Presidential Pardons and Political Expediency

Presidential pardons for everyone! At least that is what the GOP seems to be wanting over the Russian probe. But, is that a good idea?

Politico arguably made the case for Trump to give out pardons – even preemptive blanket ones – to everyone who is indicted by the investigation headed by Robert Mueller. It’s fair to guess that the intent of the author was to point out how dastardly the GOP and Trump could really be, though.

Historically speaking, the American public sometimes reacts negatively toward presidential pardons of a political nature – like the backlash over the Nixon pardon. However, those hard feelings are generally short-term in nature, and in the case of Nixon, might even contribute to the slippery slope of political misdeeds. What caused Nixon to resign in the early 1970’s became part of the political toolbox for Karl Rove by the 1990’s, and arguably helped put George W. Bush in office.

So, if Trump would hand out pardons for political crimes and misdemeanors involving a foreign power now, it’s entirely feasible that the U.S. election process could become susceptible to interference from abroad without protest by Americans in the future. True, that may seem an extreme result now, but back in the 1970’s, voters would have been appalled if someone traveled back in time from the late 1990’s and told them that political operatives were regularly doing what Nixon had done.

This is how politicking works, in small increments over time. What may seem like a good idea today, for the sake of political expediency can turn into the status quo of the future. Unfortunately, the impact on our nation’s future is rarely considered in times like these, so it is very likely that presidential pardons will flow freely during this administration. Nixon had been told that he could not pardon himself, but it’s impossible to say whether or not Trump will need to test that principle. The long-term impact of a president exercising the power of pardon on himself should terrify every American, but even that is uncertain.

For now, Americans should think twice before they just let it slide if Trump starts giving out pardons like candy over this case of the Russians interfering in our elections. While it certainly would be easier for all concerned in the Trump administration, there also is the inevitable backlash. Temporary as it may be, it could fall in time to cause crushing GOP losses – part of the reason why it’s currently assumed that Trump would wait until after November. No matter what, Trump and the GOP would suffer at least a little in the eyes of the voters, because the perception would be that the president is covering for his friends. Regardless of which side of the aisle a president is, this is not a good thing. President George W. Bush knew that, which was why he didn’t pardon I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and just commuted his sentence. A pardon would have given the impression that Libby was getting away scot-free, while commuting the sentence still left the man with a mark on his record, albeit a largely symbolic one. But, appearances do matter, which is why Trump is trying very hard to keep the public and media focused on anything but one simple fact – Mueller’s investigation is starting to indicate that the U.S. election process may not be impervious to international influence. Once the people truly grasp that notion, it will be difficult to sell them on the idea of pardons for anyone.

Image: Flickr

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Presidential Pardons and Political Expediency

Parkland and a Logical Approach to School Shootings

Last week, in Parkland, Fla. there was another mass shooting at a high school, which has caused a firestorm of debates about gun control. Unlike some other cases in the past, this shooting has illustrated a severe breakdown in just about every governmental and law enforcement system that could have (and should have) prevented this from happening.

First, we should address a problem with media coverage that remains in spite of expert advice. It is impossible to view coverage of this shooting without seeing at least a photo of the shooter. Psychological experts have repeatedly stated that at least part of the motivation behind these crimes is the spotlight, so the media is tempting future events simply by giving the perpetrators what they want – media attention. This applies even when the shooter commits suicide, because they die knowing that the media will make them famous in their last act.

While it is tempting to demand that our leaders “do something” in the aftermath of a tragedy like this, it’s also important to evaluate what actually happened. In this particular case, there are no laws that would have prevented this attack, but existing laws and governmental systems could have prevented it if they hadn’t failed. The shooter’s threats to commit this crime were reported to the FBI, the school district was aware of his instability, and the family either should have seen signs of danger or should have been told by members of the community that there was a problem. While the weapon(s) the shooter acquired may have been purchased legally, there was good reason for the family to request that law enforcement remove them from the home.

Our nation does have more school shootings than any other nation in the world, and it is true that part of the reason is because our citizens also have the most weapons. However, comparisons absent other factors do not paint an accurate picture of the situation we are facing as a nation either. Our problem isn’t the fact that we guarantee the right of citizens to bear arms, but that we are comparing ourselves with nations that do not.

On the world stage, there is arguably only one nation we can accurately compare ourselves with when it comes to bearing arms – Israel. Many citizens in Israel not only own weapons, but also carry them on a daily basis. There is compulsory military service, so there is no question about whether or not any adults have attended gun safety courses. Teachers are regularly seen in the streets with automatic weapons, while guiding their students on school outings. While some citizens may not like guns and may choose not to carry one, they fully comprehend the fact that they are tools for public safety. Most importantly, in Israel, there is no such thing as a “gun-free zone.” This means that criminals – regardless of motivation – cannot choose targets where they can assume that they will not face armed individuals. As a result of this, Israel ends up on the list of countries where a mass shooting has occurred, but it is among nations where weapons are essentially banned. That is in spite of the fact that many citizens own and carry weapons every day, and in spite of the fact that Israel is not on a list of nations that miraculously doesn’t have citizens with mental health problems.

Of course, the primary difference between the U.S. and Israel is that they have a much larger problem with terrorism than we do. Mass shootings are not a common problem for them, but mass casualty attacks by other means are. However, that is a direct result of the geo-political factors for their region, nothing more. If they would suddenly broker peace in their region but continued to use weapons as they do today, mass shootings still would not happen any more frequently than they do now.

In the U.S., mass shootings do not occur where shooters know they could be faced with armed resistance. That is why schools, shopping malls and movie theaters are chosen as targets. Even one of the survivors from Parkland – a teacher with two children in the school – suggested on ABC’s This Week that having retired or off-duty law enforcement officers armed in schools might help. Her objection to armed teachers was based on her personal feelings about weapons, so maybe she would have conceded that would be a good idea if school personnel would be given proper training before being permitted to keep weapons on campus.

No matter what it is counter-productive to discuss enacting new laws when the current ones still aren’t being applied and enforced. At most, we do need to look at improving the technology we use for background checks, and we need to consolidate data from Federal to local levels. We also need to remember the simple fact that criminals and the criminally insane do not by definition abide by laws. Gun laws only restrict people who would use weapons as they are intended in society – as tools for public and personal safety. Also, we need to seriously rethink “gun-free zones” in the same way Israel would. They do not specify areas as vulnerable to criminal attack because citizens are forbidden from protecting themselves and others with weapons, and neither should we.

Image: By Marcus Quigmire from Florida, USA (Drug Free and Gun Free) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Parkland and a Logical Approach to School Shootings

Why College Campuses Don’t Need Title IX

University administrators are revolting against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, because she dared to suggest that our institutions of higher learning should’t be getting into the business of law. Title IX has lead to what many have called “kangaroo courts” punishing students who are accused of rape on campus, without the benefit of due process or anything remotely similar to competent legal representation. In the worst cases, the accusers have essentially been turned into judge, jury and executioner.

While this system – definitely weighted in favor of accusers – has removed some true predators from campuses nationwide, it has also unfairly punished individuals who were not guilty. Also, the entire Title IX system has failed to give more than a minor increase in something that American students have been hopelessly behind on for years – sexual education.

Title IX is essentially like closing he barn door after the horses have run out, since its focus is primarily on punishing “predators” on far too flimsy evidence. The fact that this is happening in institutions of learning is doubly disturbing. It is true that teaching young people about respect, self-esteem, personal boundaries, sexuality, healthy interpersonal relationships, and overcoming poor parental guidance should start long before students reach college. That doesn’t mean that university administrators should think that offering “sex week” and “safe spaces” fulfills their obligation to at least attempt to use their educational requirements to actually prevent sexual assaults on campus.

But, there won’t be a meaningful conversation about the fact that most students in the U.S. do not learn what they need to know to engage in healthy intimate relationships at any age. Before college, the primary protest is that parents should teach this – they generally don’t. In college, the focus leaps between remedial learning of the basics, and an exploration of advanced sexuality – rarely is there enough content and conversation about respect and boundaries. None of the above tend to include the most basic concepts that land young people into false allegations of rape because they haven’t learned them. Our kids simply don’t learn how to read each others’ sexual responses, social cues, or emotional consequences of sexual activity.

Our college campuses don’t need Title IX. They need to start demanding mandatory comprehensive sexual education starting as early as possible. But, we won’t see that, because it would actually address the real problem – kids on college campuses are not prepared to deal with their own sexuality, and have been taught to expect the adults to protect them. Unfortunately, they should have been taught how to be the adults in the room.

Image: Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

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Why College Campuses Don’t Need Title IX

When Deregulation Can Be Bad

As a general rule deregulation is a good thing for business, and the public. Director of the Office of Business and Management Mick Mulvaney has found the exception to that rule, while working as the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. NPR reports:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created after the financial crisis to protect Americans from being ripped off by financial firms.

Now, President Trump’s interim appointee to run the bureau, Mick Mulvaney, is making radical changes to deter the agency from aggressively pursuing its mission.

An internal memo obtained by NPR says the CFPB on Monday will unveil a new strategic plan to that end. A “revised mission and vision of the bureau” for the years 2018 through 2022 will call upon the agency to “fulfill its statutory responsibilities but go no further.” It also says the bureau should be “acting with humility and moderation.”

To Mulvaney, that means dropping lawsuits against predatory payday lenders that happened to contribute to his campaign war chest when he was in Congress. In a perfect world, it would be fine to say “buyer beware” or the like, but these lenders that have been targeted for lawsuits by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau engage in deceptive practices. They also target people who can’t afford a lengthy legal battle to recoup losses.
In truth, Mulvaney is essentially legalizing loan shark operations, and apparently believes it is fine for these companies to threaten consumers as a part of their daily business. Also, he has no problem with interest rates far exceeding 100%.

With the exception of the anarchist fringe and perhaps the most radical conservatives, it’s fair to say that most Americans would say that they are morally opposed to companies that had been targeted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, because the public honestly does need protection from that level of deception. Unfortunately, Mulvaney probably will continue to tear down this agency, and the Trump administration obviously is fine with that idea. The public just needs to hope that these deceptive business practices don’t seep into more mainstream financial services, since we definitely cannot expect this administration to prevent the public from being deceived. Not all deregulation is a good thing.

Image: Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

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When Deregulation Can Be Bad

Is Mike Pence Helping or Hurting Relations During the Olympics?

Vice President Mike Pence is in South Korea for the Olympics, but he has been using the games as an opportunity to repeat the foreign policy positions that the U.S. holds on North Korea. That includes words and actions, since Pence has been stating that the U.S. intends to push more sanctions, and he has said nothing to the North Korean contingent in spite of being seated near Kim Yo-Jong – Kim Jong-Un’s sister – at the opening ceremonies.

First, it is important to remember that all of this is happening during the Olympic Games, which have historically been a point in time for nations to set aside their differences to celebrate the athletes who were chosen to compete. It is true that North Korea may be hoping to use these games as a way to restart a conversation with South Korea, but it’s also true that once the Olympic flame is extinguished in PyeongChang any good will generated during the games will likely disappear as well.

Pence appears to be operating under the misconception that South Korea is utterly unfamiliar with the actions and tactics of its northern neighbor, since he’s apparently at least a little concerned about the North Koreans winning points in a propaganda campaign now. If that isn’t foolish enough, he’s also engaged in a little comparison between Kim Jong-Un’s military parades and the one that Trump has requested in the U.S. That means that it will be more difficult for the U.S. to keep saying that the military parades in North Korea are nothing more than childish saber-rattling by a tyrant. In the end, the impression is that Pence is playing the petulant bully – a role description that typically fits Kim Jong-Un – while Kim Yo-Jong is just quietly attending the games.

Perhaps Pence needs to remind himself about a couple adages – “Politics is perception” and “There is a time and place for everything.” Tough talk against a silent foe during the Olympics makes the one doing the talking seem like the real bully, regardless of what reality is. Also, the last place where politicians should be talking politics is the Olympic Games, period, full stop.

Image: YouTube Capture/Al Jazeera

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Is Mike Pence Helping or Hurting Relations During the Olympics?

Writers – Read Your Old Stuff

“But, I’m a fiction writer. I can’t write essays!”

Just about any writer who has spent time mentoring has heard something like that, regardless of the writing style involved. I’ve personally protested against the concept of ever writing (good) poetry, because I sincerely question my ability to write anything beyond some rhymed verse for a toast.

But, deep in my own archives there are a few items that contain some lines that certainly are fairly lyrical, and probably could be turned into passable poetry if extracted and toyed with a bit. The same applies to some old essays of mine that could easily be turned into short fiction, if I chose to switch out real names for fictional ones, and remove some factual information that would interrupt the flow of the narrative.

It’s not new advice to suggest that writers read their own writing months or years after it was originally composed, but too often, the point of that suggestion is just about seeing concrete proof of growth as a writer. While that remains solid advice, it’s also important to suggest a fresh reading of old work when a writer is saying that she is incapable of creating work in a particular style or genre.

The fact is that while each type of writing has its own characteristics, cross-overs between them are numerous. Growing as a writer isn’t just about honing one’s skills in one particular area. It is also about exploring the boundaries, and crossing them.

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Writers – Read Your Old Stuff

Why Rob Porter Is a Symbol of the Trump Administration

The left-leaning media is having a field day thanks to former White House aide, Rob Porter. Partisan politicking aside, Porter honestly is a typical example of the kind of people who are currently in power in this country, and voters have placed them there. This is not to say that every person in government has something to hide in their personal lives, but it is pointing out the fact that voters have been increasingly more willing to overlook many unsavory details when they cast their ballots.

While the media and the political class are busy focusing on the details of Porter’s situation and making public statements of disapproval, a deeper issue will be left largely unexamined. How did we get to this point as a nation?

It is simple to toss around adages like “power corrupts,” but there are a few clues being offered in the comments from people in Washington who are trying to distance themselves from the Porter situation. While people in politics definitely do exist primarily in the public eye, the fact remains that they still have private lives. People like Sen. Orrin Hatch and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly initially came out making statements defending Porter, which were later back-stepped to commentaries about their knowledge of the man in the workplace.

Tempting as it may be to suggest that these people intentionally overlooked Porter’s alleged history of violence at home, the fact is that they probably were not privy to as many details as some might think, especially in Hatch’s case. Kelly is being called to task for failing to demand Porter’s dismissal as soon as he found out about the allegations, but it’s possible that the public will never know when that was. No matter what, the fact remains that both Hatch and Kelly measured the character of Porter solely on their personal and professional experiences with him – not his private life.

One statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is particularly telling: “The American people knew this and voted for the president, and we feel like we’re ready to move forward in that process.” Sanders stated this in December when the press was focused on allegations of inappropriate behavior toward multiple women were surfacing against President Trump. Indeed, the public did decide that crass (misogynistic?) behavior could be overlooked when Trump won the presidency. Since then, the administration has been moving from one scandal to the next, and Porter just happens to be the latest chapter.

The bottom line is that U.S. voters have lowered the bar on acceptable behavior for their leaders since our nation began. Neither side of the aisle has managed to hold the high ground, and the only reason why Republicans are currently making most of the headlines for their misdeeds is because they are currently holding the majority in office. While the Trump administration may go down in history as an important point on the timeline tracking the degree of morally questionable behavior the voters have tolerated in their leaders, that is all it will be. It’s highly unlikely that the public will suddenly turn around, and start demanding higher standards from anyone. Perhaps the real question should be whether or not there ever will be a break point – will the public ever reach the point where they will not vote for someone because of defects in their character?

Image: By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Why Rob Porter Is a Symbol of the Trump Administration

Did the Media Misunderstand Chief of Staff John Kelly?

While White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is under scrutiny for several issues, one public statement might not have deserved the firestorm it received from the media. CNN reported Tuesday:

“There are 690,000 official DACA registrants and the President sent over what amounts to be two and a half times that number, to 1.8 million,” he said on Capitol Hill after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to audio posted by The Washington Post.

“The difference between 690 and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up,” Kelly added.

The media response to this statement was quick and ugly, but it failed to take into account both the actual words said, and Kelly himself. While suggesting that people who could be eligible for DACA protection were “too lazy” to do it certainly can (and should) be considered objectionable, Kelly did not state that he believed they were. In point of fact, Kelly was stating the public opinions of many – from the left and from the right – which is clear if one bothers to pay attention to the actual words he said. But, that didn’t stop the media from accusing Kelly of being everything from insensitive to (possibly) racist:

It is important to keep in mind that previous to becoming Chief of Staff, Kelly spent his time in the Pentagon and in the Department of Homeland Security. In both of these environments, precision in speech is a necessity because imprecision can have a body count. That past experience also undoubtedly colors his attitude toward lawmakers who are willing to hold the military hostage while they argue over the status of people who aren’t U.S. citizens.

Because of his background, Kelly is as close as anyone can get to “apolitical” in the West Wing, regardless how much the media might wish it otherwise. In this case, it seems that reporting with bias against White House won the day, and the media missed the fact that Kelly was probably intending his statement to be taken as a condescending hit against the Hill, not a commentary on people who are eligible for DACA protections.

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Did the Media Misunderstand Chief of Staff John Kelly?

Death of the Gerrymander in Pennsylvania and What It Means

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that gerrymandering is a bad thing, and it’s going to stop in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The knee jerk response from some might be to say that the justices removed a perk for the ruling party in our legislature, since drawing the lines for the U.S. Congressional Districts could be done to favor one party or the other – the whole point of gerrymandering, of course.

As for the timing of this particular ruling, it is rather inconvenient for the 18th Congressional District, recently vacated by Tim Murphy and due for a special election in March. By May’s primary, the result of the special election will become meaningless, since the 18th District was gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.

Both Democrats and Republicans have taken advantage of gerrymandering U.S. Congressional districts over the years, so while the timing of this ruling isn’t advantageous for Republicans right now, it’s disingenuous to suggest that ending the practice is aimed specifically at Republicans. (We can revisit this if the court allows Democrats to re-draw the lines to their own advantage later.)

The current ruling requires that the lines be logically drawn, without splitting up counties or municipalities unless it’s absolutely necessary. In other words, district lines will theoretically overlap county and municipal lines throughout most of the Commonwealth, one way or another.

While the current ruling may very well have been influenced at least a little by a desire to break down some of the power of the Republican party in Pennsylvania, the long term result will likely cause political moderation in U.S. Congressional races. Running on a highly partisan platform for most seats simply won’t work anymore. Perhaps that will become an unintended consequence for the justices, but for the people of Pennsylvania, it will mean that they could end up largely above the hyper-partisan political fray on the national level. That is at least a little idealistic, but not impossible, since the voting populace of the Commonwealth has been generally moderate historically anyway. No matter what, removing the ability to draw U.S. Congressional districts from the pile of political perks for both Democrats and Republicans will hopefully ensure that candidates for the House will have to pay more attention to one thing they occasionally forget – the constituents they represent, regardless which party they happen to be registered with on their Voter ID cards.

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Death of the Gerrymander in Pennsylvania and What It Means

Advice to Congress on Passing Bills

As we are getting beyond the shutdown of the government in January of 2018, it seems like an appropriate time to think about exactly how we get into situations like this. Most Americans who managed to take and pass a basic class on government in high school (or earlier) should have learned about how laws are actually passed. Of course, that very basic lesson isn’t very close to reality, but it’s definitely worth remembering now.

The pundits have been overdrive pointing fingers over who should be blamed for the current shutdown, but only a few are digging at least a little deeper – commenting on the logistics of avoiding another shutdown in February. Donald Trump is the primary focus of those discussions, primarily because our Congress isn’t like those old government classes described it. Theoretically, Congress is supposed to make laws, and the President is supposed to enforce them. As part of our “checks and balances”, enforcement includes signing bills into law. Of course, there is also the presidential power of the veto, which is what our current Congress is probably worried about happening when it comes to (for the moment) our spending and immigration bills.

If you don’t remember talk in the classroom about presidents exerting a great deal of power over Congress or involving themselves in the drafting of or debate over bills, you probably didn’t fall asleep in class. That is something that was rarely taught in any classroom, since it wasn’t drafted into our Constitution. However, it is the reason why many people became highly annoyed with President Obama for “legislating from the White House” – something our current Congress is theoretically supposed to fix now with DACA legislation.

Right now, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives and the Senate have been saying that they are annoyed with President Trump for not telling them explicitly what laws he’s willing to sign into law. If that sounds to you like they are trying to please a dictator by going through motions in Congress, your aren’t far from the truth. The problem we have now is that Congress stopped attempting to making laws on its own decades ago, thanks to the high degree of partisanship in American politics and presidents who did not back away from exerting more power than they probably should have when it comes to making laws.

Trump had characterized Obama as a power-grabbing tyrant because of this behavior, so perhaps he is only willing to tell Congress what he’s willing to sign into law as opposed to outright telling them which laws to pass. No matter what, the end result is the same – Congress is left with three choices:

Do nothing – Don’t even try to figure out what Trump will sign, and just don’t bother trying to pass any laws. Of course, this would probably lead to them all being voted out of office, but it is still one option open to them.

Try to guess what Trump wants – This apparently will be just a guessing game, since it seems that Trump has issues with saying what he wants, and – more importantly – sticking to it long enough for Congress to actually act on it. Since Trump is used to people jumping to appease him, this probably will never work well. Congress moves much slower than the executives employed by Trump’s (former) businesses.

Pass only veto-proof laws – This rule would apply to the big issues, so it’s unlikely that Congress will actually make this choice. That doesn’t change the fact that this is probably the best solution they have for their current problem – an executive who easily changes his mind.

People have said that the Trump administration would change history, and they’re probably right. If it forces Congress to go back to its roots, re-learn the nearly extinct art of statesmanship, and manage to get work done without needing a presidential signature to enact laws, that would be a significant change for the better. At the very least, it would restore strength to our system of checks and balances, and perhaps chip away at a little of the power that has been grabbed by the executive branch over the years.

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Advice to Congress on Passing Bills