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    Symbolism in America

    While many countries unite behind symbolic references to their nations, no people are quite as motivated by symbolism as Americans.

    Since the beginning of our nation, symbols representing our ideals permeate our lives. From the stories about ringing the Liberty Bell in 1776 as soon to be revolutionaries read the Declaration of Independence, to the words in the national anthem celebrating the flag still waving over Fort McHenry as British ships bombarded Baltimore in the War of 1812, symbolism has been an integral part of our country’s fabric.

    This appreciation is often simple and poignant reminders of the many sacrifices our ancestors have made to ensure our freedom. They fill the halls of the Smithsonian and other national museums. Pictures and paintings like Betsy Ross sewing one of the first American flags, destitute people lined up for food in the Great Depression, the brave soldiers planting the flag on Iwo Jima, the draped coffin of President Kennedy passing his saluting son, John, and Neil Armstrong taking the first step on the moon. The list goes on and on.

    One of the most revered and honored symbols of our nation is the Presidency and the respect for which the office deserves regardless of partisan politics or the person who occupies the office.  While it is the right, indeed perhaps the duty, of every citizen, politician and media pundit who disagrees with the President to voice their views, there are certain times when it is wholly inappropriate and disrespectful not of the person but of the office itself. That is inexcusable and unacceptable.

    We saw a glaring example of such disrespect on Tuesday at the conclusion of the President’s State of the Union address. When Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up the President’s speech for the world to see, she went over the line. She symbolically tore up the message behind everything President Trump said, including honoring our fallen heroes and celebrating new opportunities for Americans to follow their dreams. She literally destroyed a historical document that belongs in a museum, not a trash can. Please do not defend her disrespect because there are other copies of the speech. She tore up the copy passed from the President of the United States to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as has been a tradition for as long as most of us have been alive. It’s not just any copy. That makes a difference.

    Some might defend her stunt as a statement targeting President Trump and the deep differences she has with him, both political and personal. Such a defense is sophomoric. She more than adequately insulted him by dropping the traditional introduction about honor and privilege, just as the President let his feelings known by not extending his hand for a handshake. Those rebukes of one another, as childish as they may have been, were directed at the individual, not the office or the ideals and dreams of America and Americans that were celebrated in the speech.

    The State of the Union address is steeped in tradition. More importantly, it is mandated in the Constitution. Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution calls for the President to periodically “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” While the Constitution does not require the President to make a speech (it can be a written report), with few exceptions a speech has been the tradition since Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 State of the Union address.

    While the Constitution calls for a report, it is not the right of the President to make a speech before a joint session of Congress. Indeed, to this day, the President can only do so upon invitation from the House in whose chambers he delivers the speech.

    The process is also steeped in protocol established over decades of history.

    By tradition, each member of Congress is permitted one guest and the President can invite up to 24 guests to accompany the First Lady. The Speaker of the House is also allowed to invite 24 guests.

    As the annual tradition unfolds, the Deputy Sergeant at Arms of the House addresses the Speaker and announces the arrival of the Vice President and members of the Senate, who enter and take the seats assigned to them. The Vice President sits at the podium beside the Speaker. The Speaker, and then the Vice President, specify the members of the House and Senate who will escort the President into the chamber upon his arrival. The Deputy Sergeant at Arms then addresses the Speaker again and announces, in order, the arrival of the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Chief Justice of the United States, the Associate Justices, and the Cabinet, each of whom enters and takes their seats. While this order has on occasion been changed, such formalities are always a part of the event but rarely covered by the media.

    Meanwhile, the Sergeant at Arms of the House, traditionally on the left of the entrance door to the chamber, waits with the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate (to his or her right). When the President arrives, the Sergeant at Arms of the House enters and announces, “Madam [or Mister] Speaker, the President of the United States.” The President then enters the chamber.

    After handshakes, kisses and hugs as he walks down the aisle, the President makes his way to the podium and hands an envelope to the Vice President and the Speaker, each containing an official copy of his speech. He then turns to those gathered in the chamber and begins his address.

    The copies of the speech are as historical as any other symbol of our nation and democracy. Every official copy is part of our history. When Speaker Pelosi chose to tear it up as a gesture of disrespect, she symbolically tore up every ideal contained in it. Unlike a snubbed handshake or a disrespectful introduction, destroying the official copy was reprehensible. While she will never do so, she owes all Americans an apology. In my heart, I would like to think her inexcusable behavior was in the heat of the moment, but something tells me she planned it all along. Shame on you, Madam Speaker.

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    Capitol Hill Blunders Again


    For the few Americans who watched President Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, they witnessed yet another blunder, this time not only by the Democrats, but also by the Republicans.

    However, before I get to the Republican blunder, let’s look at the many blunders by the House of Representatives.

    No one can honestly argue that the House did a good job during its impeachment hearings that led to the Articles of Impeachment. They rushed out Articles so lacking in Constitutional legitimacy to be laughable if they were not such a serious attack on what the Founding Fathers and framers of the Constitution believed were proper grounds to remove a sitting president. The actual Articles, as pointed out by Prof. Alan Dershowitz, himself a Democrat who voted for Hilary Clinton, simply do not meet the Constitutional standard. At least that is his opinion.

    Don’t get me wrong. The Articles of Impeachment cited serious transgressions. The facts alleged, if true, most certainly warranted hearings. And if the House had taken the time to call more witnesses and allow for more discovery, even if it meant going to court to enforce subpoenas, they might well have discovered what could constitute “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (as the Constitution requires to impeach and remove a president).

    The first article alleges President Trump abused his power by soliciting “the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election.” The second article charges President Trump with obstruction of Congress by instituting an “unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives …”.

    Let’s look at them in reverse order.

    We can dismiss the second article out of hand.  “Unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance”?  Really?  I seriously doubt that there is anything unprecedented, categorical, or indiscriminate in Washington politics. Worse, the House clearly had a remedy assuming any legitimacy to the allegation. They should have gone to court to enforce their subpoenas. That is the accepted and proper remedy for defiance of service of process. Indeed, Congress has gone to court many times to enforce subpoenas. Think about it – if they had done so here and if a witness or President Trump then defied a court order to appear or produce, there would be no question such behavior would be a legitimate basis for impeachment if perpetrated by the President. Instead, the House chose not to exhaust its proper remedies and instead decided (on a purely partisan basis) that it did not have to go to court to resolve the issue. No serious Constitutional scholar can defend the House’s second Article when it failed to follow the judicial process underpinning the doctrine of separation of power between the Legislative and Executive branches of government. Therefore, the second article fails on its face.

    The first article, however, would have been more interesting if the House fully investigated it. With proper witnesses and discovery of documents, the House might well have been able to deliver evidence to the Senate that would have turned some Republican Senators to their side. The House chose not to do so. What they did instead was produce testimony and documents filled with opinions, hearsay, and evidence woefully inadequate to warrant a conviction. Nor in their hearings did the House allow President Trump to call his own witnesses or to cross-examine those who did testify. While it is the right of the House majority to make such procedural decisions, in hindsight, I think we all have to agree that its failure to be deliberative and more diligent severely undermined the legitimacy of the first Article of Impeachment. They should have – and could have – done a better job.

    They did not.  And to sit on the Articles for weeks before sending them to the Senate made them look all the more foolish. Put simply, they blundered.

    When the House did finally deliver the Articles to the Senate, the first thing the House Managers wanted was more witnesses, including some who they could have called at the House hearings but chose not to. Moreover, they wanted more documents that they failed to subpoena during their hearings. Both requests were tantamount to an admission that the House failed to finish its job before asking the Senate to try the President. Worse, it made their claim that they had a “rock-solid” case all the more fallacious. Another blunder.

    Senator McConnell and nearly every Republican Senator who could find a microphone or television camera jumped on the bandwagon of “no more witnesses”.  Senator Schumer and his cohorts likewise jumped on the bandwagon that more witnesses were necessary to find the truth, essentially admitting that the House case was weak. Never mind that Senator Schumer decried the idea of more witnesses when he sat in President Clinton’s impeachment. No one should assume that politicians – on either side of the aisle – are consistent in their views. What they believe is always dependent upon partisan winds. One day they say something is mandated to reach a decision and the next day they claim the very same thing is unnecessary.  t is no wonder so few Americans trust politicians.

    Now the Republicans have blundered.

    Witnesses could have been called at the Senate trial. But it is also clear that the decision to call additional witnesses or demand more documents rests solely with the Senate and if a majority should decide more witnesses and documents are not necessary, that decision is final. It is no different than the House’s decision to not allow President Trump to call or cross-examine witnesses in the House hearings.

    By a vote of 51 to 49, the Senate defeated a motion to call more witnesses. The issue was resolved. Had it gone the other way, many believe the trial would have continued for months. That was something no Democrat Senator trying to win his or her party’s nomination for President wanted.

    In the midst of all the political wrangling, House Manager Adam Schiff reportedly made a bold proposal. Some say out of desperation. Others say it was a strategic move. Schiff said, “I will make an offer to opposing counsel, who have said that this will stretch on indefinitely if you decide to have a single witness. Let’s cap the depositions to one week.”

    Whether Schiff formally made the offer or not, the Republicans never took him up on it. That was their blunder.

    Certainly, one more week would not have changed the inevitable outcome of acquittal. Thanks to leaks at the New York Times and letters from lawyers for likely witnesses, it is clear what the new Democrat witnesses were going to say.  And if the Republicans called witnesses like Vice President Biden, any first-year law student could handle the questioning. Nothing new would be learned.

    Here is the blunder.  Had the Republicans taken Schiff up on his offer, the House and Senate Democrats would no longer be able to claim there was no fair trial.  Had the Republicans given Schiff another week, Democrats would no longer have a credible claim that the Senate was guilty of a cover-up or overseeing a sham trial.  While some Democrats might continue to campaign on such accusations, they would carry no weight. Moreover, by calling a few more witnesses over an additional week, the country might have been spared what will undoubtedly be new hearings in the House in yet another partisan spectacle to smear the President and his associates. Likewise, if the Republicans called the Bidens, it might have spared likely hearings in the Senate in its own partisan effort to smear the Bidens and others.

    Perhaps Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said it best, “Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.

    “It has also become clear some of my colleagues intend to further politicize this process, and drag the Supreme Court into the fray, while attacking the Chief Justice. I will not stand for nor support that effort. We have already degraded our institution for partisan political benefit, and I will not enable those who wish to pull down another.

    “We are sadly at a low point of division in this country.”

    Senator Murkowski is right. There was no fair trial in the Senate because there was no fair hearing in the House. This was all a partisan, political charade to help Democrats beat President Trump in 2020. Now, who is interfering with an election?  I doubt any Democrat or other Republican will show the same courage and conviction of Senator Murkowski to tell the American people the truth. The impeachment process was entirely about partisan politics and not Constitutional principles.

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    It’s Not About What He Might Say

    Much has been written about leaks from the upcoming book by John Bolton where he claims President Trump asked Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate the Bidens as a condition of releasing aid to Ukraine – the now infamous quid pro quo.

    None of us will ever know exactly what President Trump said or what President Zelensky believed at the time. Both have denied any quid pro quo and Zelensky has said he never felt any pressure.  On the other hand, some who were present on the call or who know people who were present on the call claim otherwise. So it’s their word against the statements by Presidents Trump and Zelensky.

    We can now apparently add John Bolton’s to the cacophony of voices expressing an opinion whether or not there was a quid pro quo. There is a real possibility Bolton might be called as a fact witness in the Senate trial.

    For now, however, let’s put aside who is right in the conflicting testimony about a quid pro quo. And for now, let’s put aside whether a quid pro quo rises to an impeachable offense (“treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors”) and removal of a sitting president. And let’s also put aside for now the arguments that the House could have called Bolton as a witness but chose not to do so. And for now, never mind whether the House should now look to the Senate to correct that misstep. We’ve heard more than enough about those debating points from both Democrats and Republicans. And we’ve heard more than enough biased news reports on both sides of the issues. I seriously doubt Bolton will add more information not already assumed, known or disputed by a long list of House witnesses, House and Senate Managers, and the media on both sides of the issues.

    What we should talk about, however, is whether John Bolton should be talking at all.  I believe he should not.

    Executive privilege is a serious issue for any U.S. President. George Washington was the first president to assert it and virtually every president since has cited it to protect what he believes to be confidential communications with his advisors in the Executive Branch. Derived from the doctrine of separation of powers (and not a right mentioned in the Constitution), it is corollary to the Legislative’s branch’s congressional oversight. Each represents doctrines that are often at odds with one another. When one branch believes asserting either privilege or oversight is improper, the difference of opinion is ultimately adjudicated by courts, the third branch of government. This is the essence of the concept of separation of powers embedded in the Constitution. The courts are the final arbiter when disputes regarding the scope of executive privilege or congressional oversight clash. Neither executive privilege nor congressional oversight, however, are absolute. There are limits set by the Supreme Court (and some lower courts). But without question, both doctrines are integral to the operation of our government.

    Enter John Bolton. Appointed by Trump as his U.S. National Security Advisor on April 9, 2018, he was summarily fired by the president on September 10, 2019. No stranger to holding sensitive positions in government affairs, he previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs. No doubt he knows the most sensitive of information about national security that has been entrusted to him by numerous presidents over his government service. And we should all applaud that service and his dedication to our nation’s security.

    What I cannot applaud, however, is his dalliance into publishing a tell-all book and collecting royalties by capitalizing on communications that may well be confidential. A president must be able to openly communicate with his advisors, particularly his National Security Advisor. They must be free to exchange ideas without fear that those communications will be made public once his advisor reenters the private sector. Otherwise, presidents would be loath to have such discourse and, as a result, lose the opportunity to hear all sides of a debate before making a final decision on the course of U.S. foreign policy. That need for confidentiality and confidence is critical to every president whether they are Democrats or Republicans. It is the essence of executive privilege. And while asserting the right is not absolute, the legislative branch should think very carefully before it challenges it, remembering that precedent is agnostic to party affiliation.  As we’ve seen in government all to many times, policies based on partisan politics never lead to a good result. Perhaps the best example is the Democrats 2013 rule change during the Obama Administration that opened the door to end debate and approve a nominee to the federal courts by a simple majority. Some would argue that their avarice at the time to stifle debate has now come to bite them with more than 150 confirmations of judges nominated by President Trump in just the first three years of his presidency. No doubt the Democrats in the Senate would like that misstep repealed.

    Congress needs to ask itself if this is the time to adjudicate what will likely be an assertion of executive privilege if Bolton is called to testify in the Senate. Given the inevitable outcome of the trial and President Trump’s acquittal, is now the time to create precedent in a centuries-old doctrine that may well come to bite future Democrat presidents? Or should we ask Mr. Bolton to honor the concept of confidentiality as something far more important than the royalties you may earn trading on privileged information he received while serving the president? That is a message I would deliver to any presidential advisor regardless of the administration they served.

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    What the United States Can Take Away from Hong Kong’s Protests

    What began as a protest against Hong Kong’s proposed extradition law has evolved far beyond that. Protests in China’s most autonomous special administrative region have progressed to uncharacteristically violent levels. Law enforcement is combating and killing protesters in the streets. Such blatant acts of protest are strange for a typically orderly culture. So, why is this happening, and what can we take away from it?

    The aggravator here was certainly the recent extradition policy proposal. A law titled the “Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill 2019” (the Future Offenders Bill) would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite fugitives to mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau. The bill’s purpose was purportedly to close legal loopholes that thwarted extradition of those charged with serious crimes. For example, in one reported case involving a murder in Taiwan, the Hong Kong resident accused of the crime could not be extradited to Taiwan to face the charges (CNN). In theory, the proposed bill would have enabled this case and others of its kind to move forward and ultimately get justice for victims.

    As a special administrative region of China, Hong Kong enjoys certain degrees of freedom that other areas of China do not. Under China’s “one country, two systems” regime, Hong Kong has a somewhat separate legal system. This allows for limited free press and competitive, free market business practices. Hong Kong citizens who enjoy such freedoms feared the implementation of the new law would allow the government to extradite journalists critical of the regime, activists fighting for a democratic system, and business transactions deemed by powers in Beijing to not be in best interests of mainland China. After much forceful protesting—a march of roughly 1 million participants, the likes of which haven’t been seen since China’s reacquisition of Hong Kong in 1997 — the bill was withdrawn.

    Hong Kong wants democracy and a rule of law. Such notions are antithetical to China. The violence of law enforcement against the protesters raises questions of human rights and police brutality. It culminated in a bloody, week-long siege when protesters occupied Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong campus. The police stormed in, ostensibly to regain control of what they considered a situation spiraling out of control.  In the aftermath, Hong Kong city leader Carrie Lam, who maintained a hard line against anti-government protests, experienced major losses in local elections (Associated Press). The pro-democracy bloc won control of 17 out of 18 district councils. While she refused to make any concessions to the protesters, she did say she would accelerate discussions to address grievances. Only time will tell if she is being truthful.

    The United States cut off the supply of anti-riot materials to China in solidarity with Hong Kong’s movement toward democracy. While more symbolic than substantive (China certainly has whatever it needs to quell riots), it does illustrate how we as a nation support our core ideology to preserve the founding principles of our Constitution. The destruction of democracy in Hong Kong also provides a good lesson here at home: we should never forget the importance of the freedoms provided in the Constitution and resist any government attempts to dilute them or worse, take them away.

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    The Senate as Impartial Jurors

    “I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of Donald John Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.” 

    When the impeachment trial of President Trump begins in January, it will be only the third time in our history that an impeached president has faced trial. The Senate tried and acquitted both Andrew Johnson and William Clinton. Richard Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives voted to impeach him. If the Senate convicts President Trump, it will be the first removal from office of a sitting president since our Constitution’s ratification in 1788. Given the historical gravity of such a decision, one would want our elected officials, both in the House and in the Senate, to make their decision not on partisan politics but on an impartial evaluation of the facts.

    We all know that did not happen in the House and is not going to happen in the Senate. President Trump will be acquitted by a vote along party lines and face reelection in November. Even if some party members vote against their leadership, those who wish to oust the president will never get the 67 votes they need. This piece of your history will pass quickly for this president but sets a frightening precedent for all future presidents facing a Congress controlled by an opposing party. Impeachment will become a political tool rather than the somber remedy the Constitution provides for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

    The pundits on both sides of the political spectrum have debated all of this ad nauseam. Those observations are not new. There is one point, however, that has received far less attention than it deserves.

    If charged with a crime, you are entitled to a trial by an impartial jury of your peers. That is a right in our Constitution. If a juror is prejudice or partial, he or she cannot sit on a jury. It is a fundamental right we all enjoy, ensuring a fair trial.

    In an impeachment trial of a sitting president, the Chief Justice of the United States sits as the judge. The House of Representatives appoints a team to act in the role of prosecutor and present their case. The President, as the defendant, is entitled to have his team at the trial defend his rights. The Senate – all 100 members – sit as the jurors and vow to undertake their duties as jurors pursuant to a solemn oath to, “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.” 

    In the Federalist Papers, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton understood the meaning of the impeachment power in the House and trial in the Senate. In addressing the role of the House of Representatives, Hamilton wrote:

    The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.

    That is precisely what we witnessed in the House.

    Hamilton had some thoughts on the Senate’s role as well. He wrote:

    Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel confidence enough in its own situation, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an individual accused, and the representatives of the People, his accusers? 

    A Senator must approach the trial without a predetermined vote to convict or acquit. If they are unable to be impartial until presentation of all the evidence, they are not qualified to sit as a juror.

    You would think members of the Senate, many of whom are lawyers, would understand that obligation and abide by their duty. Think again.

    Senators on both sides of the aisle have been unable to remain silent and instead have turned the circus we witnessed in the House into an equally repulsive display of partisan politics in the Senate. We are used to it in almost everything they do today from immigration, to budgeting, to infrastructure, to medical care and more. With few exceptions, it seems the Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on anything regardless of the relative merits either side presents. That is politics as usual and it has been that way since partisan debate began. No surprise.

    This is different. Each Senator will take a special oath — an oath that many cannot now honestly give. Far too many, yearning for a camera, are guilty of political pandering. They are not impartial. They have made their decision before the trial begins. Under traditional rules, they cannot sit on the jury.

    Sadly, such hypocrisy will not stop any of them. They will all sit as jurors and make the most profound decision a U.S. Senator can make in flagrant violation of the oath they gave. 

    Regardless of how you feel about the president, the behavior of many Senators is shameful and adds to the reasons so many Americans rightly question the integrity of our elected officials.

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    What Does the Impending Chinese Tariff Increase Mean to IP Theft in the U.S.?

    One platform of President Trump’s campaign encouraged a shift to self-reliance with goods and services domestically manufactured in America. One tool he has used to advance that goal is increasing trade tariffs on China. The increases were scheduled for December 15, however, they have been suspended after the U.S. and China agreed to a new phase that provided concessions from each country. As a result, uncertainty overshadowing the interim trade agreement partially reached with China in October has been relieved.

    The tariff increase would affect many American consumers. Some of those effects are obvious: the prices of household goods, for example, could drastically rise. But our problems with China will not be solved by tariff concessions.

    Less obvious than the trade imbalance is the impact on China’s continuous theft of our intellectual property (IP). China steals our IP with impunity. While IP theft may not sound like a matter of great concern to many, it covers everything from the likeness of a popular new toy to innovative scientific and technological research. Virtually everything your mind creates is intellectual property. Stealing it is a serious offense. No one questions that China is among the world’s worst IP thieves.

    There is serious money involved China’s theft of IP. The time spent developing cutting-edge technologies or curating research by our engineers and scientists translates to real dollars. One glaring example occurred earlier this year when indictments were unsealed concerning Chinese telecom company Huawei’s successful espionage scheme to steal T-Mobile’s superior phone testing bot. T-Mobile estimated lost profits and punitive damages totaled roughly $502 million. However, these acts don’t stop at America’s big corporations; they are also in our schools.

    The FBI is reaching out to universities across the country concerning foreign study programs with China. These efforts came about in the wake of a University of Kansas researcher’s indictment on charges of working for a Chinese university full time while accepting thousands in U.S. federal grants. A Texas professor was recently arrested in a trade secret case over circuit board fraud. While IP theft by China has been happening for years, the recent and rapid advancement of technology on university campuses has made private information a serious target more easily stolen.

    If competing countries can gain access to classified technological and scientific research at the level of theft we see in China, there’s no telling what other sensitive information is subject to breach.

    In the latest agreement that forestalled application of the December tariff increases, China promised to address IP theft. Can we trust them? No one should be laboring under the impression that China is an honest regime. They are common thieves who have stolen billions from us.

    Let’s hope the Trump Administration assures that China keeps its word. But for me, I’m not holding my breath.

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    Impeachment Hearings: What You Need to Know

    What eventful days it has been on Capitol Hill!

    On Tuesday, four witnesses testified over a span of 11+ hours discussing their insights into Trump’s request to have President Volodymyr Zelensky and his team investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s involvement in the 2016 election—all allegedly resulting in Trump’s decision to withhold $400 million in Ukrainian military aid.

    The first called to testify by the Democrats was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman—the US’s top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.  Accompanying him was Jennifer Williams, one of Vice President Pence’s national security aides. She too was called by the Democrats.  Both listened to the July 25, 2019 call between President Trump and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Colonel Vindman claimed Trump’s demands for Ukraine to investigate former VP Joe Biden were “inappropriate” and “likely to have significant implications for national security” (as reported by the New York Times). Jennifer Williams agreed that withholding Ukraine’s military aid was “damaging to Ukraine’s ability to confront Russian aggression” (Jennifer Williams via NYT).

    On Tuesday, Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, and Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Russia and Europe, testified as witnesses submitted by Republicans. Volker mostly played the “I didn’t know anything” card while Morrison indicated that the July 25 call did not contain any wrongdoings or illegalities.

    Wednesday’s round of hearings brought an interesting twist—one Democrats have been anxiously awaiting from the very beginning. Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, testified against President Trump implicating that there was indeed a quid pro quo “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting,” (Gordon Sondland via NPR). Laura Cooper—a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department—then testified, defending the president saying, “there was no wrongdoing because the Ukrainians weren’t even aware that a hold was put on the aid” (NPR).

    Thursday concluded with Dr. Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Europe and Russia expert, and David Holmes, a United States Embassy official located in Ukraine who happened to be a witness to a phone call between President Trump and Gordon Sondland (NYT). Dr. Hill essentially blamed Ukraine for meddling in the 2016 elections, not Russia. She and David Holmes also claimed that the name “Burisma” (a Ukrainian energy company) was actually code for investigating the Bidens (NYT). Holmes said he was under the impression that Trump’s reason behind withholding Ukraine’s military aid was an “expression of dissatisfaction” or “as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so” (David Holmes via NYT).

    So what’s next? Even more—what does this mean for Trump in the 2020 election?  It remains to be seen if the House will impeach the president.  It’s a very serious and precedent setting decision we all hope will be considered carefully and fairly. However, as I explained in an earlier blog, our Founding Fathers predicted more than 200 years ago that House proceedings looking into impeachment were expected to be political circuses.  This past week has lived up to that prediction.  If the House does vote to impeach, the case will fall into the hands of the Senate where the charges will most likely be dismissed or President Trump will be formally acquitted.  Only a major bombshell will garner the 67 votes necessary to convict and remove the president.  As some commentators have asked, is the reality behind the House proceeding nothing more than an exercise by Democrats to keep Trump from being re-elected?  Will the new normal for presidents in parties opposite the majority in the House be forever looking over their shoulders at the prospect of impeachment for whatever political winds might bring?

    The sad news is we have to watch political theater as each side postures with constant insults and accusations.  For every person who testifies in support of impeachment, another testifies against it.  If it goes to the Senate and a trial is undertaken, we can expect even more partisan politics as the Republicans get their chance to make the rules.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is in November those who should be deciding the fate of Donald Trump, one-third of the Senate, and the entire House of Representatives will be in the People – the ultimate arbiters in our Constitution on who sits in the White House and on Capitol Hill.  You and me.  So let us make sure we vote and send whatever our message is to those sitting in Washington today about how we feel they’ve governed in the face of an immigration crisis, a crumbling infrastructure, a broken health care system, nuclear proliferation, trade imbalances, out of control spending, and more.

    Ask yourself this:  Do any of them deserve to be reelected?

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    Is Reasonable Conversation Now Impossible?

    Every day, we are inundated with media reporting on arguments and differences between our polarized parties. On one hand, there is the President and his fellow Republicans, and, on the other hand, the Democrats in the House and Senate. While my fatigue with all of it would like to dismiss the diatribes as so much noise, I cannot do that.

    This rhetoric reeks of partisan politics and is devoid of intelligent compromise. There is no reasoned debate. Disregarding on which side of the controversies your sentiments lie, no one can defend the lack of civility and failed governance over important issues faced by our nation.  Everyone is talking “at” each other, not “to” one another. The blame falls on our national leaders on both sides of the aisle. Their intransient divisiveness leads to no solutions. It only deepens the growing divide in our country.

    I nostalgically remember a time when our leaders handled diametrically opposed views on policy like adults. During former President Reagan’s Administration, he sparred with Tip O’Neal and Ted Kennedy – two Democrats who could not have been more politically opposite Reagan. During the Clinton Administration, he and Newt Gingrich were constantly at odds over policy.  Of course, there were real differences. But they respected one another and were willing to listen to sensible arguments. They understood nothing is black and white, particularly in politics. They eventually reached compromises and advanced the interests of our nation.

    It can be done.

    The only way forward to resolution is through our leaders acting with the responsibility we entrusted to them upon election. Instead, I am deeply saddened to say that today’s political denizens in Washington act like bullies on a grade school playground. Whatever our Founding Fathers intended with impeachment, emoluments, closed door Congressional hearings, or Executive privilege, I cannot believe they ever envisioned the kind of immaturity and lack of due process burdening us today. No reasonable person can defend the behavior of either the Democrats or the Republicans in the debacle we are witnessing.

    The saddest part of this spectacle is how it empowers countries like China, Russia, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and other despotic regimes that endeavor to weaken us rather than deal with us. Why wouldn’t they? These regimes have only to sit in the bleachers and watch American politicians ignore real issues that adversely affect our daily lives; all the while, our purported leaders throw infantile fits and toss one accusation after another at their opposition.

    I once thought this nightmarish turmoil would pass over time, and that we would return to normalcy. I have serious doubts that such a thing is now possible, and it is more than troubling.

    Whatever happens in the 2020 elections, I doubt the anger now embedded in our elected leaders will subside. Impeachment threats may well become the norm for the losing party as it seeks to second-guess the will of voters. Democrats and Republicans will hold more closed-door hearings that deny their opposition a participating role. Partisan leaks will fill the pages of newspapers and the reports on television. Interference with the President’s duty to oversee foreign relations will increase. Stalemates to progress will become the norm. Is this true leadership?

    Make no mistake about it; what is good for the goose will be good for the gander. What the Republicans rail at today as injustice by the Democrats will be the same cry on the other side when tables are turned. President Trump campaigned on cleaning up the swamp in Washington.  I liked that idea. Unfortunately, it increasingly appears that the only way that will ever happen is to send home those currently seated to govern our future – Republicans and Democrats alike.

    If you are skeptical, I challenge you to answer these questions: What are we doing to address our crumbling infrastructure? Our failed immigration policy? The homeless starving in our streets?  The costs of our healthcare? The education of our youth? Our taxes? A growing nuclear arms threat?

    We are doing nothing. Washington is unwilling to have a mature debate or consider reasonable compromises. I remain increasingly more disconcerted, more fearful for the future of our nation and our children.

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    The Constitution as a Political Tool

    To free the Colonies from the tyranny of a King living in a faraway land, the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Their proclamation is premised on the notion of political and religious freedom and the right to speak our minds without fear of reprisal. “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 that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Under these audacious principles, the authors listed more than 25 grievances the Colonists had with the Crown. Those grievances were the foundation of why we fought the Revolutionary War. They are equally among the building blocks that in 1788 became the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights–the first set of ten amendments to our Constitution–ratified December 15, 1791, equally reflect protection from the abuses suffered under the King. In that span of fifteen years from war to ratification, these three documents, comprising less than 7,000 words, became the most enduring principles of free government in the history of the world.

    Today I cannot help but wonder how many people, particularly those lucky enough to be born in this country or elected to federal office, have ever read the cornerstone documents that define our nation. It is not as if any one of them are that long. Indeed, each is a model of brevity. Yet, like the plays of Shakespeare, pundits have interpreted them in countless ways that may or may not have been what the Founding Fathers had in mind. We call that politics.

    One part of the Constitution, just 31 words, is now the nation’s center of attention.

    Article II, Section 4 provides: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The process of Impeachment has two steps outlined in Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution. Paragraph 5 propounds, “The House of Representatives shall…have the sole Power of Impeachment.” Paragraph 6 adds further “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments…And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.” While there is no provision on what the vote needs to be in the House to impeach, it is accepted that it is a mere majority.

    In our 240-year history, only two of the 44 men elected president have been impeached – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. The Senate acquitted both.  Richard Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment. Thus, we have never constitutionally removed a President from his elected office.

    Politicians and media are now engrossed in defining what constitutes an impeachable offense, straining to construe “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.” Nowhere in the Constitution are these terms defined. For some guidance, however, one can look to the Federalist Papers, a collection of 85 essays written by three of the men who signed the Constitution; Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison.

    Federalist Paper No. 65 speaks to the idea of impeaching a President. Hamilton writes that the basis for an impeachable offense is political and “relates chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” He opines that impeachable conduct includes “behavior that violates an official’s duty to the country, even if such conduct is not necessarily a prosecutable offense.” Hamilton further notes that “in the past both houses of Congress have given the phrase high Crimes and Misdemeanors a broad reading, finding that impeachable offenses need not be limited to criminal conduct.”

    Describing the role of the House in impeachment proceedings, Hamilton admits that deliberations center on “pre-existing factions” who will “enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other.” In such cases he notes, “there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” Hamilton saw impeachment for what it is. A purely political maneuver.

    In contrast, Hamilton described the Senate’s role quite differently. He wrote, “Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel confidence enough in its own situation, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an individual accused, and the representatives of the people, his accusers?”

    Thus, Hamilton considered the Senate’s duty as far more profound. The Senate is charged with a duty of impartiality, the same protection our Constitution provides to citizens accused of crimes. Hamilton saw the House as the political circus it has become. The Senate is the last bastion of due process, devoid of partisan and political prejudice.

    So here we are. Engrossed in another partisan led effort to impeach the President for political reasons, just as Hamilton envisioned in 1778. We should all take these events at face value. It is pure politics, accompanied by all the partisan, self-serving and emotional hysteria of the members of the House – on both sides of the aisle. Hamilton observed in Federalist No. 65 that the Founding Fathers understood such bias and prejudice would be the rule for the House. Partisan grist for the mill of media. But Hamilton also put to the Senate its obligation to be devoid of such influences and to be entirely impartial.

    Someone needs to remind those Senators, unable to avoid spouting opinions about the merits of the charges, one very important point: The House is deliberating to remember their Constitutional obligation. The role of the Senate is to keep politics out of the impeachment process, and to refrain from expressing any opinions on the merits until the House votes to ask the  Senate to put the President of the United States on trial.

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    The Terrorist Threat of Dark Data

    Media have largely ignored an incredibly important issue – dark data.

    Dark data is not, by its nature, as ominous as the title implies. “Dark” or “dusty” data is simply a byproduct of the mass quantities companies collect from users over the web.

    Whether you realize it or not, with each click to your favorite department store’s online shop, every time you order takeout from that app on your cellphone, every time you search, every time you text, or add ebooks to the library on your tablet, someone is collecting digital bytes on your habits, your thoughts, your maladies, and more. This information, known as “big data” is rounded up in bulk and processed by companies like Trendsource, Siwell, and Rackspace. That is only to name a few. What they do is perfectly legal, and not necessarily disconcerting.

    Interestingly, companies are collecting so much information that they often forget about much of it. Sometimes over half of their curated data. On average, 52% of the data collected by companies is unprocessed and untagged.

    Dark data can be a goldmine of statistics useful to better inform companies on consumer habits.  Accessing it may enable them to better serve their customers. The data also holds intrinsic value. This information can be sold to other organizations looking for inside perspective on certain groups or demographics. Dark data can also be the key to influencing unconscious behaviors. Much like big data already has, for example, in our last election. But it might also be completely useless. One never knows until it is processed – that generally only happens when that processing can be monetized by the databank owner.

    Since companies and consumers are often unaware of this accumulated data held outside their immediate control, they might not notice it was stolen or repurposed dishonestly.

    It is indisputable that a real goldmine in dark data is found by hackers. Groups looking to advance an agenda sneak in through blind spots in data management and find what triggers certain users to action. So-called “bots” already have slipped through social media algorithms to share false news articles.

    Could these instances become more frequent, and more subtle, if the hackers behind them can micro-target users with dark data? We know that non-human traffic in the form of bots mine the Internet and siphon off billions in dollars spent by advertisers. Some say part of that money goes to terrorists.  Terrorists who may be motivating impressionable misfits to engage in unthinkable acts.

    Remember that next time you choose to share your life on the Internet.

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