Collins Toys with the Constitution


Later today, Representative Chris Collins (NY-27) is expected to introduce something called the “Second Amendment Guarantee Act”, or “SAGA”. He intends for this legislation – if passed – to repeal key parts of the New York SAFE Act. According to a press release, SAGA would, “limit the authority of states to regulate conduct, or impose penalties or taxes in relation to rifles or shotguns.”

The Federal 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NY SAFE Act is Constitutional, and the Supreme Court refused to undertake a review of that decision, tacitly upholding it. 

Collins’ proposed legislation only applies to long guns, not to handguns. It would also expressly reserve for Washington the sole ability to regulate and tax long guns. This might work now for Mr. Collins and his gun-toting base in his largely rural district, but query what happens if Congress were to flip from Republican control and pass restrictions on long guns even stricter than the SAFE Act. Under this proposal, Collins’ top-down, big government, Washington one-size-fits-all solution for gun regulation might not go over so well. 

Just as the 1st Amendment is not absolute – restrictions on libel, obscenity, and inciting a riot are examples of restrictions on speech – neither is the 2nd. There are as many sets of laws and restrictions on gun ownership in the United States as there are states. In some cases, individual municipalities have their own restrictions, such as New York City’s stringent handgun laws. Furthermore, individual states have long maintained their own firearms regulations. After all, what works in Wyoming might not work in Rhode Island. 

It is odd here that a Republican Congressman is introducing legislation that usurps from the states their power to regulate, and hands it to the federal government. After all, conservatives have long agitated for government power to be exercised, whenever possible, not by Washington, but by state and local governments.  Their stated intent is to preserve the intent of our federal system and to comply with the 10th Amendment. Collins’ proposal effects that very usurpation, ripping power from the states and handing it to Washington lawmakers and bureaucrats. After all

…as Judge Frank Easterbrook of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit explained in the Highland Park case, the Constitution not only guarantees rights, but also “establishes a federal republic where local differences are cherished as elements of liberty, rather than eliminated in a search for national uniformity.”

Maybe the polling reveals that Trump isn’t so popular and Collins’ relentless cable TV appearances to defend whatever the President does may not play so well. Given the way in which a Collins aide shared the news of this proposal on Twitter, it would appear that this will go nowhere, and is merely an appeal to his base, as Mr. Collins evidently can’t wait to run for governor. 

The Trumps: A Sea of Gobs in Need of a Michael


If the Trump family are the Bluths, Donald, Jr. is Gob

The New York Times obtained an email string from early June 2016 in which an intermediary contacted Junior to set up a meeting with Russian “government” operatives who supposedly had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The meeting was to be with Putin/Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, whose primary brief has been to push for repeal of the Magnitsky Act. Magnitsky was a lawyer whom Putin harassed before having murdered, and Congress passed the law to deny visas to – and freeze assets of – Putin cronies. In retaliation, Putin blocked Americans from adopting Russian orphans. This was set up by an Azerbaijani pop star, “Emin”, and his manager, Rob Goldstone.

When people tell you this is about “adoptions”, it’s not. It’s about sanctions that Congress passed that are specifically targeted at evil Russian malefactors. 

Some in the American intelligence community think this meeting was a “dangle” by the Russians – an effort to sniff out how receptive the Trump people would be to meddling. Quite receptive indeed, it turns out. Go look at Goldstone’s emails again – he seemingly goes out of his way to identify these people as Russian government agents who are part of an official Russian government effort to help Trump. 

Emin’s father is a Putin stooge and big-time developer in Russia. Goldstone was involved in Trump’s production of the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, and that interconnection led to this, which may arguably be even uglier than collusion to fix an election: 

In response to the first Times article, Don, Jr. issued this statement, written on Air Force One en route home from the G20 in Hamburg and signed-off on by the President

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.

The the New York Times reported that the meeting was set up to get Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton, Junior said: 

After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.

Later, after the Times reported that Trump, Jr. was told it was part of a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign, Junior tried to pass it all off as just a regular guy getting some opposition research from a friendly source. 

When the Times contacted Donald, Jr. to let him know it had the emails themselves, her released them on Twitter and wrote, 

To put this in context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue.

The Washington Post characterizes Donald, Jr.’s changing stories thusly

  • I never represented the campaign in a meeting with a Russian.
  • Actually, I did, but the meeting was about adoption.
  • Well, the pretext of the meeting was incriminating information about Clinton, but we didn’t actually get any.
  • This kind of meeting is totally normal.
  • The meeting didn’t seem like such a bad idea at the time because the media wasn’t focused on Russia yet.

What the email string shows quite clearly is that when approached by a middleman peddling Russian government intelligence on Hillary Clinton, Donald, Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner reacted enthusiastically and acted fleetly. The issue is – what happened next? Because the timeline of what happened after that June 9 meeting with Veselnitskaya – a person who frankly had no business being in the country in the first place – a lot of interesting things happened.

Two days before the meeting, Trump gave a speech promising to give a “major speech” about Hillary Clinton’s “crimes” on June 13th. 

I am going to give a major speech on … probably Monday [June 13th] of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.

After Veselnitskaya’s visit to Trump Tower, it was as if a dam had burst. Literally within the hour after the June 9th meeting, Trump tweeted his first reference to Hillary’s “missing” “33,000 emails” – he had never said that before, but said it almost daily since. This jibes perfectly with the allegations in the Steele Dossier about Russia peddling supposed intelligence on Clinton to Trump’s campaign. After those in the Trump orbit spent a year falsely denying any communication – much less collusion or coordination – during the 2016 election, and after Donald, Jr. changed his story three or four times on this June 9th meeting, what rational person would believe that the meeting was a “nothingburger”, or inconsequential? Even Trump, Jr. admits that the meeting was set up so he could obtain secret Russian kompromat on Hillary Clinton, but that Veselnitskaya instead talked of “adoptions”. Even taking that at face value, the kompromat was the quid pro quo for weakening or repeal of the Magnistky Act. 

Even Grover’s sells “nothingburgers” smaller than this June 9th meeting. The circumstances surrounding the aftermath of that meeting reveal that much more was likely discussed and agreed-upon. 

Within days, Julian Assange crowed that Wikileaks would be publishing things about Hillary Clinton. A few days later, the news broke that the DNC’s computer network had been hacked by Russian operatives, and “Guccifer 2.0”, took credit. The US Intelligence community has identified Guccifer 2.0 as a fictional construct created by Russia’s GRU and FSB. Three weeks after the meeting, DCLeaks published the first hacked DNC emails. Within a few days after the meeting with Veselnitskaya, membership in the /r/the_donald subreddit spiked larger than at any time before or since. 

I wrote about it as early as July of last year

By mid-July, the Trump campaign, led by Paul Manafort, worked to remove language from the Republican platform that called for military aid to Ukraine to counter Russian military hostility. Days later, Wikileaks released thousands of DNC emails. On July 27th, Trump said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find the 33,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” A few weeks later, Roger Stone told a Republican apparatchik, “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”

On August 21st, Stone tweeted, “Trust me, it will soon [sic] the Podesta’s time in the barrel.” On October 7th, a “Joint Statement from the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence” formally accuses Russia of hacking the DNC to “interfere with the US election process”, the Access Hollywood pussy grabbing tape is released, and within one hour, Wikileaks has published the first of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s private emails, which continued to be released in daily dribs and drabs until election day for maximum anti-Clinton impact. On October 12, Stone confirms that he communicated with Assange through an intermediary, who is now thought to be former UKIP chief Nigel Farage

After the election, President Obama applied some targeted sanctions against Russia for its interference in our electoral process, and Russia threatened retaliation before now-disgraced Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn intervened

The Trump people are now saying it was a rookie mistake. Here’s why that’s a bullshit cop-out: not a lot of people ever work on more than one Presidential campaign; they’re all pretty much rookies at that level

They’re trying to say that everyone collects opposition research, and this was no different. Except it is different for this reason: opposition research is stuff that is “researched”; i.e., you hit Lexis and find articles, you check clerk’s websites and court dockets. You talk to associates and enemies of the target. It is completely different – and not routine “opposition research” to be approached by people identifying themselves as representatives of a hostile dictatorship who purport to have compiled a secret intelligence dossier on your opponent. Donald, Jr. knew exactly who these people purported to be, and what they were offering. His response? “If it’s what you say, I love it. Especially later in the summer”. 

The last round of talking points referred to the June 9th meeting as a “nothingburger”. But they’ve been saying that all along – not just about this meeting, which is only now coming to light, but about the entirety of the Russian hacking, disinformation, and other active measures interference with the 2016 election. Trump repeatedly calls it “fake news”, and tweets out warnings about not believing stuff that’s attributed to anonymous sources hours before yet another damning report is published about his campaign’s ties with Russian agents. 

Wikileaks is one of the glues that bonds this whole sordid affair together. Julian Assange and his website long ago transformed into anti-American, anti-Western, anti-democratic pawns of the Putinist regime. Yet he claims to have an open communications channel with the Trump family

“But…but the Democrats colluded with Ukraine“.  This is an old Russian propaganda tactic called “whataboutism”e.g., during Soviet times, if an American complained about the repression of free speech or dissent, the Russian would not address the complaint, but instead point out something that happened in the US, such as lynchings.

A few things: 1. Ukraine isn’t a nation hostile to the United States; 2. Ukraine is a nation that has been the victim of Russian theft of the entire Crimean peninsula, and years’ worth of war along its eastern frontier; 3. Ukraine has been on the front lines against Putinism for years; 4. Manafort had worked extensively in Ukraine, working for the Putinist quislings. A Democratic strategist researched this in Ukraine to find out what she could about Manafort’s dealings there.

At no time was there an operation run out of Kyiv by Ukrainian governmental operatives or intelligence.  The evidence that Manafort was paid over ten million dollars to elect Putinists in Ukraine was leaked by a Ukrainian parliamentarian in the Ukrainian press.  It’s not even in the same solar system as what Trump’s campaign is alleged to have done with Russia, even based on the scant public evidence available now. 

They had a good thing going, relentlessly denying that they solicited or obtained any help from Russian government agents. Until Gob Bluth Don, Jr. tweeted out the first bit of incriminating evidence. 

Come on

Western Values à la Trump


Last week before the G20 summit in Hamburg, President Trump gave a speech in Poland that seemingly recast American ideals, and our role in the world. Trump’s Stephen Miller/Steve Bannon-fed Weltanschauung eschews the optimism and idealism of democracy and liberty in favor of something more exclusionary, authoritarian, and sinister. Trumpism isn’t so much about freedom, but about a “West” where hatred and fear fuel an epic clash of civilizations, which can only be won through sheer force of will. 

ISIS, al Qaeda, and other jihadist terrorist organizations themselves couldn’t have written a better third act. This is exactly what they want. 

James Fallows writes in the Atlantic, comparing past Presidents’ rhetoric with Trump’s. Reagan, Carter, Bush, and Obama all spoke of the idea – and ideals – of America, and how the postwar expansion of pluralist democracy throughout western Europe united us as people who aspire – almost as one – to liberty and equality. If you look at the world wars that laid waste to Europe’s humanity and property twice in the first half of the last century, America and her ideals came in to help rebuild the countries that wanted it, and to protect them from the competing ideology of expansionist Stalinist oppression. 

America is an immigrant nation. We aren’t brought together by blood, race, ethnicity, or religion, but by the law and ideas. Europe is different. Generally speaking, European national boundaries are – more or less – drawn around an ethnicity, with nationality intertwined with statehood. The history of multiethnic European states is about hereditary monarchy, oppression, ownership, and submission. The notion of national self-determination was popularized after WWI, although not applied with care. Since at least the end of the cold war, however, Czechs, Croats, Serbs, and Slovaks have their own nation-states. Albanians live in Albania and Kosovo. The French live in France. The Portuguese live in Portugal. The Norwegians live in Norway. The Italians live in Italy. These states aren’t just political constructs, but have their own shared language, ethnicity, and – in many cases – religion. Some have monarchs, but all have pluralist democracies of one sort or another.

Historians believe that the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy is due, in part, to the fact that those countries were late to unite under one flag. Germany only united its various principalities and city-states to become a nation-state in the mid-19th century. Italy followed a similar timeline. The idea of being “Italian” or “German” was relatively new in the 1920s and 30s, so totalitarian ultra-nationalism became a popular and viable choice, especially as a reaction to the rise of the Soviet Union. 

America is a nation united by our laws and ideals. We pledge allegiance to a flag – not a person. Our elected officials pledge to uphold the Constitution, not to do the will of some potentate. Anyone can be an American, regardless of their nationality.

As Fallows writes

When John F. Kennedy gave his celebrated remarks in Berlin a few months before his death, he presented both the United States and free West Berlin as proud illustrations of a larger idea: “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum.’ Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’” (You can read the text of the speech, and see a video of its still-remarkable five-minute entirety, here.)

Nearly 25 years later, when Ronald Reagan went to the Berlin Wall, he gave a speech that became famous for its rhetorical plea, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” But the surrounding tone was like Kennedy’s.

There’s been a change since January

But the major departure in Trump’s speech was its seeming indifference to the American idea. At least when speaking to the world, American presidents have emphasized an expanded “us.” All men are created equal. Every man is a German. Ich bin ein Berliner. Our realities in America have always been flawed, but our idea is in principle limitless. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Trump gave grace-note nods to goals of liberty and free expression. Mainly, though, he spoke not about an expanded us but instead about us and them. He spoke repeatedly about our “heritage,” our “blood,” our “civilization,” our “ancestors” and “families,” our “will” and “way of life.” Every one of these of course has perfectly noble connotations. But combined and in practice, they amount to the way the Japanese nationalists of the early 20th century onward spoke, about the purity of “we Japanese” and the need to stick together as a tribe. They were the way Mussolini spoke, glorifying the Roman heritage—but again in a tribal sense, to elevate 20th-century Italians as a group, rather than in John F. Kennedy’s allusion to a system of rules that could include outsiders as civis romanus as well. They are the way French nationalists supporting Marine LePen speak now, and Nigel Farage’s pro-Brexit forces in the U.K., and “alt-right” activists in the United States, and of course the Breitbart empire under presidential counselor Steve Bannon. They rest on basic distinctions between us and them as peoples—that is, as tribes—rather than as the contending ideas and systems that presidents from our first to our 44th had emphasized.

Here is the theme of Trumpism, from his speech in Warsaw: 

We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will. Because as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have.

The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?

Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.

This clash of civilizations isn’t about freedom vs. totalitarianism or liberty vs. communism. It’s about the triumph of the will against the savages. This is Bannon’s and Miller’s America – what they see as the last bastion of white Judeo-Christian – but mostly Christian – people against the atheist socialist libtards and the brown Muslim people who would destroy it. It’s not even nationalism so much as it is tribalism.

Whatever best distracts from, e.g., ripping health coverage away from 22 million Americans, I guess. 

Poland is, indeed, one of America’s closest European allies. A member of NATO and the European Union, Poland sees America as a bulwark against the constant threat from the east. It was America that supported the Solidarity trade union against Soviet-compelled martial law. It was America that helped Poland’s transition from failed communist planned economy and one-party totalitarianism to regulated free markets and pluralist democracy. 

In recent years, however, Poland has been governed by a right-wing nationalist party that doesn’t necessarily abide the freedoms that come along with the American ideal. The press has been harassed and suppressed, and the “Law and Justice Party” is emblematic of the backlash against liberalism that has popped up in Europe since the 2008 global financial meltdown. Trumpism reflects what the Poles and Hungarians will abide, but the French recently rejected. 

What hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Israeli press, for instance, is Trump’s historic refusal to visit Warsaw’s memorial to the Ghetto Uprising. Polish Jewish leaders specifically condemned this as a “slight”. 

…ever since the fall of Communism in 1989, all U.S. presidents and vice presidents visiting Warsaw had made a point of visiting” that site,  representing Americans “who had played such a central role in bringing down Fascism,” at a “universal commemoration of the victims of the Shoah, and condemnation of its perpetrators.”

Ivanka went, and placed a wreath at the memorial, but her father didn’t. The “Law and Justice” party thereby scored a win, according to Politico

The Law and Justice party has been highlighting the role of the Poles who fought against Nazi Germany while downplaying the persecution of 3 million Polish Jews who perished in the Holocaust. After all, if you believe in blood and soil, and you call for the will to triumph against the savages, you have to keep up appearances. 

In the days following this re-configuration of “Western” ideals, Trump held a pathetic love-in with murderous dictator Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, and the news came of the first concrete evidence of possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia in 2016, or at least a willingness to collude. 

On June 9, 2016, Donald Trump, Jr. met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-linked lawyer, who promised harmful intel on the Clinton campaign. He attended that meeting at the urging of a mutual friend, alongside campaign chief Paul Manafort and his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner. The meeting, according to Trump, Jr., soon turned to issues surrounding adoption and the Magnitsky Act. After the Act was enacted, Russia blocked all American adoptions of Russian orphans. You can read more about what the Magnitsky Act was, and what it was a reaction to, here

What can be easily inferred from Trump, Jr.’s own releases is that the meeting at Trump Tower on June 9th was to set up the parameters of a quid-pro-quo whereby Russia would provide anti-Clinton intel to Trump (or Wikileaks) in exchange for a reversal of the Magnitsky Act.  It was, perhaps not coincidentally, later on June 9th that Trump first Tweeted about Hillary Clinton’s “33,000 emails”. After all, the email he received to set up the meeting specifically informed him that it was part of a Russian government effort to help his father; he took the meeting. Trump, Jr. has since lawyered up, retaining a guy who specializes in defending a different kind of don

The first page of the Steele Dossier – dated June 20, 2016 – which contains raw intelligence concerning alleged ties between Trump and the Russian regime reads, 

[Trump] and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” 

Richard Painter, who served as an ethics counsel for George W. Bush, says that this is all getting very close to treason

This was an effort to get opposition research on an opponent in an American political campaign from the Russians, who were known to be engaged in spying inside the United States…If this story is true, we’d have one of them if not both of them in custody by now, and we’d be asking them a lot of questions…This is unacceptable. This borders on treason, if it is not itself treason.

It bears mentioning that when someone leaked Bush’s debate prep materials to the Gore campaign, Gore’s debate advisor called the FBI. By contrast, when a Kremlin lawyer offered negative intel on the Clinton campaign to Donald Trump’s campaign, Trump’s people took the meeting and kept it secret until very recently. 

Day by day, it grows clearer that the Trumps are more Bluth than Gotti. 

All of this raises a serious question: what does Trump think the West stands for, exactly? Which values & civilization is he talking about? How does his dalliance with Putin advance either one?