objective is to be accomplished. Within the Department, different agencies are pointing fingers at each other as to who was and will be responsible for this program; apparently no one wants to take the heat for this cruelly inhuman decision and non-process.

For several years, we have witnessed our country sink further and further into a sinkhole of national amorality. A sinkhole that has rapidly expanded over these last three years. A sinkhole drawing our citizenry into a daily exercise of hate, anger, and violence toward one another. And just when we want to believe we have finally hit rock bottom, we discover that some unnamed individual, hiding in anonymity, has taken us to yet another new low. This is not an immigration issue, a solution to a national security threat. This is simply meanness for the sake of being mean. It is just exercising power for the sake of power.

We were once the America of hope, of opportunity, of compassion for other human beings, of welcoming arms, of neighbors who looked out for one another. Where has all that gone? I know it still exists in pockets, though increasingly shouted down and hidden in the shadows of our anger. Why are all of our political representatives and religious leaders not standing on the barricades of human decency, reminding us of what is truly important in living our human life. Where are the voices of the citizenry saying that these kinds of actions “are not who we have been, nor who we are, nor who we seek to be.”

Perhaps we thought that separating young children from their families, planting potential seeds of a lifetime of trauma, was bad enough. The bottom of our collective amoral barrel. Apparently it was not. Closing our doors, turning off life supports, deliberately sending sick children home to most assuredly die, is not the America we thought we knew.

©   2019   Randy Bell   

Friday, August 16, 2019

Frontier Justice

America has a panoply of national icons. Those shared images that we believe personify the Nation and its people. They can cover a wide range of themes, including people (e.g. Mt. Rushmore), things (e.g. the Statue of Liberty), and events (e.g. Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon). Probably our first national icon was George Washington, “the Father of our Country,” his image showing up in all manners of contexts honoring his dedication and leadership to the Country. From that original icon, the catalog of our treasured imagery has expanded unendingly. These icons tell us about ourselves, and the values and principles we believe in, even though our preferred icons are specific to each of us. Taken together, they can inspire our aspirations and guide us in our decision-making.

In the late 1800s, we added a new icon to our portfolio: the American Cowboy. For years preceding, individuals had banded together to expand the American boundaries westward, some of whom found work in managing cattle herds. But after the Civil War there was a new mass migration from the eastern United States determined to fill in that great expanse of open space called “the Plains,” a vast, minimally inhabited gap in the middle of America. It was an area lying from Canada to Mexico, from just west of the Mississippi River to the Rockies, an arid, often brutal expanse made more feasible for settler occupancy by the installation of the trans-continental railroad and the resulting expansion of national trade.

And so they came, farmers and cowmen eking out a subsistence living from the oft-unforgiving land, while concurrently creating the small, rural frontier towns that still dot the contemporary landscape. Spread over such a broad territory, it was very much a “make it on your own,” self-sufficient life. That included the need to protect one’s self, family, and possessions from those thieving varmints who were hell-bent to take it away from you. Lacking an established local police presence, and a military force spread thinly over too vast an area defending settlers against Indian wars, security had to be achieved by one’s own abilities.

And so it fell to frontier justice. Where a badge was available, fine. But where not, justice was in one’s own hands – hands that held a rifle and a six-gun. The weapons of the hunt also served as the enforcer of law and order, delivering “do what you need to do” ad hoc justice. And so the myth, the icon, of the American Cowboy, was born out of this setting.

The Cowboy was a product of the Great Plains, but was nevertheless adopted by the cities in the East and Far West United States. Thanks to the dime novels and ballad songs of the times, the romanticized image of the independent, solo drifter wandering the plains, accountable to no one, living his life as seen fit, burned its way into the national psyche. Even the “bad guys” were elevated to mythic status.  Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and Sundance, the Clanton brothers may have been outside the law, but they bowed to nobody, including the law of Pat Garrett, the Earp brothers, and Wild Bill Hickok. Dodge City,  KS; Tombstone, AZ; and my hometown of Fort Smith on the Arkansas border of the Indian Territory (backdrop for the “True Grit” movies) served as stages for the Cowboy’s performance.

As is often the case with icons, the truth was far less than the myth. Being a Cowboy was typically a low-paid, lonely, unstable, non-family life. And it turned out to have a short timeline. By the early 1900s, “civilization” caught up with the Plains, and the Cowboy gave way to towns, local governments, automobiles, merchants, schools, and churches. Arizona, New Mexico, and the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) achieved statehood, with all the attendant expectations of civilization.  The frequency of murders and associated mayhem brought calls for an end to the lawlessness and uncontrolled violence. Gradually the rifles went into display cases; the holsters into the drawers – no longer the mandatory fashion accessories.

But if the fact of the Cowboy died, the myth stayed on. The images that had been created from the dime novel became tangible across the country by the Buffalo Bill Cody traveling “Wild West Show.” The advent of moving pictures made Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, and William S. Hart box office leaders. Legendary lawman Wyatt Earp retired and went to Hollywood to become a movie advisor, mentoring John Wayne and director John Ford. Zane Grey western novels topped book sales; western art (e.g. Frederick Remington sculptures) gave majesty to the disappearing Cowboy.

The tools of frontier justice disappeared from the streets. Instead, violence returned its focus on the South’s continuing assault on “freed” African-Americans through the mid-20th century, with a Depression Era side trip into gangster violence (Bonnie & Clyde; John Dillinger) and Mafia internal turf wars. Today, the Cowboy of 1870-1900 may be long gone, surviving only in pale imitation of its once self. But the heritage of his history remains implanted in the minds of a substantial number of Americans. The rodeo is an annual event across the country; dude ranches offer simulated fantasy excursions; fans in western clothing dance at western music shows. Far from where the Cowboy called home, the Cowboy legacy lives on. It is a legacy of the independent loner, going his own way, refusing to be told what to do, dispensing justice as he sees it, avenging perceived wrongs at the point of a gun.

Horrifyingly, this legacy is being reborn in modern America. The gun has now resurfaced in our social places, held by those unable to separate old myth from current reality. Funded by the gun manufacturers, promoted by the NRA, protected by vote-seeking politicians, inflamed by made-up claims of racial and ethnic threats, condoned by federal and state leaders (including intentionally divisive rhetoric from the highest and lowest levels of society), and legitimized by overly misguided judicial rulings, guns are now back on the streets of America. The Cowboys are back, reliving their own versions of the Wild West and vigilante justice. We are once again settling our disagreements and fighting off “enemies” with bullets – far more bullets than ever came out of a six-gun – in an increasing carnage of innocents.

To fight this carnage, some politicians and short-term thinkers propose that we all get a gun to protect ourselves, as if flooding the citizenry with guns is going to magically eliminate gun warfare. More guns in the hands of even well-meaning citizens is a recipe for more gun deaths, not less. But what happens when/if here-to-fore victims start shooting back? Will we finally descend into the race/cultural internecine war that white nationalists and Russia have been seeking to provoke?

I will not be getting a gun, even though as a teenager I learned to shoot one quite well. I will not participate in giving credence to insanity. I will not patronize establishments than allow guns on their premises. Nor is it the Moslem immigrant from the Middle East, or the Central American mother and child, that I fear. It is the modern American wanna-be Cowboy, typically male, white, aged 18-30, caught up in learned hatred, that I fear most.

America had its time to play Cowboy long ago, and determined to give it up in favor of community and laws. We need to put the guns back into the drawer – figuratively and factually. Make our streets, schools, businesses, and churches into safe places for gathering, not war zones. Allow our teachers teach, not guard schoolhouse doors. Make politicians’ substantive commitment to responsible gun safety a Priority One litmus test for how we vote. We, and our ancestors,  have worked too long and too hard to reach a still incomplete level of “civilized” to now let that achievement be lost. Our Cowboy past informs us of what was thought and done then, and how we arrived at now. That past does not tell us what our future should be.

Let the legacy die. Enough is Enough. Do Something.

©   2019   Randy Bell     

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Love It Or Leave It

In the early 1970s, America was a deeply divided nation. The 1950s/1960s had seen a national debate about our racial divide, legalized segregation, poverty, and lack of equal opportunity. By 1970, those causes had been subsumed under the weight of the Viet Nam War. The civil rights movement had provoked violent actions from those who saw their social order and way of life being upended. In turn, the anti-war movement provoked violent actions from those who believed that the government had embarked on a morally, politically, and militarily futile endeavor that was destroying the ethical character of the nation.

The war between the greatest military power on earth and a tiny far-away country in southeast Asia fighting its own war for independence and reunification struck many as an unwarranted and disproportionally unequal conflict. The national protest against it had already driven Lyndon Johnson out of the presidency. President Richard Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the war never materialized; by 1970 it was clearly now Nixon’s war. One part of the country, fresh from the unifying memory of WWII, felt an obligation to support the government in this war as a patriotic duty. Others, seeing the war continue to widen into Laos and Cambodia, seeing the growing number of Americans called into service, and seeing the extreme carnage being inflicted on both sides, concluded that this war was unjustified and unwinnable. Getting out was rapidly becoming the new national priority for our military.

As the war increasingly ground to a stalemate, as the optimistic reports from the front became more and more unbelievable, the public gradually turned towards less and less support for the President and his war. As Nixon desperately looked for ways to shore up the increasingly negative public opinion, he came up with a new tactic: define the war as a patriotic duty, and thereby attack the patriotism of the protestors as being un-American. It is an old rhetorical trick: when your rationale and logic in the debate no longer works or stands on its own, then shift gears and attack the character and credibility of your opponent. Skip over the debate question itself, disengage from the discussion, and just convince people that your opponent is personally so badly flawed that his/her argument is thereby inherently wrong.

And so began the drumbeat of the anti-anti-war populous: “America – love it or leave it.” Dissenting against the war, dissenting against the government, failing to support the President, was cast as anti-American conduct. Objecting to point-in-time decisions and actions of the President was un-American and unpatriotic. The war was not wrong; protesting against it was wrong. Disliking what the government was doing somehow meant that one disliked America. If you did not like America – meaning you did not like what the President/government was doing – one should not fight or criticize to try to change it. Rather, just keep your opinions to yourself or go live somewhere else.

In this love-it-or-leave-it climate, America descended into even greater division. Instead of discussing whether continuing the war was justified, or how to properly conduct it, the discussion now became personal: who was the true American and who was the anti-American.

None of us likes to be criticized. No president likes to be criticized. In 1798, President John Adams tried to make it a federal crime (the Alien and Sedition Act) to make false or malicious statements that criticized the president or the government. His effort to stifle dissent ultimately contributed to his reelection defeat, and no president since has tried to silence criticism so overtly through the law. But that has still left the rhetorical devices available for a weak leader to try to use.

Our Freedom of Speech certainly caries the expectation for us to speak responsibly. But Freedom of Speech does not mandate us to speak intelligently, or to simply repeat the prevailing opinions of the day, or to not speak critically of those that serve us in government positions. Criticism of our President comes with the territory; it is not a job for the weak of heart or the insecure or the untested. Our current President has elected to try the same wrap-me-in-the-flag patriotism card with his political opponents. He speaks in variations of “America – love it or leave it.” Accuses his opponents (without substantiation) of “hating America” simply because they hate the policies and decisions he is making. “Send her back” is a contemptable chant from intolerant hearts. “Go back where you came from” is a short trip for someone who is a U.S. citizen.

In the end, Richard Nixon lost his effort to silence his critics over who was the true patriot. The White House tapes made it very clear who were the non-patriots. As the times from 50 years ago repeat themselves in continuing reverberation today, Donald Trump will likely similarly lose the battle over who are today’s true patriots. The litany of his crimes, me-first pursuits, and cronyism exposes his self-serving understanding of patriotism. Loving one’s country is not measured by loving one’s politician or what s/he says.

The ideals of America are perfect; the implementation of these ideals has always been less than perfect. Military and civilian personnel over our history have sacrificed themselves for the right to speak up, to put ideas – however crazy – into the marketplace of the American public debate. Such debate helps us find the best of ideas to accomplish our ideals. Nobody needs to “leave America.” Nobody needs to “go back where they came from.” Everyone needs to stay right here and let the debate over ideas happen. In the meantime, we can skip the non-debate about who is “the true American.” We can call out those who would subvert our right to self-govern through open debate. We should not allow ourselves to become entrapped within someone else’s empty and malicious rhetorical tricks.

©   2019   Randy Bell   

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   

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