Wednesday, September 12, 2018

House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia

House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia by Craig Unger is the second of three books about Donald Trump that I have acquired this year.  It is a hard read in that the author is methodical in investigating and tracing forty years of Donald Trump's business relationships with the Russians, many of whom are members of the Russian Mafia.

Unger's book begins with a congratulatory announcement that Deputy Vyacheslev Nikonov, Molotov's grandson, made to the Russian State Duma, the equivalent of our House of Representatives, on election day, November 9, 2016:
"Dear friends, respected colleagues!" Nikonov said.  "Three minutes ago Hillary Clinton admitted her defeat in US presidential elections and a second ago Trump started his speech as an elected president of the United States of America and I congratulate you on this."
If that isn't an acknowledgement of Russian interference in our elections, I don't know what is.

Ten days before his inauguration, Donald Trump tweeted, "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me.  I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!"

In the first few pages of his book, Unger declared that Trump had everything to do with Russia.  Unger promised that his book would show:

     That Trump allowed his Trump-branded real estate to be used  by the Russians for money laundering.

     That Trump was $4 billion in debt when Russian money bailed him out, revived his business career, and helped launch his venture into politics.

     That Trump provided a home in Trump Tower for members of the Russian Mafia and that they worked out of Trump Tower.

     That Trump was the subject of one or more Soviet intelligence operations that likely produced kompromat (compromising material) regarding his sexual activities.

     That in James Clapper's words, Trump is a "Russian asset" serving Vladimir Putin.

Trump has repeatedly said that he has had nothing to do with Russia.  But at the end of his book, Unger identifies fifty-nine Trump connections to Russia. And Unger details the actions of these Russian connections throughout the book.

After reading this book, and reviewing the sources and documentation cited, I  have to wonder why Trump was never charged with anything in his forty years of doing business with the Russians––money laundering for sure; a likely reason why he refuses to release his tax returns.  I am astounded by Trump's brazenness: that he believes anything he does or has done is above the law.  I am confident, however, that all will be revealed when Mueller completes his investigation, and Donald Trump will finally pay the piper.


Here's my review of the first of the three books about Trump that I acquired this year,  Fire and Fury:  Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff.

I am currently reading Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward.  It was no accident that Fear was published on the anniversary of 9/11.  Americans do need to be afraid.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Fair Dinkum Down Under News About Donald Trump

Say what you want about the Free Press in the United States -aka Fake News - and how it treats Donald Trump.  But from Down Under, you get the fair dinkum Aussie News about Donald Trump.

If FOX News says it, why it must be fair dinkum!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Cursory Remarks About Congressional Oversight & Oversile

Dictionaries define "oversight" as "watchful care," and this approach has proven to be one of the most effective techniques that Congress has adopted to influence the executive branch.  Congressional oversight prevents waste and fraud; protects civil liberties and individual rights; ensures executive compliance with the law; gathers information for making laws and educating the public; and evaluates executive performance.  It applies to cabinet departments, executive agencies, regulatory commissions, and the presidency.

               Source: U.S. Dept. of State 

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives two definitions for the word oversight, which are completely different from each other.

1.  The action of overseeing or overlooking; supervision, superintendence, inspection, charge care, management, control.

2.  The act of passing over without seeing; omission or failure to see or notice, inadvertence.

The first definition of oversight defines how Congress should oversee the actions of the executive branch.

The second definition of oversight defines how Congress is actually overseeing the executive branch.  It has cast a blind eye to the recent actions of the executive branch.  In essence, Congress has abdicated its responsibility to use its oversight powers to protect civil liberties and to ensure that the executive branch is complying with the law.

The forced separation of immigrant families comes to mind.  What is Congress doing about it?

Then there are the tariffs Trump has placed on Canada and other countries for "security reasons," a flagrant stretch of the laws concerning Trade.  Has Congress abdicated its responsibilities to regulate Trade as well?

There is no definition of oversight to describe the actions of the House of Representatives to interfere in an ongoing investigation, namely to smear the Mueller Probe.   But there is a word that fits the situation.  And it is the very next word in the OED after the word oversight.  That word is oversile.

The OED provides three definitions for the word oversile, an obsolete Scottish word used before the 1700s, that rhymes with the word beguile:

1.  To cover over; to conceal, hide. 

2.  To obscure or dim the physical or mental sight; hence, to blind mentally, delude, beguile.

3.  To overtop, exceed, surpass.

Here are the definitions of the word oversile as expressed in an older Scottish tongue. The third definition says it all:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

How Paul Fussell and Samuel Johnson Helped Me Write a Review of Michael Wolff's Book, Fire and Fury

When I review a book, the words sometimes seem to flow onto the page directly from my mind.  That was not the case with Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury:  Inside the Trump White House.  The words for my review of this book literally came to me from the writings of Paul Fussell and Samuel Johnson.

The original idea of Michael Wolff's book was to provide an account of the first one hundred days of the Trump Presidency, as seen through the eyes of the people closest to Trump.  And Wolff had open access to the White House––in his words, "something quite close to a fly on the wall."  The events Wolff describes are based on conversations he reportedly had with members of Trump's family and his White House staff.  Wolff himself readily admits that some of the accounts of what happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with each other.  But Wolff reasoned that he would let the readers judge for themselves.

When I finished reading Wolff's book, I sat in front of my computer, and contemplated what to say in my review about the book.  Believe me, I believed every word that was written!  But, at the moment, I was at a temporary loss of words to emphasize that the dastardly things "he said-she said" really could have happened in the White House of the United States of America.  So I put Fire and Fury aside for the time being.

A few days later, I was researching the web on some unrelated matter and came across Paul Fussell's January 1982 Harper's Magazine article, My War:  How I got irony in the infantry –– I will wait here if you want to read his article now; or you can read it later...

After reading his article, I wanted to read more by Paul Fussell.  So I went to Abebooks.  And that's when I discovered that Paul Fussell wrote a book about Samuel Johnson:  Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing.  Being a Samuel Johnson collector, I immediately ordered a copy of Fussell's book.

And when I received it, and got to page 12 of the book, the idea of the review of Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury, was staring at me smack in the face.  Fussell was talking about Johnson's writing and was referring to Samuel Johnson's Preface to Father Jerome Lobo's Voyage to Abyssinia, first published in 1735Johnson translated this book from the French.  But both Fussell and Johnson could have been talking about Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury:  Inside the Trump White House.

That first marked sentence is all the more relevant and powerful when it is written in its entirety––as it was first written by Samuel Johnson in 1735:

The Portuguese traveler, contrary to the general vein of his countrymen, has amused his readers with no romantic absurdities or incredible fictions; whatever he relates, whether true or not, is at least probable; and he who tells nothing exceeding the bounds of probability has a right to demand that they believe him who cannot contradict him.

Judging by the leaks that came out almost daily from the White House,  Micheal Wolff's account of what went on in the White House is all the more believable....

Friday, November 10, 2017

Revisiting the Interpretation of the Second Amendment

In the landmark Second Amendment court case,  District of Columbia v Heller, decided on June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court held:

   1. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in the militia, and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within a home.

   2.  Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.  It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever and for whatever purpose:  for example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues.  The court's opinion shall not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.  Miller's holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those "in common use at the time" finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.

   3.  The handgun ban and trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment.  The District's total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of "arms" that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense.  Under any of the standards of scrutiny the Court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition––in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family, and property is most acute––would fail constitutional muster.  Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.

The above three paragraphs were copied from the syllabus of the case.  Justice Antonin Scalia gave the majority opinion in the 5-4 case.  Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissenting opinion, gave an ominous warning of things to come:
Far more important are the unfortunate consequences that today's decision is likely to spawn. Not least of these, as I have said, is the fact that the decision threatens to throw into doubt the constitutionality of gun laws throughout the United States. I can find no legal sound basis for launching the courts on so formidable and potentially dangerous a mission. In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in crime-ridden urban areas.

The italics are mine.  Gun rights advocates firmly believe that the words of the Second Amendment,  shall not be infringed,  means that their Second Amendment right to bear arms is unlimited.  And even though the Heller decision pertained to handguns and other guns "in common use," that untouchable constitutional right now appears to cover everything from the carrying and use of military assault weapons to bump stocks as well.

In May 2013, I wrote about gun control and the Second Amendment in an article titled, A Well-Lobbied Government:  How the NRA Won the Battle Over the Second Amendment.  Republicans turned deaf ears to the parents of the children who were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and killed the bill for background checks. Why?  The NRA owns them lock, bump stock, and barrel.  Republican members of Congress are worried that the NRA will put them in their crosshairs and vote them out of office if they even dream of bringing a gun control measure to the floors of Congress.

Since Sandy Hook, there has been mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting.  Yet Congress has taken no action whatsoever to protect the people.  It is time, if necessary, to vote them out of office.  And it is time to revisit the current interpretation of the wording of the Second Amendment.

In the closing remarks of his Opinion of the Court, Justice Scalia said:
Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.
Justice Scalia was correct in stating that it was not the role of the Supreme Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.  The amendment would have to be repealed by another constitutional amendment; eg. the Twenty-First Amendment was passed to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment.

But think about it for a minute.   Maybe the Second Amendment really is extinct....   From the adoption of the Constitution in 1789 to 2008,  the  interpretation of the Second Amendment was that it pertained solely to a well-regulated militia.  The citizen had an individual right to bear arms in order to fulfill his militia obligations.  Nowhere in the Second Amendment  was the phrase "and for self-defense"  included as a reason for the individual to bear arms.

And when you get down to it,  the creation of the National Guard in the early 1900s effectively made the Second Amendment extinct.  Individuals were no longer required to bear arms to fulfill their civic duties; the government provided the arms.

People do have a natural right––sometimes called a common law right––to bear arms for self-defense.  This right, however, is limited by laws enacted by federal, state, and local legislatures.  Laws, which in the judgement of the legislators, are required for life-saving or safety-related interests.   (Justice Breyer used those very words in italics in his dissenting opinion in District of Columbia v Heller).

The origin of the original law that brought about District of Columbia v Heller is worth revisiting.  Edward D. Jones III, a former FBI agent, wrote an article which appeared in the May 1981 issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.  His article was titled, "The District of Columbia's 'Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975': The Toughest Handgun Control Law in the United States –– Or Is It?"  His article is the primary source
for my information provided below:

In 1973, Congress passed the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, and President Richard Nixon signed the bill into law on December 24, 1973.  This law provided for a measure of home rule for the District of Columbia.  A Mayor would be elected and a Council of the District of Columbia would be elected. Congress, however, retained the authority to block any law passed by the D. C. Council.  Moreover, the Home Rule Act limited the legislative power of the Council in nine specific areas, including a four-year prohibition on the enactment of criminal laws.

On June 29, 1976, in an attempt to reduce the district's crime and save lives, the Council of the District of Columbia voted 12 to 1 to pass the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975.  This act restricted city residents from owning handguns that were not registered at the time the law was enacted.  Moreover, handguns that were not restricted by the law had to be kept unloaded and either disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device.  Mayor Walter Washington signed the bill on July 23, 1976.  And then the bill went to Congress for a 30-legislative day review.  The Council claimed that this act was a revision of the district's police regulations, and not related to criminal laws,

Congress had several options:  It could declare the Firearms Control Regulations Act null and void by simply ruling it be a flagrant disregard of the four-year limitation on the enactment of criminal laws; it could pass a Resolution of Disapproval overturning the act; or it could take no action and the act would become law after the review period expired.

Consideration of handgun control legislation was a hot potato in 1976; it was an election year.  The Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate (66 seats in the Senate), but they were extremely mindful of placing any undue or unnecessary restrictions on firearms acquired for personal protection as stated in Section 101 of the Gun Control Act of 1968:

At the same time, the Democrats did not want to have to publicly disapprove a gun control measure that the District Council, in its judgment, believed was required for public safety.  So Congress attempted to punt! It passed an amendment to the District of Columbia Home Rule Act to extend the four-year prohibition on the Council's enactment of criminal laws another two years to 1979.  President Gerald Ford signed the bill into law on September 7, 1976.

Unfortunately,  the Library of Congress Congressional Research Service advised Congress afterwards that the amendment to the Home Rule Act had no legal effect on the District's Firearm Control Regulation Act:  The District's act had been enacted before the amendment was passed.  Moreover, the amendment did not contain a retroactive clause.   Consequently, Congress took no further action. It did not declare the act a violation of the prohibition on enacting criminal laws.  And it did not pass a Resolution of Disapproval.  The measure simply died in committee. And the act became law when the review period expired. has a copy of the Committee Hearing on the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975.   Committee members and witnesses provided  interesting viewpoints on the purpose of the Council's Firearm Control Regulations Act.

There's a Chronology of the act's passage in the pamphlet's appendix and I've posted it below.  Notice the Committee meetings postponed because no quorum was present?

A June 26, 2008 Washington Post article provides a History of the D. C. Gun Ban.  It would take 30 years, more congressional inaction, and several court cases, but the Firearms Control Regulation Act finally made it to the Supreme Court.  And you know the rest.

If you haven't already read it, now is the time to read Justice Scalia's Opinion of the Court in District of Columbia v Heller.  And go ahead and read the dissenting opinions.  Then think about all the mass shootings we have had.  Now tell me why the right to bear arms needs to be an untouchable right.

We, the People, need to hold our legislators' feet to the fire.  We need to demand that legislators enact laws that provide for the safety of our citizens, while allowing for the reasonable carrying and use of guns by law-abiding citizens.  And they need to do it now!