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Posts published in “Day: March 20, 2018”

What the president must do


A gentleman recently asked what kind of action I thought the President should take to punish Vladimir Putin for his hostile acts against the United States. The question was in response to my insistence that our top intelligence officials and Congress speak out and demand presidential action to counter Russian aggression against this country.

In addition to clearly acknowledging Russia’s intervention in the 2016 elections, the President must personally and publicly call out Putin, punish him and his cronies for their aggressive acts, and warn them that severe countermeasures will be taken if it ever happens again. An American President’s forcefully-spoken word carries great weight around the world.

When President Kennedy warned Premier Khrushchev that Soviet nuclear missiles had to be removed from Cuba, or else, the Russians got the message and the missiles were gone. When President Reagan issued his famous demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” the Berlin Wall came down shortly thereafter. Neither of them left it to their underlings to make these important statements. This is an important responsibility of our elected leader.

When this country is attacked, when our election process is subverted, when Russia carries out numerous hostile acts against the interests of the U.S. and our allies, silence and appeasement do not work. Strong words and actions by our Commander in Chief are absolutely essential. This is not a job to be delegated to subordinates. We have not yet had the kind of words directly from our President that are necessary to protect the vital interests of the United States.

The President could take a page from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s playbook. In response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a Putin enemy in her country, PM May promptly and forcefully called out the Russians for their criminal act, expelled 23 Russian officials, and promised other punitive actions. She appears to be a tough, stand-up lady. I hope our President can be at least as tough. And, while he’s at it, he should personally and publicly condemn and punish Russia for deploying a deadly chemical weapon on the soil of Great Britain, our closest ally. The joint statement issued with our allies is nice but does not carry the weight of forceful words from our President’s mouth.

Next, the President could and should impose all of the sanctions Congress authorized by a veto-proof vote last year in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which is now Public Law 115-44. Those include an array of punishing sanctions against Putin and the cronies who have helped him plunder his countries assets. The Administration has just tiptoed into imposing some of those sanctions, but much more needs to be done. Congress also authorized a $250 million fund to counter nefarious Russian activities, but nothing has yet been done with those funds. The Russians must be shown that we will not roll over when they carry out activities that strike at the very heart of our democracy.

The President should also direct his Attorney General, the Treasury Department and the FBI to vigorously investigate and prosecute Russian oligarchs who have clandestinely transferred billions of dollars out of Russia and laundered them through phony deals involving real estate and other assets in the U.S. They and those who have assisted them must be dealt with harshly.

Those are just a few of the things we should do to punish Putin and prevent future aggression. If the President acts publicly and decisively, the message will get through. Vladimir Putin understands strength, but attacks when he senses weakness.



Last weekend I posted on Facebook a link to a Scientific American article on gun ownership. The web headline read, "Why Are White Men Stockpiling Guns? Research suggests it's largely because they're anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market and beset by racial fears."

I posted in part to see what reaction it generated, and yes, it generated a reaction. "I think this is mostly hogwash. How did I know that there would be a racial component?" "the vast majority of those stockpiling are doing so not for home defense, not because they fear for their jobs, not because of racism. It is because they trust the government less and less." The tenor from several people seemed to be, that doesn't represent me or the gun owners I know.

And maybe it doesn't, which also doesn't invalidate the point.

Several of the reactions did, however, indicate strong emotions, which tended to support the premises in the article.

One of the most striking elements of the gun debate, on the pro-gun side, is its emotional core. It's not that there aren't intellectually-based arguments on that side of the fence - there are. But the kernel of the matter goes back to the old National Rifle Association line, "I'll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands." There are plenty of other things people want or would defend, but when do you see such ferocity about a car, or even a house? The Second Amendment isn't a reason for the fierce attachment (where's the comparable attachment to the press, which is more specifically referred to in the constitution?) nearly so much as it is rationalization for it. The government distrust argument never, as a rational matter, worked either; tens of millions of people in this country who right now deeply distrust the federal government would not see gun ownership as a solution to the problem.

Something about guns, for some people, strikes home deep, toward the core of a psyche, and the results of an array of studies - the article was about not just one or two, but many - suggest much of the intensity around guns in some quarters has broader causes. It suggests at one point, for example, "For many conservative men, the gun feels like a force for order in a chaotic world" - a way not to become a victim, if only symbolically. It is a way to take charge in a world where so much seems out of control and slipping away.

Does that apply to all gun owners, or even all gun stockpilers? No. Of course not. To suggest that it does (as some of my Facebook readers seemed to) misreads the kind of studies that lead to the article's conclusions. The research points to tendencies in groups of people, to a larger probability that people in the group will have certain characteristics. It doesn't mean everyone in the group will. The principle is the same if a doctor advises that because you're in an older age group, you're more prone to certain cancers - a statistical fact that you're somewhat more at risk. Does that mean you will get cancer? Not necessarily. Far from everyone in the at-risk group does.

And so with high-intensity gun owners: Certain characteristics pop up more in than in the broader population, but that doesn't mean everyone in the group will reflect them.

A certain strong feeling on the subject, though, does seem very widespread. And that suggests that, even if some of the specifics are off, the points made in the Scientific American probably are at least loosely on to something.