Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fast and Furious is it another Iran – Contra or another Watergate?

Sadly, scandals have become all too common in American public life. Today a significant scandal is brewing within the Obama administration. What is known at this point is that the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives facilitated the delivery of thousands of high powered firearms to Mexican drug cartels. The scandal has been brewing since January and at this point we know that at least two US Federal Agents have been killed with these weapons, as well as about 200 Mexican nationals, both police and civilians. It has been front page news in Mexico since the beginning of the year and was the primary reason that Mexico demanded the recall and replacement of the US ambassador. Mexico has demanded the extradition of those responsible for trial in Mexican courts. Although most of the media has intentionally ignored this story, it is big enough to bring down a president – and if Obama does not move quickly, it will do just that.

Ironically, both the best and the worst ways of handling a scandal like this have been modeled by Republican presidents.

The worst way of handling a scandal that threatens to remove you from office was modeled by President Nixon in the Watergate scandal. By obstructing, lying, delaying and generally trying prevent the truth from coming out – Nixon committed felonies and turned a third rate burglary of the oppositions offices into a career ending move. Nixon stubbornly stalled until a bill of impeachment was voted out of committee and a delegation of Republican Senators lead by Barry Goldwater told him it was all over and if he did not resign, he was going to be impeached and convicted. It is widely believed that Goldwater told Nixon that if he stood trial before the Senate, he would vote to convict.

About 15 years later, President Reagan faced a scandal that could have, if handled poorly, have resulted in his removal from office: The Iran – Contra Affair. This involved the direct breaking of US law by using funds earned from the illegal sale of US weapons to Iran to fund the Contra Rebels fighting the Marxist government then in power in Nicaragua (a second violation of US law). In contrast to Nixon, Reagan moved quickly to take responsibility as president, to fire those obviously involved and to appoint a commission composed of prominent politicians of both major parties to investigate. Congress also investigated and several people were convicted of federal crimes.

Sadly, it appears that President Obama is following Nixon’s example of cover up and obstruction. House and Senate investigators have traced the scandal as high as the number two man at the Justice Department – and while both President Obama and AG Eric Holder have denied any knowledge or involvement there is ample evidence of a cover up. It has been almost six months since we first heard about the “Inspector General’s investigation”, yet there have been no firings and no arrests. That is except for the BATFE’s firing of one of the whistleblowers who brought the scandal to light. In response to lawful congressional subpoenas, DOJ sent documents with every page blacked out. The only problem for the administration is that congress already has the documents – they have been supplied by the whistle blowing agents. The latest move in the cover up was the promotion of two of the BATFE officials responsible for the operation to prominent jobs in Washington DC.

With the investigation closing in on the highest levels of the administration, President Obama needs to think about what happened to the last president who decided to cover everything up. Congressional investigators are being aided by agents within BATFE who take their oath to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States” very seriously. He would also do well to remember that no one died in Watergate. Time is running for our president to come clean, fire some people and take responsibility. If he stays on the present course there is a very good chance that he will not politically survive to run in 2012.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wisconsin, Unions and 2012

Yesterday there was a huge showdown in the state of Wisconsin. Shortly after the downgrade of US debt, the voters Wisconsin showed that they "get it". They understand that the days of huge government spending, and "gold plated" benefits and pay for government workers is over.

Under the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin became one of the first states to face the reality and make the hard choices in order to balance their budget. This included taking on the public employee unions.

This is even more significant because of the changes in recent decades in union constituencies. In my father's day, unions mostly represented workers in the private sector. FDR actually stated that union should be forbidden to organize government workers. This gave unions a huge incentive to make their companies profitable and gave then a huge stake in the free enterprise system.

Sadly, this has all changed. Now 80% of union workers are employed by government. The effect has been to eliminate unions interest in the free enterprise system, replacing it with an interest in promoting an ever expanding government and ever higher taxes. Today, unions are no longer champions of the little guy working for a private employer - they are defenders of government workers collecting pay and benefits far above those in the private sector. It also has made today's unions into radical proponents of socialism.

In the wake of Wisconsin's government cutbacks, the unions pulled out all the stops in an effort to reverse them. They targeted every vulnerable Republican lawmaker for recall. They poured millions of dollars and thousands of workers into the effort The elections were held yesterday. The result? Only two lawmakers were recalled. It was a huge defeat for the unions - and a clear indication that the people "get it". Unions are no longer their friends.

What are the long term implications?

First, unions need to return to their roots. They need to sell their services to workers in the private sector and abandon their push for an ever expanding government and socialism. They need to stop complaining that it is too hard to organize Walmart and instead recognize that no one is going to beat them up, turn dogs on them or shoot them. Compared to unions in the past, they have it easy!

Second, this election indicates that Democrats are going to have a very hard time in 2012. Wisconsin is a liberal state, the unions and their democratic allies put forth a huge effort and they lost big. The American people are mad and they want change. They are greatly disappointed in the current administration and want to move to the right. For the Democrats to have any chance in 2012, they must do the same - if they can.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What's Wrong With The ATF's New Reporting Requirement

In recent weeks the BATFE, currently under fire for itself arranging for guns to be smuggled to Mexico, has issued a new regulation requiring Federally licensed dealers to report sales of more than one semi-auto rifle. Of course the press has been quick to hail this as a perfectly reasonable step to stop the completely fictional "river of guns" from flowing to Mexico. So what is wrong with this requirement?

First, this regulation has nothing to do with stopping gun trafficking. The real motive is to change the focus from ATF's own criminal conduct in the "Fast and Furious" debacle. For those who do not know, in this "operation" over 2,500 guns were sold to known gun traffickers by the ORDER of ATF management. ATF agents were then directed to watch while these guns were smuggled over the boarder. Both gun dealers and line ATF agents protested this crazy policy. By issuing this requirement ATF hopes to shift the focus from their own misconduct to law abiding gun dealers.

Second, the reporting requirement is completely unnecessary - because dealers already report suspicious attempted transactions. Gun dealers scrupulously follow the law. A recent audit of all gun dealers in boarder state turned up absolutely no misconduct. Indeed, it is the dealers who enable ATF to catch gunrunners - as one agent testified, "Dealers are our friends, they make our cases." No matter how many or what kind of guns are involved, dealer are quick to call ATF is anything does not look right. In fact, dealer have a name for it: "Stall and Call". They stall the suspect and call the ATF - who before "Fast and Furious" would come out and investigate. If they attempted transaction was illegal, they would make an arrest. Of course, since the buyer would have filled out the purchase form (and lied on it), conviction was easy. By both requiring and announcing the parameters of the reporting requirements all they have done is create a lot of paperwork and tell the bad guys what not to do. Straw buyers will just buy smaller quanities over a longer period of time in order not to be reported - something the smart ones were already doing.

Third, this requirement is illegal. Proponents point to a section of US firearms law that allows ATF to require dealers to report anything in their records. However, this provision is intended to allow ATF to compile statistical data. Clearly, it was not intended to allow ATF to collect identifying information. If it was, ATF could just require every sales form to be reported and instantly create a national gun registry - something congress clearly did not intend to do.

In contrast to the cited provision, there is a completely applicable provision in the US firearms code. In 1986, congress decided to codify something ATF had been doing for quite a while. They wrote a reporting requirement for multiple handgun sales into the 1986 revision of federal gun law. At the same time, mindful that up to that point ATF had been requiring reporting multiple handgun sales administratively, they included a provision forbidding the routine reporting of any other transactions. That's right - what ATF is trying to do is EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN BY FEDERAL LAW. This is why the acting director of ATF, Kenneth Melson, has stated that an act of congress may be required in order to require this reporting.

This is the real reason why NRA has filed suit to stop the reporting. If ATF, an agency that has recently been involved in clearly criminal behavior, is allowed to write their own guns laws, the 2nd Amendment might as well not exist.

If you are a non-shooter, consider this: How would you feel about the DEA requiring all prescriptions for any drug that can be abused to be reported to them? No debate in congress, no respect for the laws that protect patient privacy - just an administrative ruling. How about requiring all bank deposits to be reported to the IRS, just because they say so? Would you be concerned about such things? I hope you would!

The first thing we need to do is abolish the ATF. This agency has gotten us into all the federal law enforcement debacles in the last 20 years; Waco, Ruby Ridge and now "Fast and Furious". Although other agencies became involved these all began with the ATF. This is strong evidence that ATF is a dysfunctional agency. This is not to say that there are not MANY good agents - there are many, the whistle blowers in "Fast and Furious" included - but the agency clearly has a toxic culture.

This is not to say that gun laws would not be enforced. Enforcement responsibility could and should be given to a functional agency, such as the FBI. Licensing of dealers, manufacturers and collectors could be handled by the Treasury Department. Agents could transfer from ATF on a case by case basis.

The Second thing we need to do is get to the bottom of the Fast and Furious, or Gunwalker scandal. If you don't know what that is, check out my blog on the subject. Clearly, multiple felonies have been committed on both side of the boarder. The Mexican government wants to prosecute ATF agents in Mexico. Thousands of guns have been funneled into criminal hands and will be used to kill people for years. This is the most serious scandal since Watergate - and we should not let ATF - or the Obama administration - change the subject.