Category Archives: Domestic Issues

The FISA Issue vs. Nunez Memo

Congressman David Nunez, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, used the promised release of his memo to initiate a two-week campaign to discredit the FBI investigation into possible collusion of Donald Trump/his surrogates with the Russian “influence campaign.” But the memo finally submitted to the President for declassification merely deals with the authorization to surveil Carter Page, a volunteer foreign affairs consultant to the Trump campaign. Why is there this discrepancy between hype and fact?

Let’s begin with the President’s official declassification of this memo for public consumption. That response was written by the President’s Counsel, Donald F. McGahn II and states as follows: “To be clear, the Memorandum rejects the judgments of its congressional authors.” While the Administration rejects the memo’s conclusions, declassifying its contents supports its avowed purpose. And that purpose, as outlined in Nunez’ memo, was to highlight concerns about the legitimacy and legality of the DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and potential abuse of the its legal process that was originally designed to protect the American people. Although McGahn wrote the Administration’s reply to Nunez declassification request, the decision to declassify the document could only be made by the President. It has been reported that he had a three-and-a-half-hour window in which to deliberate his decision.

The following is my summary of Nunez’ “case-in-chief” after a six-minute perusal of his memo:
(1) Neither the initial request for a surveillance warrant nor any of its three renewal requests-authorized by Comey, McCabe, and Rosenstein, successively, as the memo highlights—mentioned the DNC’s or FBI’s role in partially funding Christopher Steele’s investigation into Carter Page’s relations with Russian contacts. This alleged failure is noteworthy. The implication is that the investigation was merely political opposition research supported by partisan DOJ and FBI officials and not worthy of clandestine surveillance.
(2) The surveillance request sites Yahoo’s reporting of Steele’s investigation as unverified. Further, it fails to mention that Yahoo incorrectly stated that its reporting of Steele’s “dossier” did not come directly from Steele. The implication is that Yahoo either had other, more corroborating sources which it failed to disclose or, more likely, was guilty of giving cover to its lone, unreliable source.
(3) After disclosing his FBI relationship to Yahoo in October, 2017, Steele was suspended and “terminated” by the FBI as a reliable intelligence source. Further, the FBI failed to terminate him in the previous September when he showed his dossier to Mother Jones. The memo states that Steele “lied” to the FBI about his contact with Mother Jones in September. The implication is that the FBI belatedly acted to terminate its relations with an untrustworthy source and failed to admit its incompetence in its surveillance request. (It should be noted that “termination” implies a formal contract, of which there is no evidence. Normally, the FBI simply suspends a relationship with a source. And Steele’s “lying” to the FBI is a felony which, as of this date, remains unverified and unprosecuted.)
(4) Steele’s numerous contacts with the media violated “the cardinal rule of source handling—maintaining confidentiality—and demonstrated that he had become a less than reliable source for the FBI.”
(5) Steele revealed his bias against Donald Trump to the Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, a DOJ official who worked closely with Deputy Attorney Generals, Yates and later Rosenstein. Ohr reported that Steele was “passionate about him (Trump) not being elected.” Ohr’s wife also worked for Fusion GPS, Steele’s employer, and was instrumental in supplying the FBI with her opposition research. The Ohrs’ relationship to Steele and Fusion GPS was allegedly concealed from the FISC, along with Steele’s incriminating bias against Trump. The implication is that the dossier is a faulty intelligence report based upon animus and not credible evidence.
(6) The FBI Deputy Director testified to the House Intelligence Committee in December, 2017, that no surveillance request would have been requested without the Steele dossier. The implication is that the dossier was the sole, rather than the final, piece of evidence to initiate the FBI’s surveillance of Carter Page.
(7) Finally, the memo effectively exonerates Carter Page as the initiator of the investigation into Russia’s “influence campaign.” Although his visit to Moscow is mentioned in the dossier, the memo inexplicably admits that the dossier did not initiate the investigation either. Instead, the memo states the investigation was launched in July, 2017, because of George Papadopoulos’ admissions to the Australian Foreign Minister. Carter Page reportedly had no contact with Papadopoulos. Perhaps the reference to Papadopoulos has an ulterior motive—that is, the opportunity to mention the lead FBI agent in the July investigation, namely, Pete Strzok. He was also one of the investigators in the Clinton email case. His text message exchanges with his mistress admit leaks to the media and discussions with Deputy Director McCabe about an “insurance” policy against President Trump’s election. The implication here is that a conspiratorial cabal exists within the FBI. Its purpose is to derail the Trump Presidency.

Carter Page was not just an extraneous and unwitting victim of this conspiracy but an appropriate ruse to out this conspiracy. Does the Nunez’ memo prove its case that the DOJ and FBI falsely and illegally petitioned FISC to grant and renew surveillance warrants against Carter Page, thereby abusing the legal protections of FISA? If that were its purpose, then it missed its opportunity to appeal directly to the FISC. Carter Page seems to understand that, even if no one adequately defended him in FISC, he still can sue the government for abusing his privacy. He admitted as much on national television. If he proceeds with a libel suit, he might want to include Congressman Nunez who has made his case fodder for the press and his guilt or innocence subject for debate in the public forum.

But Nunez’ purpose was not to vindicate Carter Page, but, as admitted in the memo, to damn the DOJ and the FBI. Certainly, he has no problem with FISA, for he stood on the floor of the House less than a month ago defending it and eloquently supporting its renewal. Many have argued that the surveillance authorized by this secret court can and possibly does violate individual privacy, but few Republicans—and certainly not Nunez—have made that argument.

Once again, it should be obvious that Nunez has little interest in defending Carter Page’s suitability for surveillance. Nunez provides us with excerpts in lieu of a point-by-point rebuttal of the full body of evidence submitted by the FBI. We cannot know whether the evidence supplied to FISC in Page’s case was adequate, for its full disclosure reportedly encompasses hundreds of pages. The FISA judges ruled that the evidence provided was adequate to warrant surveillance.

Nunez had a different goal in mind in drafting this memo. He cleverly has drawn a line of incompetence, bias, and conspiracy through Comey, McCabe, Rosenstein, Yates, Ohr, Strzok (all of whom, except for Rosenstein, have been fired, retired, or reassigned) and the media. His pretense to champion Carter Page’s cause is a sham. The subversive purpose of Nunez’ memo was to discredit the DOJ and FBI. The Page surveillance warrant offered him a pretext for undermining the investigation into Russia’s influence campaign and any possible connection to collusion with the Trump campaign or to subsequent obstruction of that investigation. In other words, the Nunez’ memo is a political document.

Despite the hype surrounding this memo, there are a few positive facts we can discern from its publication. First, Carter Page who has been characterized by Russian agents as an “idiot source,” has not been indicted by the DOJ or the special prosecutor to date. Since 2013 he has been merely a person of interest to the FBI because of his frequent meetings with Russians and his support for Putin’s policies. Second, the Speaker of the House did in fact have the authority to release the Nunez’ memo; and the Administration did appropriately have it vetted by its intelligence council before releasing it to the public. As they say in basketball, no harm, no foul here.

The real problem is with our political parties. Remember when the Democrats attacked the Special Prosecutor during the Clinton investigation into obstruction of justice. Now we have the reverse situation: Republicans defaming the DOJ and the FBI over Trump’s or his campaign’s involvement in collusion with the Russians and Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice. (Apparently, Mueller is still believed untouchable to defamation.) Meanwhile, his investigation rolls on. And this memo is just a distraction. The harm here is to the image of the DOJ and the FBI, and the foul is on Nunez.

Paradoxically, Nunez does less to impugn FISA, the FBI, the DOJ or to exonerate Carter Page than to imply his complicity in obstruction of justice.

Still Baffled After All These Months

“The times, they are a-changing . . .”

We Americans elected a President who describes himself as a “stable genius . . . like, really smart”—a claim no other President has made. Whereas his immediate predecessor incessantly quoted from the U.S. constitution and urged us to “form a more perfect Union,” President Trump’s “genius” has focused elsewhere. Although he provided some short-lived tax breaks for the middle class, his overall tax policy shifts over 500 billion dollars of wealth from the lower and middle classes to the super wealthy. This policy will increase income/wealth inequality, thereby exacerbating the divide between the very rich and every other American. Moreover, his signature positions are also divisive. He has often derided Congress for its failure to fund his wall or repeal Obamacare and complained about the courts impeding his immigration bans. Berating all who oppose him, he proceeds to alienate various ethnic and racial groups and to disregard both the healthcare of all Americans and the livelihood of black or brown immigrants. Obviously, he shows no interest in bringing people together. In place of unity, the President offers discriminatory exclusion and dispassionate indifference.

In contrast to past Presidents, President Trump differs in his approach to government. Our democratic republic is not “a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere” (President Reagan). His mission, as he sees it, is to save a failed system—or “drain the swamp”—for, as he attests, “only I can fix it.” His attempts to do so have met with more than a little backlash. For example, he states how “sad” it is that there is resistance to his bending the Justice Department and intelligence services to do his bidding. But, as former President Nixon found out, our system does not put the Presidency above the law. Likewise, he wants control over the public media, even suggesting the press become more subject to libel suits. But his frequent claims of fake news and threats of libel suits are really sad attempts to violate the First Amendment (freedom of the press). The Federal Courts have frequently ruled that his immigration bans violate the Fourteenth Amendment (the equal protection clause). Obviously, his actions reveal his ignorance of or enmity for our Constitution and the rule of law.

Perhaps President Trump’s real objective is not to save our American system. Whether he fully realizes it or not, he seems to want to destroy it. For example, he shows no respect for the coequal branches of government: he supports sycophant Republicans for Congressional seats and nominates judges more preferential to his authority to the Federal Courts. He appoints Cabinet Secretaries who promise unwavering loyalty to him and often oppose the very purpose of the Departments they manage. They are against funding public education, clean air and water, national wildlife preserves, national parks, fair housing practices, work place safety rules, bank regulations, a robust diplomatic corps, international agreements, and multi-lateral trade agreements. Pundits tell us that this Presidency is not normal. But “normal” only implies its divergence from past Presidencies. It is not a true characterization. This Presidency can only be compared with Andrew Johnson, who deliberately worked against the hard-fought American Union, and with Richard Nixon, who thought himself above the law. In other words, a true characterization of the Trump Presidency is impeachable.

Not only does President Trump disregard the implications of our constitutionally established system of checks and balances and of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. He also is cravenly abusive of the emoluments clause and dismissive of Article II, Section 4, regarding treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors. He insists that his “fighting back” at the Justice department and FBI are not “obstructions of justice” and that “there is no collusion” with the Russians. Yet he has persistently—and suspiciously—attempted to derail the criminal investigations into the Russians “influence campaign.” And he repeatedly defends the Czar-like Russian leader. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin continues his attempts to infiltrate and subvert our democracy and to isolate American influence around the world. He would undo what King George tried to prevent. And Donald Trump is his accomplice.

Now in a new year, Americans seem even more perplexed by a government radically incoherent and untethered from its moorings–that is, embroiled in lies, incompetence, a growing moral morass, an undiscerning dismemberment of everything “Obama,” and, most significantly, a willful disengagement from American history and ideals. The question remains: what do Americans want? Do we still believe in the mythic land of the free, where all “are created equal” and with “certain unalienable rights?” If so, then maybe we should protest with more purpose and vote for our ideals. In America, we create our future at the ballot box and in our hearts and minds. We are still a nation founded upon principles defined in our founding documents and coded into our laws. If we choose to believe in them, then we can and will progress with this American experiment in Democracy.

Last year I wrote about “The New Age of Bafflement.” I cannot make this earlier blog more relevant than its inherent prescience. (If you can spare the time, you might want to reread it.) Without a doubt, technology and social media have accelerated change in every aspect of modern cultures and societies. Along with that change we have experienced job dislocation, growing divisiveness in nearly every medium, and uncompromising gridlock in our politics. But how we experience change is more about us than the nature of change. American have overcome environmental cataclysms, civil strife, and world wars. We should be well equipped to adapt America’s core values and systems into this brave new world. President Trump, by contrast, seems intent on dragging America into past divisiveness quandaries which we had worked diligently to overcome and, in many cases, did overcome. Do we want to revisit long lines in emergency wards, polluted air in our cities, oil spills like Exxon Valdes that required a 2.1-billion-dollar clean-up, despoiled lands in our National Parks, an onslaught of new age “robber barons,” racial-gender-ethnic discrimination, and a disregard for the poor, the sick, and the elderly?

President Trump’s agenda is not to “make America great again.” His vision for America is extreme and dangerously radical. He would make his Presidency imperial and subservient to his economic empire and to the wealthy who share his perch at the top of the economic pyramid. If we become cynically resigned to Trump’s America, then we put this self-governing experiment in jeopardy and abandon America’s lead role in a fast-changing future. Instead, our nation will sink into the quagmire of incoherence, incompetence, and the erratic autocracy of this President’s Administration. As the eye of the media storm he creates, he focuses attention on himself, while tearing apart America’s institutions. He is the evil wizard of chaos, who would rebrand America into his likeness.

While Congress seems reduced into complicity, many of us appear bamboozled by a chameleon who in the guise of populism steals our birthright and our future. How has Trump duped the electorate and cowed Congress to his will? How, indeed? I am still baffled after all these months.

How to Shutdown America

Why do Americans tend to identify with and vote for a Party? When you ask this question, you get various responses: I’m a Republican and have always been a Republican; my family and friends are lifelong Democrats and so am I; I’m an anti-abortionist; I’m pro-life; I’m a free-market advocate; I’m for fair practices in business and a reasonably regulated economy; I believe in states’ rights and a limited Federal government mainly focused on the security of our nation; I believe the Federal government must also secure the rights of all its citizens; I believe in family values without government interference; I believe in supporting families through government action; and so on. Most of us would readily recognize these conflicting answers and could add many more areas of disagreement and even conflict.

At this moment in American history, Congress is at loggerheads. At the heart of this disagreement is whether our current immigration system is fair, or not? In general, should it allow an undocumented person to live in this country and apply for full citizenship? But the immediate point of contention concerns whether children brought into this country by undocumented parents are liable for the actions of their parents. They are demonstrably in violation of the law and subject for deportation. But is the law fair and reflective of our core values? In other words, do they have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? More to the point, do they have a right to become naturalized citizens?

Before 1776, there was no such thing as an American citizen. But the Declaration of Independence stated that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . .” And those words gave birth to America and its key founding values—equality of all its inhabitants and their possession of God given rights. “Equality” defines the nature of our society—communities, towns, cities, states, and nation. And those “unalienable rights,” as further elaborated in our Constitution, define the integrity of the individual citizen in our society.

Throughout our history, Americans have faced the same problem we are now experiencing in Congress’ inability to resolve the DACA crisis (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). That problem concerns how we maintain an egalitarian society where the rights of all individuals are preserved. The concept of “equality” presumes a diverse society where “all men are created equal.” But our founding fathers excluded slaves from humanity and women from citizenship. While America has reversed these exclusions, we continue to suffer the same myopic view of American society with each wave of immigrants, whether Chinese, European, African, Middle Eastern, or South/Central American. In fact, we are wary of admitting immigrants of non-Christian faiths and non-Caucasian genealogy. Even the Muslims or Sikhs and the black and brown citizens in our midst are often considered outsiders that should be shunned, feared, discredited or segregated. If we can question individuals’ equality in our society, then we have no obligation to grant them any rights—and certainly no path to citizenship. If so, how do we reconcile ourselves with our founding principles?

Many of our Presidents—excluding the current one—encouraged us to form a more perfect union, as stipulated in the Preamble of our Constitution. Recall the Pledge of Allegiance, “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.” American history is a record of our struggle to unite all our people under the same banner and oath. For us to reconcile the principle of individual rights to the ideal of an egalitarian society, it is imperative that we learn to abide our differences and to govern solely for the benefit of all—equally. In 1818, the American population of 9.5 million included 1.5 million slaves. Today, a population of about 320 million includes between 690 and 800 thousand DACA non-citizens who are subject to deportation. Why would we exclude from citizenship people who have lived their entire lives as Americans? It does not require a civil war or even a massive program of assimilation to treat them as equals and grant them their full rights as citizens. In effect, they are already Americans. Why would we ostracize them from the society of which they are already members?

Frankly, I find no satisfying answers to these questions. There is no issue of introducing crime or living off the public largess. The only obstacle to admitting these DACA enlistees appears to be their availability as leverage for the President’s border wall and the Republicans’ desire to reduce legal immigration. The President feels strongly that he cannot reverse his campaign promise about a border wall. And his Party has been ideologically opposed to any measure that would result in more immigrants entering America—even when past Republican Presidents have proposed work permits and a path to citizenship (Reagan and Bush 43, respectively). Perhaps a more recent President put it more succinctly, “I don’t think that Americans want hubris from their next President . . . a strong mandate for change . . . means a government that is not ideologically driven. It means a government that is competent . . . that is focused day in, day out on the needs and struggles, the hopes and dreams of Americans . . .” (Obama, January 6, 2009).

It has been said that we are a nation of immigrants. True, but that is not the whole story. We are a nation united by principles and the rule of law that supports those principles. Although Congress’ inability to pass a budget is critical to maintaining the viability of government services and its overall financial status, its inability to serve the founding principles of our nation risks the loss of our democratic underpinnings. America is an idea that must be constantly renewed. If we lose our dedication to the very core principles of our founding, our inability to pass a budget is not the most significant problem we face. We are.

The current stalemate in Congress is more than a budget impasse. It is less about how we default on balancing America’s general ledger. It is about how we shutdown America—what it represents to us and to the world.

Oppressive vs. Subversive Tax Policy

The American colonies began their revolt against the British Monarchy over oppressive tax policies. Since that period, Americans have always looked upon government tax policy with suspicion. In the early nineteenth century, our ancestors questioned the need for tariffs and government secured loans to fund infrastructure projects such as canals. Later in that century, our government cleared the way for the expansion of homesteading and eventual construction of a national railroad system. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Republican Presidents began to explore the need for taxes to support government programs that might enhance this American expansion. They wanted to support the ongoing industrial revolution and its impact on improving Americans’ standard of living. The debate for and against a national income tax “without apportionment among the several States” was carried forth during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and finally formalized in the Sixteenth Amendment under the Presidency of William Howard Taft. Neither of these Republican Presidents could foretell a time when their attempts to fund government programs would instead become a means for bankrupting the American government.

Our contemporary times have witnessed the argument over tax policy devolve into questions of who should benefit by it and of how it might affect the national debt. Should the government spend its tax revenue on programs that help citizens support their families, gain an education, enter the workforce, overcome discriminatory practices, maintain the peace and safety of their community, and secure their “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?” And should the government outspend its tax income to the detriment of future tax payers saddled with an unsurmountable debt? These two questions appear diametrically opposed inasmuch as they assume an inverse either/or equation.

These questions have riled our legislators in recent decades. The current tax proposals in Congress give evidence to an ongoing debate. According to Senator Orin Hatch, “We’re spending ourselves into bankruptcy. Now, let’s just be honest about it: We’re in trouble. This country is in deep debt. You don’t help the poor by not solving the problems of debt, and you don’t help the poor by continually pushing more and more liberal programs through.” Does the Senator believe that he is helping the poor by “pushing more and more” regressive programs that will increase the national debt? “Regressive” in this Republican Party context generally means “broadening the base” by raising taxes for the less well off in order to decrease taxes for the more well off and for large corporate entities. In the new lexicon of the moment, it is possible to raise taxes by eliminating deductions while loudly proclaiming a tax rate “reduction.” In fact, Hatch has ironically “settled” the debate by equating efforts to “help the poor” with “spending ourselves into bankruptcy” while advocating for a tax policy that will increase the national debt by 10%. The inconsistency in his argument can be rationalized by a blind faith in future growth stimulated by tax breaks for corporations—a supposition that recent history has twice disproved. Reputable analysts have used dynamic scoring to account for this dynamic increase in job growth and have shown the possible effects of this regressive tax policy. Although only a .4% increase in GDP would eliminate half a trillion dollars in our national debt, the actual dynamic scoring on the Senate’s tax reform proposal resulted in only a .04% growth in GDP. This level of growth may be insignificant for it is within the forecast’s margin of error. If this tax proposal cannot be rationalized, then only two debt reduction strategies remain: taxes will have to be raised; or so-called “entitlement” programs may have to be diminished or eliminated altogether. The current tax proposal raises taxes for some low/moderate-income citizens and eliminates funding or sets the stage for future defunding of programs that support education, job training, anti-discrimination programs, healthcare, retirement security, and environmental protections.

Who can be believed? We are living during a time when the statements of all authorities are questioned. There really is such a thing as “fake news.” In the midst of politicians’ distortions, prejudiced news sources, and foreign “influence programs,” where do we find fact based information? Well, let me offer the PBS News Hour. Check out the three tax charts PBS constructed to assess the effects of the current Congressional tax policy proposals on the rich and poor in America. If these graphs don’t draw the picture, then the closing statement is a good summary: Republicans are making taxes less progressive. In other words, they are shifting the burden of taxation from the higher income levels to the lower. Although this shift appears nominal in percentages, the multi-billion-dollar shift has much more significance to the average wage earner than to the billionaire class. it has two negative social results: it punishes those least able to afford any reduction in income; and it exacerbates the income inequality that already exists and currently threatens our democracy. In addition, it worsens the national debt, assuring the need to address future spending cuts. Even with so-called “dynamic” scoring, the national debt is still forecasted to increase to 14.5 trillion. One can only wonder whether Congress will once again raid the Social Security trust fund and increase the existing 6 trillion already borrowed. Such “borrowing” is really stealing from future generations. It is an example of the kind of profligate spending that risks the stability of the Social Security system.

Now, if these concerns don’t trouble the average citizen, consider the underlying hypocrisy of the GOP. Remember the so-called “Grand Bargain” during the previous Administration. It failed for several reasons. But the overall issue was the GOP assertion that any change in the tax code MUST be revenue neutral, i.e., it must not increase the deficit. Pres. Obama proposed balancing any cut in the top rate for corporations with off-setting elimination of tax loopholes. Most conservatives, like myself, applauded any effort to “level the playing field.” Well-paid lobbyists have long tilted tax policy in favor of their well-heeled constituents. The “Grand Bargain” could have stimulated business competition and the economy. But House Republicans preferred a reduction in entitlement spending (though they diverted blame to the President for changing the terms of their initial agreement). Now, we have a tax reform package that is NOT revenue neutral, but deficit increasing—by as much as 1 to 1.5 trillion dollars. And that increase not only sets the stage for future reductions in entitlements but also does nothing to promote business competition. It also becomes difficult to overturn. Can you imagine some scenario where big corporations and the mega-rich would allow their taxes to be increased in the future? Instead, they would pour millions into the coffers of GOP campaigns to assure their tax benefits remain intact. In fact, donor campaign funding is the likely desired alternative.

If the above conclusions seem more partisan than democratic, then you might consider another aspect of this Republican tax proposal. Tax payers in high tax States like NY and CA will pay more in Fed. taxes. College students with loans and tuition waivers will also pay more – probably discouraging many to forego college. What do these groups have in common? They’re largely Democrats. If you couple these actions with the recent Trump disregard for the Puerto Rico recovery, you would have to acknowledge the possibility of a sinister disregard for any Democratic leaning constituency. Some may consider these examples of a simple partisan or tribal divide in American politics. In other words, “it’s just politics as usual.” But the underlying motive is simply a bare-knuckled power grab. The centralization of power in any democracy is the beginning of the end for that democracy. Whether it’s an unfair tax policy, voter suppression, gerrymandering, or attempts at biasing judicial appointments, the intent is the same. And that intent is undemocratic and un-American. History may even call it perverse, if not actually subversive.

Perhaps the Republican Party has been the minority Party for far too long and has simply forgotten how to govern within our Constitutional framework. Perhaps, as some political pundits claim, the GOP has just fallen prey to an aggrieved substratum of our population and to its avowed representative in our President. But the fact remains, that this President and this Republican-controlled Congress have done nothing to appease the plight of wage earners or the unemployed who have experienced wage stagnation or job loss to technology, respectively. They could, for example, raise the minimum wage (perhaps proportional to each State’s wage profile). They could advance a tax policy that is more progressive with the intent of reducing income and wealth inequality. They could make higher education more affordable and even target occupational training for the emerging job markets (for example, renewable energy, healthcare expansion/reorganization, or new internet empowered jobs). They could promote competition in the business market by eliminating tax preferences won by corporate lobbyists. They could energize the small business community by making employee healthcare more affordable, by revising patent laws, and by easing start-up regulations and simplifying reporting regulations. Instead of simplifying and reforming the 75,000 pages of the tax code, they are reconciling an additional 500 page amalgam of backroom tax proposals that few, if any, in Congress have even read.

Why have they not pursued the populist policies they claim to be pursuing? Instead, they are about to pass a tax law that will save the President millions, and his family, billions. It will also reduce the corporate tax rate without eliminating any tax preferences and without providing any wage relief to low income workers. Nevertheless, the President and Republican leadership in Congress claim their tax proposal favors the middle class. Why do their actions belie their words?

The answer can be found in the intent behind those words. The Republican congressional leadership promotes policies that benefit its wealthy donor class and its desire to stay in power. The President administers the Executive Branch to suit his interests and the extension of his influence and power. Both elected branches of our government show little regard for our general welfare, except in the words they use to camouflage their intent. To state what should be obvious, this tax policy is misnamed as reform. It is regressive in its economics and abusive of our Constitutional ideals.

We cannot allow our democratic republic to slip into a Russian-style kleptocracy!

**Disclaimer: The tax bill now being reconciled between the House and Senate is not complete. On the surface, it appears to lower taxes across the board for all taxable units. But it eliminates popular deductions for individual tax payers, while keeping those tax preference items used by big business and the very rich. In addition, some tax loopholes are widened, such as pass-through income (favored by privately held companies, like those owned by the Trump family) and carried interest (which President Trump said he would eliminate). In addition, the estate tax would be eliminated altogether—a gigantic gift to the super wealthy (which could provide a two-billion-dollar bonanza for the Trump family). Until the law is finally passed, no accurate appraisal can be made of its effects. Since our legislators created this tax bill without public hearings and voted on it before reading it, it should not be surprising that they have difficulty explaining what is in this tax legislation. They can, however, tell us what they think we want to hear. **

Can America Survive Under This President?

The answer to this question may appear premature, even suspiciously revolutionary. But it is timely and appropriate within the context of Presidential history.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson was in Paris while the constitutional convention was underway in Philadelphia. A month passed before he received a copy of the document that would establish the American government. It crossed the Atlantic by ship, likely arriving after the convention was disbanded. Given the circumstances, his response could not affect any change in that document. But he did have an opinion. He felt the Constitution gave more power to the President in the conduct of foreign affairs than to a king. Nevertheless, he supported the man who would become the first President. Washington, he knew, was a man of character and a great leader. The question we might ask today is whether Jefferson’s reservations should have outweighed his acquiescence to the selection of our first President. If he had been in Philadelphia that summer, would he have attempted to curb the power of the Presidency in matters of state? Perhaps his absence was an ill omen that has shadowed some subsequent Presidents. It certainly casts a pale over the current President.

The history of American Presidents reveals men (still only men) of very different character and ability. Some of their Administrations have been quite successful, while others have been disastrous. Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon had failed Presidencies insofar as they both left office in disgrace. Johnson was under impeachment proceedings when his term expired. Nixon resigned under threat of impeachment. Our current President may be or not be impeachable, but he is very far removed from the high moral character and unifying leadership of George Washington. Since the beginning of his Presidency, he has built upon his campaign promises to rattle the “Washington elites” or, in his words, “drain the swamp.” His very vocal supporters wanted him to refocus government on their needs. They also wanted him to upset the political Parties’ gamesmanship, mutual rancor, and legislative gridlock.

But President Trump has taken aim at more than his opponents in both Parties. He has set his target on the very democratic institutions that have insured the rights and privileges of all Americans, including those of his supporters. Most of his cabinet appointees are adversaries to the organizations they supervise and sycophants to is bidding. Whether he is handcuffing scientists in the EPA, crippling the effectiveness of our healthcare system, opening public lands to drilling and fracking, alienating our allies, provoking a possible war with his bluster, attacking our workforce and communities with discriminatory deportations of refugees and immigrants, disabling effective diplomacy, ignoring the warnings and concerns of our intelligence community, or abetting wealth inequality with his tax proposals, he is challenging the very framework of our democracy and dismantling its institutions. While Congress dithers with legislative brinkmanship and reelection concerns, our government is being slowly and effectively taken apart.

Amid this chaos, President Trump attempts to make the government subservient to his dictate or even whim. Whereas George Washington sought to unite the colonies into a democratic republic, President Trump would make us all vassals to his administration and to him personally. He would be happy to rule by executive order, quash the free press, and bully all opponents into submission. The brutish and provocative way he conducts the affairs of state is reckless in our nuclear age and inconsistent with the considered, restrained leadership required of a statesman. His Administration has already pushed the boundaries of criminal behavior and shown total disregard for civil or even moral norms. Jefferson’s reservations about the power of the American Presidency has suddenly mushroomed into a contemporary nightmare.

Is it possible for the majority Party in Congress to restore its loyalty to the American people rather than to Party leadership? Republicans could be dutiful civil servants by simply being a check on the excesses of this President. In other words, they should and must take on the role of a co-equal branch of government that represents the interests of all Americans. Unless both Parties liberate Congress from the control of election financiers and lobbyists, America will no longer be feasible as a bastion of liberty and the rule of law. My real question—or fear—is whether the American experiment is approaching the point of no return.

I am not able to answer this question. Others have suggested America would be better off with a parliamentary system where an elected prime minister forms his legislative body and governs for as long as he/she can hold together a majority. Unfortunately, any form of government can fall prey to a populist demagogue, to corruptive practices, to power brokers, and to criminal or parasitical self-interested elements. Perhaps the question I should raise is one we can answer. Is the idea of America still alive and well amongst Americans?

If the answer to that question is affirmative, then we can turnaround the path America appears to be taking. We must demand our representatives curb the dictatorial and inconsistent actions of the current Administration by demonstrations, petitions, and our votes. We should petition the Supreme Court to rule against political Parties’ attempts to gerrymander their votes. Consistent with our check and balance system, Congress should come together to overturn the Citizens United ruling of the Supreme Court by legislating funding restrictions and campaign reforms. (“American Revolution 2016” represented one such approach.)

But no systemic change can substitute for an informed electorate. Americans cannot be expected to vote wisely, if they are unable to trusts their information sources or validate the factual basis of proposed policies or political statements. Considering the foreign influence on our recent Presidential election, Congress needs to unravel the many infiltrations Russia made into our public forum and to prevent their reoccurrence. And it must work with social media companies not only to uncover the extent of fake news and manipulative propaganda but also to block future incursions of this nature.

If the answer to my question in the title is affirmative, then what kind of change is needed and when. Can there be any doubt that gridlock in Congress and incompetency in the Presidency demand change now? If the approval ratings of both elected branches of government have any relevancy, then the issue of urgency has already been determined. But what kind of change should we pursue? Of course, it would not be practical for America to disregard its Constitution or change its form of government. After 241 years, why would we abandon a system that has already transformed itself so many times for the better. The Constitution only defines the goals and structure of our government. But it has always been the responsibility of the American people to translate those goals into practice.

When George Washington became President in 1788, America had slaves, restricted the vote by race and gender, assumed gay people were perverts, and believed a Federal income tax an abomination. He could not possibly have imagined a future where nuclear war, social media, pervasive false journalism, or foreign election-influence campaigns were threats to the American system of government. But just as the American system overcame the problems Washington faced, it can still resolve the problems it now faces. We simply must re-imagine the change we want. Our problem is not with the Presidency, but with the President. It is not with the Constitution, but with those pledged to support it—including both our elected officials and ourselves.

I believe our system cannot survive without a President – at least not as it was envisioned. That vision demanded a President of high moral character who, along with all elected representatives, adhered to our founding principles. But we could—and did—elect a “disruptor and chief.” We, perhaps unwittingly, put our democratic republic in peril. It is imperative that we citizens now take control of our nation’s future. We must demand the removal of this President from office and fair representation of our interests in Congress. I can think of no better way to renew our allegiance to “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” That pledge is the only true promise of our nation’s survival as a democratic republic.

An American Tragedy

Can a nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal . . . long endure.”

When Lincoln said these words at Gettysburg, he stood at the brink of a pivotal moment in history. The new American republic had been under siege and faced possible extinction. Thousands of its citizens would die in an internecine cataclysm that would either end America’s quest for liberty and equality or give it rebirth.

My fellow Americans, we are at a similar pivotal point in our American quest. Although we have yet to take up arms against each other, we are deeply divided and engaged in a struggle that threatens the very foundation of our democracy. Let me explain the nature of this struggle.

America appears about to begin the second act of a Shakespearian tragedy. The first act witnessed the emergence of the American ethos—a “can-do” attitude coupled with unhindered ambition, territorial expansion, economic growth, and the reapplication of “unalienable rights” to include the civil rights of those previously excluded. The rule of law was winning out over the dissonance of divisiveness arising from racial, class, and gender despotism. What energized that rule of law was a firm belief in liberty and equality that included economic opportunity. But that energy unleashed a fatal flaw in the guise of mindless ambition. Like Macbeth, America had climbed the pinnacle of power only to confront the ultimate temptation. When the witches foretold Macbeth’s rise to regal power, they also foretold his demise. Power sought for itself alone is a siren call to disaster. While ambition can give rise to individual and social achievement, it can also trample in its path any desire for liberty and equality or the democratic justice they demand. Unbridled ambition, unmoored from its purpose and sought for its own sake, will become the ouroboros that consumes itself. What may ensue is not a natural occurrence of nature, but a manmade tragedy—an American tragedy.

At the Gettysburg National Cemetery, Lincoln called upon his fellow Americans to “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom . . . and that government of the people . . . by the people . . . for the people . . . shall not perish from the earth.”

“Government of the people” is a democratic government established and owned by the people. “Of” is a possessive preposition that presupposes ownership. But the “people” cannot be an authoritarian (or dictator) and/or a privileged class (or aristocracy). The people’s government must be the majority of the democracy’s citizens. Since America is a democratic republic, our elected officials are tasked to represent the will of that majority. Then how has it come to pass that the two elected branches of government are controlled by a political Party that lost the popular vote? It is true that the electoral college assures that the more populated States cannot dominate the smaller States. And each State has two Senators regardless of the size of their electorate. But how can any citizen of a democracy support gerrymandering or voter suppression tactics designed to distort the popular vote. No political party should be allowed to choose its electorate by excluding the majority. These attempts to silence the will of the majority are further amplified by actions designed to mislead the electorate, including malicious campaign propaganda and subversive foreign media. Together, they distort the truth and undermine the trust that must exist between the citizenry and its elected government. In effect, the political parties and their election campaigns become complicit in disowning and disenfranchising the citizens of their own democracy. This situation is a self-inflicted tragedy: an American tragedy.

Government “by the people” is a government controlled by the will of the people through fair elections and the honest representation of those they elect. Then how has it come to pass that the legislative agenda is mostly controlled by high-powered lobbyists and the special interests they represent? If the general welfare of all Americans is the governing mandate, then what justification is there for tax law and labor regulations that promote gross economic inequality? If a democracy is based upon liberty and equality, then how can it allow unequal educational and employment opportunities for its citizens? And how can it defund programs that provide healthcare or assist the less fortunate and disabled to gain a constructive role in a free society? If, instead, those privileged by wealth or status have a disproportionate influence on elections and government, the net result will inevitably be a government controlled by a self-interested minority—that is, a government unresponsive to the will of the people. This situation is a self-inflicted tragedy: an American tragedy.

Lincoln, the President who saved the union, clearly knew what government “for the people” meant. The Constitution defines the very purpose of the United States of America to secure domestic peace and security, our general welfare and the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. Today, America continues to secure peace and security for its citizens from foreign adversaries and terrorists. But how well does our government serve the general welfare and preserve our liberties for ourselves and our posterity? Is the general welfare served by relaxing regulations that control mercury and coal detritus pollution of our water supply or that limit power plant’s hydrocarbon pollution of our air? Is the political management of the EPA serving our interest by defunding clean-up of dangerously polluted superfund sites or by suppressing EPA scientists from participating in climate change conferences? Worldwide, more die annually from pollution than all those who die in wars and from major diseases combined. Even if the EPA political management removes the term “climate change” from all its correspondence, it cannot erase the effects of the worst West Coast fire season in history or of three recent hurricanes, each of which accounted for more damage than any like cataclysm in over a hundred years. And how well are we served by a government that would even consider eliminating healthcare from millions of our fellow citizens or removing subsidies that would force insurance companies to raise rates on all insurance plans? These actions are not indicative of a government wholly committed to serve its citizens. Instead, they represent a deviation from the very purpose of our democracy. And that, indeed, is an American tragedy.

As the Statue of Liberty exemplifies, the United States of America stands as a beacon of hope for the world, precisely because it was, as Lincoln proclaimed, “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” If we forget our birthright and lose our commitment to our founding ideals, we foreclose the oldest democracy in history and extinguish its light for posterity. Instead, let us renew our dedication to the rule of law and to the Constitution. We must reclaim our government at the voting booth. We must petition the government, run for office, or select representatives whose character and wisdom win our trust. And we must demand our political leaders serve our interest, not just those privileged by wealth or status. In a democracy, it would indeed be tragic for any person or political party to subsume power that rightly belongs to the people.

My fellow Americans, we can no longer be the silent majority. Acquiescence to those who seek and maintain power for themselves is equivalent to complicity in an unfolding American tragedy. Rather, with the same dedication President Lincoln urged, we must be persistent in our resolve to seek a “new birth of freedom.” That is our birthright and our heritage. It is also the foundation for both American conservatism and liberalism.

Political Redemption and American Salvation

When we redeem an item we purchased, we ask the retailer to take it back. When we seek redemption for ourselves, we ask another to take away our guilt or take back the harm our action(s) may have caused to ourselves or to others. In either case, redemption is not possible unless we ask for it, thereby specifically admitting we need redemption. But our request will not be answered without the expectation of reform. Although politics is not religion, both require an honest assessment of the need for redemption, reform, and a redeeming agent. In the case of religion, we can confess our sins, promise to do better, and ask for God’s forgiveness. In the case of politics, redemption similarly requires an admission of political malfeasance and a proposed plan for reform before asking the electorate for a second chance.

Both political Parties have behaved badly in the past. They have, for example, prevented the very possibility of the compromise required in our bicameral two-party legislative system. The majority Party can bury a bill in committee or limit debate, effectively suppressing the voice of the minority Party. As a result, legislation beneficial to a significant number of people may never come up for a vote. Likewise, the 60-vote rule in the Senate can prevent a bill from being debated or voted on the Senate floor. The immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship is a case in point. It was proposed by President Bush during his second term. But the Democrat controlled Senate never had the opportunity to vote on the bill because not enough Senators joined in the cloture vote on June 27, 2007, to provide the needed 60 votes. During the Obama presidency, the Senate passed a similar immigration reform bill; but it never reached the floor of the Republican controlled House for an up or down vote. In both instances, Congress gave insufficient consideration for whether a majority vote might better serve the general interest of the public. These failures served to perpetuate the many problems associated with undocumented immigrants, including workforce distortions, job inequities, shadow communities, and so on. They are examples of political malfeasance.

At times both Parties have shown themselves incapable of wielding majority power for the greater good. For years I railed against the Democrats for failing to live up to the promise of those civil liberty reforms they won in the sixties. Now I criticize the Republicans who have abandoned the reasoned and pragmatic governance they advocated in the eighties and early nineties. Of course, both Parties argue positions that differ from the other. And those debates are necessary in our republic. But neither should ignore the need to address the issues that concern and divide the nation as a whole: two decades of stagnate middle class wages and an inadequate minimum wage; rising healthcare costs (at a lower rate since the ACA, but still rising faster than inflation); wealth and opportunity inequality; unaffordable higher education; criminal justice inequalities; and the subversion of the plebiscite by money and political malpractice, including gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, lobbyist controlled agendas, and extravagantly financed campaigns committed more to propaganda than ideas.

Since 2009 Republicans have been caricatured as the “Party of No.” During the Obama Presidency, congressional Republicans initially opposed the President’s proposals for a trillion-dollar stimulus bill to counter the Great Recession before they eventually agreed to an amount comparable to President Bush’s bank bailout amount. They declined to ratify the Trans Pacific Trade agreement or even consider funding an infrastructure bank proposal, even though free trade agreements and an infrastructure bank have long been favored by Republicans. They aggressively contended and tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which included the private insurance healthcare exchanges they previously proposed. Although they never supported the ACA’s Medicare bailout or Medicaid expansion, the basic idea behind the bill was initially outlined by the conservative Heritage Foundation and proposed by Senator Dole, a former Republican candidate for President. This failure to act on what Republicans previously believed to be in the best interest of all Americans is what I believe most would term political malfeasance. Moreover, their rationale for this failure is equally suspect: they refused to give a Democratic President any legislative achievements because he was too liberal, too popular, and too likely to be reelected unless they obstructed his every initiative.

There are at least two crimes that are unforgiving in our American system: intolerance of those who are different in kind, belief or ideology; and refusal to serve those universal values enshrined in our founding documents. The former precludes compromise by excluding empathy for others or their perspectives, while the latter demeans our democratic institutions and the very idea of America. That idea is a set of values, specifically, equality, justice, liberty, security, domestic tranquility, and the general welfare. Our Constitution clearly identifies these values as the principles upon which rest the promise of a more perfect union. It does not, however, admit their subversion. When elected officials refuse to vote on legislation that embody these American values, they subvert them and the government they support. Moreover, they are choosing narrowly defined political interests over the general welfare of those who elected them.

Is it any wonder why Congress has such a low approval rating or how gridlock suborns compromise? When intolerance can influence debate over immigration of non-white or non-Christian minorities, have we lost any sense that “all humans are created equal?” When, after 70 years of warnings, Congress is still unable to fortify our infrastructure against increasingly destructive climate cataclysms, have we lost any sense of insuring “domestic tranquility” or promoting “the general welfare?” How can equality and liberty be maintained if healthcare and economic opportunity are preserved only for the privileged and not for every citizen? Long before the modern era, Aristotle recognized that inequality breeds instability. Surely, individual Republicans understand this risk. But they appear to be held hostage to a leadership that supports narrow constituent interests and to a wealthy donor network capable of funding their reelection.

On July 25, Senator McCain delivered a passionate speech on the floor of the Senate in which he urged his fellow Republicans to resume regular order and to work across the aisle with the minority Party. He correctly pointed out that no major legislation, except the ACA, has ever been passed solely on a partisan basis. He urged his Party not to duplicate the process that created the current healthcare system by repealing and replacing it in like manner. His was a landmark speech, not only because of the urgency of the moment, but also because of its potential pivot point in Party redemption. While stating the case for redemption, however, he overlooked the full extent of Republican malfeasance. This current version of Republicanism has taken governance to a new low in its attempt to pass legislation without support of any organization operating within the healthcare system and without concern for the well-being of millions of Americans who would lose healthcare. Of course, Republican Party leadership is still smarting about how the ACA was voted into existence on a partisan basis. Their resentment is palpable. But they fail to acknowledge, as McCain intimated with his insistence on regular order, that every constituent and legislator was given the opportunity to contribute to the ACA, including 26 days of floor debates, committee mark-ups, and over 100 Republican amendments. Earlier Republican obstructionism now has morphed into Republican circumvention of regular order and, more significantly, into a disregard for the health and well-being of the people they were elected to serve.

Precisely because Republicans have control over all branches of government, we must demand that they acknowledge Congressional failures, reform their positions, and seek political redemption. Could there be a more appropriate time for a political party to govern wisely and responsibly in the interest of all Americans? As the lyricist says, “the times they are a’changing.” Not since Andrew Johnson have we had a President so antagonistic to the American system of government and so out of tune with the will of a majority of the electorate. While judges can stop criminal or unconstitutional actions of this Administration, only members of Congress can initiate laws that can curb or limit the powers of the President or even override his vetoes, if necessary, in the interest of serving the general welfare.

Senator McCain has created an historical opening for the majority Party to subordinate their ideological and tribal conceits to the greater good of working for the general welfare of all Americans. And, of course, the minority Party will have little or no leeway to do otherwise. The beneficiary will be the American people. As McCain reminded us, no important legislation—whether it address healthcare, tax reform, infrastructure, or authorization to use military force—should be passed without bipartisan support. America’s biggest failure in this regard resulted in a Civil War. Before his death, Senator John C. Calhoun foretold the possibility of a secession he did not support. Secession would be inevitable, he feared, if he could no longer negotiate compromises on the admission of slave states. Today, failure of our elected representativeness to work together promotes the same divisiveness and can lead to a similar breakdown in our union. As this administration attempts to weaken many of our democratic institutions, America cannot withstand gridlock or Republican pique in the legislative branch of our government. We should not conclude America immune to what the Germans experienced in the 1930s under one-party rule (Gleichschaltung).

Obstructionism is obviously not a good recipe for governance in a democracy. But, at times, it can become a statement of principle. And therein lies a deeper problem that more accurately mirrors Calhoun’s dilemma. Compromise becomes impossible when it involves principled positions. Calhoun believed just as firmly in the superiority of the white race and the beneficent administration of slavery as the Republicans today believe that the Federal government should neither dictate healthcare policy to the states nor tax the wealthy to support lower income citizens’ healthcare needs. Although still dealing with the aftermath of slavery, most Americans now accept that the principle, “all men are (indeed) created equal,” defines race prejudice as morally wrong. Today Americans are faced with the advent of a new principle: healthcare is a right for everyone, not a privilege reserved for the few who can afford it. (Reference, “The Republican Path to Healthcare.”) When the American people adopt a principle, they clearly give direction to their representatives. In any democracy, opposing the majority is futile. Calhoun, a Democrat, did not live to see the outcome of his obstinacy. But this current version of Republicanism promises us that we will.

Every two years Americans vote for the future they want for our nation. Between those Federal elections, we trust our elected representatives to serve the values we share as a constitutional democracy governed by rule of law. That trust is violated when they fail to serve those values, choose not to govern, or, more pointedly, redirect the anger their political malfeasance triggered towards their political opponents. It is time for the Republican Party to reform itself. In the political arena, admission of error may appear to be suicidal. But courage requires such admission when a greater good is sought, such as the welfare of all Americans. Whether it is healthcare, equality, justice, security, or the fair conduct of elections, no elected official should act without regard for the people he or she is elected to serve. Political redemption for the Republicans begins with a change of direction. That change will be sufficient admission of past malfeasance. For example, it must entail support of the ACA exchanges and cessation of attacks on its subsidies, funding, and operational support. Why not act to make the American healthcare system better—worthy of regard rather than ridicule? And, furthermore, why not stand up to a President that diminishes American institutions and our status in the world rather than emboldening him by an obsequious silence?

I would prefer to see the Republican Party aligned with Americans on values, rather than by inflaming their anger. I would prefer they debate the Democrats on policy without misrepresenting facts and those principled values enshrined in or inspired by our Constitution. I would applaud any Congress—whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats—that would curb or even censure President Trump for his spiteful, divisive words and actions that spur anger, confusion, and repulsion amongst Americans and our allies throughout the world. The Republican controlled Congress can still rescue us from President Trump’s dark vision of our country: “America doesn’t win anymore”; “our allies are taking advantage of us”; “the American dream is dead”; and “only I can save it.” His words recall the trope of certain twentieth century dictators rather than his prescribed role in a tripartite government as a President committed to the ideals of a democratic republic. Much worse, his actions are already threatening the healthcare of millions, destabilizing our alliances around the world, provoking antagonisms with armed adversaries, and steering Federal departments away from their stated goals into possibly irreversible dysfunction.

In other words, I encourage Republicans to live up to their conservative heritage and to preserve those values that have made America great. We are a nation inspired by ideals and motivated by the courage to act on them. Those ideals and courage can and will earn Republicans political redemption. The majority Party needs to govern in the interest of the majority. By redeeming itself, the Party will redeem Republicanism, win over the electorate, and defend the republic from future foreign influence campaigns or opportunistic demagogues. If political redemption can save democracy, then America will be saved.