Tuesday

The Last of "Country First"

By Bill Maher


John McCain is close to the end, and it feels like the end of an era where Republicans had what James Comey called “A Higher Loyalty.”

I didn’t always agree with John McCain, but I always knew he was someone who thought seriously about the country, and about service, and basically wasn’t all the things we hate about Ted Cruz. There was always a man in there.




When the yahoos got up at his rally and said Obama wasn’t an American, McCain took the mic and said, “No ma’am. He's a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”


When the Republicans put out a health care plan that was a total joke, he voted it down.

In both an upcoming HBO documentary, as well is in his own memoir, McCain says he regrets not going with his gut and choosing Democrat Joe Lieberman instead of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 – or as historians refer to it: the beginning of the end of vetting.




In the book, McCain disses Trump. He writes: Trump “has declined to distinguish the actions of our government from the crimes of despotic ones,” and that “the appearance of toughness, or a reality show facsimile of toughness, seems to matter more than any of our values.” Trump fired back saying that he prefers people who don’t get sick.


McCain also wrote: “I’m freer than colleagues who will face the voters again. I can speak my mind without fearing the consequences much. And I can vote my conscience without worry.” Why does a politician have to retire or die before they can speak their mind? Doesn’t the true maverick speak his mind when it’s difficult or unpopular?

There were clearly things that mattered to John McCain more than himself and his Party. And when I watch this disgusting conglomerate of crooks, hacks, and fools that is the modern day Republican Party, I know we’re going to miss the type of guy who wants Obama speak at his funeral, but not Trump.

Is this the death of the last bipartisan Republican and the pre-Trump GOP?

Monday

Teachers deserve more than appreciation

Columnist

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and I intended to write on the subject, but a more newsy topic intervened. That’s an apt metaphor for the plight of teachers in America today. We live in a media environment in which the urgent often crowds out the important. But this week, I will stick to my plans. 

In “East of Eden,” a sprawling, magisterial novel about the great American West, John Steinbeck writes, “In the country the repository of art and science was the school, and the schoolteacher shielded and carried the torch of learning and of beauty. . . . The teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside. A family could indeed walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.”

The picture Steinbeck paints (set in the early 20th century) is almost unrecognizable in today’s America, where schoolteachers are so poorly paid that they are about five times as likely as the average full-time worker to have a second job, according to Vox. We have all heard about stagnant middle-class wages. But the average pay for a teacher in the United States, adjusted for inflation, has actually declined over the past 15 years, while their health-care costs have risen substantially. The Economist reports that teachers earn 60 percent of what a professional with comparable education does.

The average salary for a teacher in many states is under $50,000. Teachers in West Virginia went on strike a few months ago to demand higher wages, and the government agreed to a 5 percent pay raise, which means the average salary will rise to only $48,000. Like many other states, West Virginia failed to restore education spending after slashing it in the wake of the financial crisis a decade ago. As of last year, per-pupil state funding (adjusted for inflation) was still down between 8 and 28 percent in five of the six states where teachers have now gone on strike, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

With low wages and stretched resources, American educators burn out and quit the profession at twice the rate of some of the highest-achieving countries, as Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute points out. Since 35 percent fewer Americans have studied to become teachers in recent years, she notes, there are massive teacher shortages, forcing schools nationwide to hire more than 100,000 people who lack the proper qualifications. In fact, the New York Times reports, it is so hard for public schools to find qualified Americans that many districts are starting to recruit instructors from low-wage countries such as the Philippines.

It’s not all about salaries. One veteran educator I spoke with, who began working in California in the 1960s, reminisced about that “golden age” when she had ample resources to use in the classroom, went to seminars to develop her skills and felt fulfilled. Today, teachers have little time or money for any of this. A recent survey of public school teachers found that 94 percent pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, without reimbursement, at an average of $479 a year.

It’s not even all about money. Leading a classroom was never a pathway to riches, but teachers once did command the respect and status that Steinbeck’s quote reflects. Andreas Schleicher, who heads the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s education division and has spent years doing careful international comparisons on education, has often observed that the countries that do best at public education — Singapore, Finland, South Korea — can recruit top college graduates into the teaching ranks because they pay reasonably well, they invest in professional development and their societies show deep respect for the profession. In the United States, when we encounter a member of the armed services, many of us make a point to thank them for their service. When was the last time you did the same for a public school teacher?

Yes, education is a very complicated subject. Simply spending more money does not guarantee results — although there are studies that indicate a significant correlation between teacher pay and student achievement. Yes, the education bureaucracy is rigid and often corrupt. But all of this masks the central problem: Over the past 30 years, as part of the assault on government, bureaucrats and the public sector in general, being a teacher in America has become a thankless job. And yet, teaching is the one profession that makes all other professions possible.

Tuesday

One year of Robert Mueller



IT HAS been a year since special counsel Robert S. Mueller III took over the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. Since then, by all appearances, he has performed with professionalism, integrity and remarkable efficiency. 

That is not President Trump’s view, of course. The president rants frequently, inappropriately and with no foundation against a supposed “witch hunt.” His complaints only further the impression that he has something to hide. So do the attacks on Mr. Mueller from the Trump claque in the House of Representatives. So did last week’s rather pathetic chiming in from Vice President Pence, who instructed the special counsel, “It’s time to wrap it up.”

In fact, in the space of only one year, Mr. Mueller has secured guilty pleas from, or indictments against, 19 people and three firms, including very senior figures: Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. He obtained an indictment against a Russian company that helps illuminate the Russian effort to influence the 2016 election. He has done his work without leaks or drama, even as Mr. Trump and his allies continually slander him and his motivation.

Nor is there any evidence that Mr. Mueller has overstepped proper boundaries of prosecutorial behavior. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein ordered the special counsel to investigate Russia’s 2016 election interference and any matter that “arose or may arise” in doing so. It is only logical that would include Mr. Manafort’s pre-election ties to Russia and the president’s possible post-election efforts to subvert the probe. Any good prosecutor would cover those bases.

Initially, Republican lawmakers praised the selection of Mr. Mueller and emphasized his reputation for honesty. Now that Mr. Trump has decided on a strategy to discredit the investigation, most GOP lawmakers are descending to the level of courage we have come to expect in the Trump era and are staying relatively mute. Polls still show wide public approval of the Mueller probe, but among Republicans Mr. Trump’s attacks are having an effect.

Mr. Mueller deserves more backup from Republicans in Congress — in both word and legislation. They should make clear that he will be given such time as he needs to complete his investigation. Republicans had no objection while independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr investigated President Bill Clinton for nearly five years on issues that were neither as complex nor as important. The American people deserve to learn as much as possible about the Kremlin’s 2016 meddling, how U.S. officials responded to it and whether any U.S. officials cooperated with it.

Some lawmakers have been willing to stick up for Mr. Mueller; the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill on a bipartisan basis that protects him from inappropriate termination. So far Senate and House GOP leaders have been unwilling to bring such a bill to a vote. That has left lawmakers scrambling for other options, which could include a bill requiring Mr. Mueller to release a public report on his findings, regardless of his fate. That is less than the bare minimum, but it would be better than nothing.

Monday

Trump’s only possible Iran strategy is a fantasy

Columnist

Jeb Bush said Donald Trump would be a “chaos president.” And this week, President Trump lived up to the billing, choosing to defy virtually the entire world, including America’s closest European allies, and raising tensions in the most unstable part of the globe, the Middle East. 

It is hard to understand the rationale behind Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. If Iran is as dangerous and malign an actor as he says, surely it is best to have its nuclear program frozen at a pre-military level and monitored 24/7. The chances of getting Tehran to agree to more stringent terms are close to zero. If the terms of the Iran deal were applied to North Korea, it would require Pyongyang to destroy its nuclear weapons — the fruits of a decades-long effort — and agree to invasive inspections and foreign surveillance in a country so closed it is known as the Hermit Kingdom.

If there is a strategy behind Trump’s move, it is probably regime change. His closest advisers have long championed regime change and have argued that the best approach toward Iran is a combination of sanctions, support for opposition groups and military intervention. As a congressman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the Obama administration for negotiating with Tehran and instead suggested that the United States launch close to 2,000 bombing sorties against Iran. National security adviser John Bolton has been even more forceful in pushing for regime change, advocating much greater support for the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant opposition group with a checkered past and little support within Iran. Both Bolton and Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani have given paid speeches for the MEK, and in Paris last July, Bolton declared that the United States should pursue regime change in Iran so that the Islamic republic would not celebrate its 40th birthday (which would be in 2019). Thus, three of Trump’s closest advisers have views on Iran that are so extreme that it is hard to think of anyone outside of Saudi Arabia or Israel who shares them.

Iran is a repressive and anti-American regime that has spread its influence in the Middle East, often to America’s detriment. But it is also an ancient civilization, with centuries of power and influence in the region. The notion that the United States could solve all of its problems with Tehran by toppling the regime is fanciful. It has withstood U.S. pressure and sanctions for nearly four decades. And even if it were somehow possible to topple it, look around. The lesson of the past two decades in the Middle East is surely that regime change leads to chaos, war, refugee flows, sectarian strife and more. It opens a Pandora’s box in a land already rife with woes.

Look beyond the Middle East at the record of regime change. Whether it was an unfriendly ruler such as Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz or a friendly one such as South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, regime change was followed by greater instability. Look at Iran itself, where a British-American-sponsored coup dislodged the elected government, which was one of the factors that led to and still legitimizes the Islamic republic. Consider also America’s heavy-handed intervention in the Cuban liberation movement at the turn of the 20th century, which left a legacy of anti-Americanism that the Cuban Communists exploit to this day. Misjudging and mishandling nationalism may be the central error in American foreign policy.

By contrast, when the United States has helped open countries to capitalism, commerce and contact, these acids of modernity have almost always eaten away at the nastiest elements of dictatorships. For all its problems, China today is a much better and more responsible country than it was under Mao Zedong. People often point to President Ronald Reagan’s campaign against the Soviet Union as one in which pressure against an evil empire helped produce regime change. But they remember only half the story. Reagan did pressure the Soviets. But as soon as he found a reformer, in Mikhail Gorbachev, he embraced him, supported him and made concessions to him. So much so that he drew furious opposition from conservatives in the United States who called him “a useful idiot” who was helping the Soviet Union win the Cold War

Iran is a complicated country with a complicated regime. But it does have moderate elements within it that were clearly hoping the nuclear deal would be a path to integration and normalization with the world. Those forces do not have the dominant hand, but they do have power, not least because President Hassan Rouhani has popular backing. But Iran has always had a strong hard-line element that believed that America could never be trusted, that the Saudis were mortal foes, and that self-reliance, autarky and the spread of Shiite ideology was their only strategy for self-preservation. Trump has just proved them right.

Sunday

The rightwing takeover of the US court system will transform America





Donald Trump has nominated an unprecedented number of judges to federal courts since his appointment. These are making steady progress through the Senate confirmation process and yet they have escaped the sort of scrutiny that Trump normally attracts. This is unfortunate, because the impact of Trump’s court picks will be profound, and will help reshape American society for years to come.

Of the nearly 60 judges he has nominated, only one is black, one is Hispanic and three are women. The rest are white men. All of these people are conservatives who will be interpreting and helping (re)write the law for decades.

These appointments reveal Trump for what he truly is: a Republican. His court picks amount to a right-wing takeover of the court system. This has been the objective of every Republican president since Ronald Reagan. Trump is distinguished only by his success at transforming the federal bench so early in his term.

The claim that Trump has not accomplished much in his first year in office is dead wrong. He is fashioning the federal court system of Steve Bannon’s dreams. The president has nominated judges who will cut back the civil rights of racial minorities and LGBT people, expand the power of police and prosecutors, restrict the ability of women to obtain abortions and favor big corporations over consumers.

Trump took office facing a backlog of 114 judicial appointments – the most of any president since Bill Clinton. This was not a coincidence but rather the product of a calculated project by Republicans in the US Congress to deny Barack Obama his authority to appoint judges. In a bold power play, Senate Republicans, who must confirm judicial nominees, simply refused to vote on most of Obama’s selections during the last year of his presidency. They were, in effect, waiting for Trump.

Now Republicans have been rewarded for their abdication of their constitutional responsibilities during the Obama administration. President Trump has nominated 60 judges to fill the vacancies, with 14 already confirmed. If Trump were to resign or be removed from office tomorrow, he could leave proud that his profound impact is already set in stone: a generation of ultra-conservative judges with lifetime appointments who will transform the US into more of a police state than it already is. But again, this is more of a Republican project than a Trumpian one.

In terms of their ideology, Trump’s judicial nominees – including racists, sexists, homophobes and gun nuts – are pretty much the same as any other Republican president would make.

Neil Gorsuch, his first appointment to the US supreme court, joined conservatives like Clarence Thomas, who thinks that states should be able to make gay sex a crime, Samuel Alito, who thinks there should be almost no restrictions on gun ownership, and John Roberts, who thinks affirmative action and substantial portions of the Voting Rights Act are unconstitutional.

Republicans widely view the Gorsuch appointment as the best thing Trump has done in office. Every Republican present in the Senate that day voted for Gorsuch’s confirmation, including moderates like John McCain and Susan Collins who have opposed some other aspects of Trump’s agenda.

On the US supreme court, Gorsuch has been really busy – he wrote more separate opinions in his first month on the court than Elena Kagan, the next newest justice, wrote in two years. And he’s been a right wing judicial activist, giving a speech at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, hanging out with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, and writing opinions attacking the conservative chief justice John Roberts for not being conservative enough.

But it is in the federal and court of appeals that Trump’s court picks will have the most profound impact.

As Shira Scheindlin made clear in the first essay in this series, this is where the vast majority of American legal cases are heard. In 2015, the US supreme court decided approximately 82 cases. In 2016, it was approximately 69. In contrast, the United States courts of appeals decided 52,000 cases in 2015 and 58,000 in 2016. The United States district courts decided 353,000 cases in 2015 and 355,000 in 2016.

So, despite all the attention supreme court nominees get, we need to talk about the loonies Trump is placing on the lower courts that make the biggest difference in the lives of ordinary Americans.
Jeff Mateer, Trump’s nominee to the federal bench in Michigan, called transgender children “proof that Satan’s plan is working”, while John King, who was recently confirmed for the US court of appeals, described abortion as one of two “greatest tragedies” in US history, with slavery being the other.

Every Republican president since Roe v Wade has promised to appoint judges who would overturn Roe v Wade. A record of hostility to LBGT rights or school desegregation would be a resume enhancer for any person who aspires to the bench during a Republican administration.

Most Republicans wouldn’t be as open as Trump, who promised his judicial selections would “all be picked by the Federalist Society”, an organization of right-wing lawyers and law students. But, since its founding in 1982, the Federalist Society has played an important role in judicial selection for every Republican president, from Ronald Reagan who plucked Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork from the organization’s “faculty advisors”, to George W Bush, who made members of the ultra right-wing organization half of his appointments to the courts of appeal.

The problem with Trump exceptionalism – the claim that the Donald is an outlier – is that it lets other Republicans escape the blame for their long simmering bigotry. All President Trump has done is stir the pot. As the hip-hop expression goes, “don’t hate the player, hate the game”. 

Indeed, as a man who seems to have no permanent ideology outside of his vast narcissism, Trump’s right-wing takeover of federal courts might be the most Republican thing he does in his entire presidency.

Some progressives are bemoaning the lack of diversity of Trump’s nominations, almost 80% of whom are white men. To date Trump has nominated one African-American and one Hispanic judge. This stands out in stark contrast to Barack Obama, whose judicial appointments were over 40% female, and about 30% African American and Hispanic. Obama appointed more Asian-American federal judges than all the presidents before him, combined.

Of all the opportunities to resist that the Trump administration has inspired, protesting the lack of diversity of his court appointments is a fail. It shouldn’t be difficult for Trump to find some women and people of color who are Federalist-society approved. 

The fact that those names haven’t come forward is more evidence of the disdain in which Trump holds people who are not rich, white heterosexual men. But we already know that from Trump’s boasts about pussy-grabbing, his shout-out to the Nazi sympathizers in Charlottsville and his
It would not advance the causes of women’s rights, racial justice, and LGBT equity to have a bunch of female, minority and queer judges with the same reactionary jurisprudence as the white guys who Trump has nominated. African Americans learned this lesson the hard way. 

US supreme court justice Clarence Thomas was appointed by George HW Bush to the black “slot” on the supreme court after Thurgood Marshall, the pioneering civil rights lawyer, died. It was well known that he was extremely conservative, but many African Americans still supported him based on the idea that it was important for blacks to have a seat at the table, regardless. 

In the same way that Donald Trump seems animated by reversing the legacy of Barack Obama, Clarence Thomas has spent the last 25 years undoing everything Thurgood Marshall stood for. Thomas has voted against affirmative action, the Fair Housing Act and the Voting Rights Act. 

He wrote an opinion reversing a jury award of $14m to a black man who been wrongfully convicted and placed on death row for 14 years for a crime he did not commit. Donald Trump, during the campaign, called Clarence Thomas his “favorite” supreme court justice. But for many black folks, Justice Thomas’ presence on the court has become an embarrassment rather than a symbol that someone there is attentive to their concerns.

Do we really need a bunch of other minority and female justices in that mode? No thank you, Mr President. The larger problem is that the US faces is a new generation of federal judges, with lifetime appointments, dedicated to eliminating constitutional protections for anyone who is not white, male, heterosexual and rich. Don’t blame the Donald. He’s just a Republican.

Monday

The danger of absolute thinking is absolutely clear

Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi
is a postgraduate student in psychology at the University of Reading in the UK.

Think of the most happy and well-adjusted person you know – what can you say about their thinking style? Are they dogmatic, with an all-or-nothing outlook on the world? Do they place totally rigid demands on themselves and those around them? When confronted with stresses and misfortunes, are they apt to magnify and fixate on them? In short, do they have an absolutist thinking style? 
‘Absolutism’ refers to ideas, phrases and words that denote totality, either in magnitude or probability. Absolutist thoughts are unqualified by nuance and overlook the complexity of a given subject.

There are generally two forms of absolutism; ‘dichotomous thinking’ and ‘categorical imperatives’. Dichotomous thinking – also referred to as ‘black-and-white’ or ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking – describes a binary outlook, where things in life are either ‘this’ or ‘that’, and nothing in between. Categorical imperatives are completely rigid demands that people place on themselves and others. The term is borrowed from Immanuel Kant’s deontological moral philosophy, which is grounded in an obligation- and rules-based ethical code.

In our research – and in clinical psychology more broadly – absolutist thinking is viewed as an unhealthy thinking style that disrupts emotion-regulation and hinders people from achieving their goals. Yet we all, to varying extents, are disposed to it – why is this? Primarily, because it’s much easier than dealing with the true complexities of life. The term cognitive miser, first introduced by the American psychologists Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor in 1984, describes how humans seek the simplest and least effortful ways of thinking. Nuance and complexity is expensive – it takes up precious time and energy – so wherever possible we try to cut corners. This is why we have biases and prejudices, and form habits. It’s why the study of heuristics (intuitive ‘gut-feeling’ judgments) is so useful in behavioural economics and political science.

But there is no such thing as a free lunch; the time and energy saved through absolutist thinking has a cost. In order to successfully navigate through life, we need to appreciate nuance, understand complexity and embrace flexibility. When we succumb to absolutist thinking for the most important matters in our lives – such as our goals, relationships and self-esteem – the consequences are disastrous.

In a recent research article in Clinical Psychological Science, I and my collaborator, the neuroscientist Tom Johnstone at the University of Reading in the UK, examined the prevalence of absolutist thinking in the natural language of more than 6,400 online members in various mental-health chat groups. From the outset, we predicted that those with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation would have a more absolutist outlook, and that this would manifest in their style of language. Compared with 19 different online control chat groups on topics from cancer to parenting, the prevalence of absolutist words was approximately 50 per cent greater in depression and anxiety groups, and approximately 80 per cent greater in the suicidal-ideation group.

Previously, the best-known linguistic markers for mental-health disorders had been an excessive use of first-person singular pronouns such as ‘me’, ‘myself’ and ‘I’, with a reduced use of second- and third-person pronouns. This pattern of pronoun use reflects the isolation and self-focus common in depression. Negative-emotion words are also a strong linguistic marker for mental-health disorders, however researchers have reported that pronouns are actually more reliable in identifying depression. We find that the prevalence of absolutist words is a better marker than both pronouns and negative-emotion words. They produced bigger differences between mental-health and control groups compared with pronouns, and they tracked the mental-health groups better than negative-emotion words. Paradoxically, negative-emotion words were more prevalent in anxiety and depression groups than in the suicidal-ideation group.

How do we know that a greater use of absolutist words actually reflects absolutist thinking, and is not simply a result of extreme emotions and psychological distress? In a second study, we calculated the prevalence of absolutist words in mental-health conditions known to be linked to absolutist thinking (borderline personality disorder and eating disorder) with mental-health groups not linked to absolutist thinking (post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia). All groups are shown to have the same levels of psychological distress, but only the groups known to be linked to absolutist thinking had elevated levels of absolutist words. This confirms that a greater use of absolutist words is specific to absolutist thinking, and not to psychological distress per se.

Despite the correlations, nothing yet suggests that absolutism causes depression. In a third study, we examined groups whose participants believe that they have recovered from a depressive episode, and write positive, encouraging posts about their recovery. We found that positive-emotion words were elevated by approximately 70 per cent, yet they continued to use a high prevalence of absolutist words, significantly greater than control groups and much closer to anxiety and depression levels. Crucially, those who have previously had depressive symptoms are more likely to have them again. Therefore, their greater tendency for absolutist thinking, even when there are currently no symptoms of depression, is a sign that it might play a role in causing depressive episodes.

These findings support the recent ‘third wave’ therapies that have entered clinical psychology. The most well-known of these is ‘mindfulness’, but they all advocate a flexible outlook, acceptance, and freedom from attachments. An early exponent of mindfulness is the noted psychologist John Teasdale, whose lab has produced a litany of empirical data to support its efficacy. In a landmark 2001 study, Teasdale and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge found that an ‘absolutist, dichotomous thinking style’ predicted future depressive relapse.

Many argue that the world is a harsh place, and that it is the stresses and misfortunes in life that make people depressed, not their thinking style. Wrong! Countless people suffer misfortunes and do not get depressed or anxious, while others seemingly suffer no misfortune at all, and are blighted with depression and anxiety. The Stoic philosopher (and former slave) Epictetus opined that ‘men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them’. A sentiment that is totally, completely and absolutely correct.

Saturday

How to Fix 23 Tax Problems for Americans Abroad with 3 Solutions

posted by | Taxation Task Force Chair
February 28, 2018

INTRODUCTION


Democrats Abroad has documented here the scope of tax problems that uniquely impact Americans living abroad. We hope that by profiling the wide range of U.S. tax code and other provisions that have – however unintended – severe adverse consequences for Americans abroad that we might persuade Congress to act on our behalf and resolve them.

The list includes 23 discrete matters and, to our disappointment, it has recently grown due to provisions in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. As is the case with most of the provisions that vex Americans abroad, the Repatriation Tax and GILTI provisions in the new law were enacted without due consideration for the impact they would have on non-resident filers.

Other examples include: the financial account reporting provision in the Bank Secrecy Act, which includes exorbitant and out-of proportion penalties for non-compliance and requires updates generally; SEC regulations and the USA PATRIOT Act which make both investing in the U.S. and investing abroad extremely difficult for Americans living abroad without a U.S. address; and the Windfall Eliminations Provision, which unintentionally denies fully entitled Social Security benefits to Americans abroad who have pensions in their country of residence. Saving and investing for the future is extremely difficult for Americans abroad because of these provisions.

Thus, we are burdened with an unfair, unreasonable and unjust compliance burden that causes financial and personal hardship and that will require remedies across myriad areas of the tax code and other laws, plus within existing U.S. double taxation treaties and the model U.S. tax treaty. We do not believe Congress has the time or political will to implement these remedies and so instead recommend three solutions that would eliminate the problems enumerated herein:

1. A switch from our current system of Citizenship-Based Taxation to Residency-Based Taxation. There is evidence to suggest that Residency-Based Taxation can be implemented on a revenue-neutral basis[1]. A switch from Citizenship-Based Taxation to Residency-Based Taxation would resolve most of the tax problems outlined herein.

2. A same country exemption for Americans abroad to eliminate FATCA reporting on financial accounts in their country of residence.H.R. 2136, the Overseas Americans Financial Access Act would provide Americans abroad from relief from the unintended adverse consequences of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). FATCA was enacted to discourage and apprehend those using foreign bank accounts to commit financial crimes and not to cause personal and financial pain to ordinary Americans abroad who use accounts in their countries of residence to pay bills and save for the future.[2]

3. Replace the Windfall Eliminations Provision with the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 2710).Filing from abroad alone is inordinately complex and costly. The forms required to declare income generated abroad are highly detailed, preparing them is extremely difficult and it very often requires the support of professional tax return preparers with specialist knowledge of overseas filing.[3] Our recommendations address the filing costs for Americans abroad which far exceeds the costs incurred by U.S. based tax filers.

TAX CODE PROVISIONS THAT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST AMERICANS ABROAD - AND PROPOSED REMEDIES
In our examination of the provisions in the Internal Revenue Code that govern tax filing and reporting for non-resident Americans we have identified these areas that require remedies in order to address their perhaps unintended but certainly adverse consequences.

Note: A switch from Citizenship-Based Taxation to Residency-Based Taxation would resolve most of these issues for Americans living abroad.

1. US Capital Gains Tax Exclusion – harmonization of capital gains treatment for properties owned by citizens living abroad with the treatment of properties owned by citizens living in the US.

2. Artificial Capital Gains/Losses due to Currency Fluctuations – elimination of artificial capital gains and losses when no currency has been exchanged by allowing the currency of the country of residence to be the functional currency for tax reporting purposes.

3. Applying foreign credits to NIIT – allow Americans abroad to apply foreign income tax credits in calculating Net Investment Income Tax.

4. Marital deduction for bequests to foreign surviving spouses – reinstate the marital deduction for bequests to surviving foreign spouses in the calculation of estate tax.


5. Declaration of foreign long term savings plan income – tax the income from foreign long-term savings plans at the time the money is withdrawn from the plan.

6. Taxation of welfare payments – tax imposed on foreign government invalidity, unemployment and social welfare payments to disabled and disadvantaged Americans abroad only by the country making the payments, i.e. the country of residence.

7. Tax-free transfer of foreign retirement plan assets – render tax-free the transfer of assets from foreign retirement plans deemed qualified plans under international tax treaties to retirement plans in the taxpayer’s new country of residence, be it the US or another country.

8. Revise punitive PFIC rules – For citizens residing abroad revise the punitive Passive Foreign Investment Company rules and reporting requirements that apply to non-US pension plans, foreign mutual funds and other investment savings vehicles that prohibit Americans abroad from using them to save efficiently for retirement.

9. Taxation of non-US non-qualified pension plans – simplify the reporting structure for non-US, non-qualified pension plans that would alleviate the onerous need for Form 3520 filings for non-employer funded pension schemes.

10. Reforms to the FEIE and FHE – maintain the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, merge it with the Foreign Housing Exclusion and eliminate the ceiling. This would completely eliminate double taxation of the earned income of non-resident taxpayers.

11. Repeal WEP – Replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) which drastically reduces the Social Security payments owed to Americans also receiving foreign pension payments with the Social Security Fairness Act to restore rightful Social Security payments to Americans abroad.

12. 15.5% Repatriation Tax – Provide an exemption for small to medium sized business owners from the 15.5% Repatriation Tax. Meant as a tax break for American companies retaining profits abroad, it forces small to medium size business owners to declare profits set aside for future capital investment.

13. GILTI tax regime - Harmonise the tax treatment of Global Intangible Low Tax Income and Foreign Intangible Direct Income across all types of foreign corporations owned by U.S. persons or entities by giving pass through-type S corporations owned by Americans living abroad access to the same offsets and deductions afforded to C corporations controlled by U.S multinationals.

IMPROVING TAX FILING AND REPORTING FOR AMERICANS ABROAD
Although these reforms would lose their importance for most Americans abroad after a switch from Citizenship-Based Taxation to Residency-Based Taxation, they would be enormously helpful for those who do not elect to file as non-resident US citizens for tax purposes.

14. Optional simplified earnings declaration – provide non-resident taxpayers who owe no US federal income tax with the option of a one-sentence, handwritten or printed declaration of earnings, accompanied by a tax return or assessment from the taxpayer’s country of residence

15. Expand the criteria for determining the threshold for who has to file – add a provision so that foreign earned income that can be excluded under current rules does not need to be included when determining your gross income for filing purposes.

16. Make electronic tax return filing possible for non-resident taxpayers declaring foreign tax credits - Allow taxpayers using the free, fillable IRS electronic forms to exclude the attachments eliminating the need for the taxpayer to file the return by post.

17. Translated IRS publications and forms – provide translated versions of IRS publications and tax forms commonly used by non-resident, non-English speaking US citizens.

18. Harmonize International Tax Treaties – align all international tax treaties with the US Model Income Tax Convention of November 15, 2006, especially (but not exclusively) as they apply to private pensions, social welfare benefits, annuities, alimony, child support and pension plans.

19. Promote the Streamline Filing Compliance (Offshore) Procedures (SFCP) – expand awareness of the SFCP, a tax compliance restoration program introduced in 2014 for Americans who non-wilfully are not compliant with their tax filing and reporting obligations.

20. Improve communication – encourage the IRS to do even more to expand communication with Americans living abroad, starting with the establishment of non-resident taxpayer support hotlines operated by officials schooled in matters unique to non-resident filers and including the reopening of overseas IRS offices and the restoration of offshore services lost due to cuts in IRS funding.

21. Protect American Citizens Services – ensure that proposed cuts to State Department funding do not result in further reductions in American Citizen Services provided by U.S. consulates and embassies, which often include advice about tax filing deadlines and local tax return services.

22. Reform the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) – enact HR 2136 to exempt from FATCA reporting, by both the U.S. citizen abroad and their financial account provider, the financial accounts of law-abiding overseas resident U.S. citizens in their bona fide country of residence.

23. Reform the Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report (FBAR) reporting requirement for U.S. Citizens in their bona fide country of residence – as follows
o Redress the enormous, out of proportion penalties – civil and criminal – imposed by the IRS for non-willfully neglecting to file forms;

o Adjust for inflation the $10,000 aggregate threshold amount that triggers a FBAR filing requirement, which has not been adjusted since the Bank Secrecy Act was enacted in 1970;

o Eliminate the duplication of information disclosed on the FBAR and FATCA reports;

o Exempt U.S. citizens from reporting foreign financial accounts that are not reportable by financial institutions in their country of residence;

o Address the vulnerability of FBAR data security inherent in electronic filing; and

o Remove the burden imposed on filers who are computer illiterate or with no access to computers by eliminating recently introduced mandatory electronic FBAR reporting.
REGULATIONS CONSTRAINING BANKING, INVESTMENT AND RETIREMENT SAVINGS FOR AMERICANS ABROAD
Note: A switch from Citizenship-Based Taxation to Residency-Based Taxation would resolve most of these issues for Americans living abroad.

Investment options for Americans abroad are increasingly limited and fraught. Due to SEC regulations and legislation designed to protect consumers in the market for financial products, a provider of financial fund products must be registered to sell and market their products in a foreign jurisdiction. Although U.S. brokerage firms have over time turned a blind eye to this requirement, more recently, in an atmosphere of increased disclosure and oversight, many have elected to prohibit clients residing abroad from buying U.S. mutual funds in order to avoid the registration requirement. Exchange-Traded Funds are a legal work-around for Americans abroad interested in a mutual fund-type investment exposure, however even Exchange-Traded Funds may not be an option for individuals whose foreign and/or U.S. bank and brokerage accounts have been closed.

Features of the U.S. tax code impacting investments, savings plans and retirement savings uniquely penalize Americans residing abroad in the following ways:

· Punitive taxation of retirement savings plans which qualify and are taxed under local laws but are not qualified plans for U.S. tax purposes;

· Punitive taxation of foreign government sponsored retirement savings plans that are not qualified plans for U.S. tax purposes;

· Capital gains tax laws that do not take into account currency fluctuations, thereby creating assessable capital gains upon the sale of assets even if no currency was exchanged;

· The inability to claim the foreign tax credit against taxes owing under the Affordable Care Act, the 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax;

· Inflexible regulations involving Social Security and Medicare contributions particularly disadvantage (double-tax and other) self-employed Americans abroad.

· The Windfall Elimination Provision which drastically reduces the Social Security payments owed to Americans also receiving foreign pension payments;

· The Social Security benefit taxation regime for taxpayers who are Married Filing Separately provides no exclusion for spouses. Americans married to foreign nationals normally file as Married Filing Separately and as such cannot receive the exclusion afforded Americans married to Americans who file jointly;

· Social Security contributions required of self-employed Americans abroad are taxed (15.5%) even if they are already making contributions to an aged pension contribution scheme in their country of residence;

· Welfare payments made by foreign governments to Americans who are disabled, unemployed or disadvantaged are subject to US tax though they are normally not taxed abroad.

U.S. BANKING ALSO CONSTRAINED
The USA PATRIOT Act, ratified after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, established new “Know Your Customer” rules for US financial institutions. As a result, banks and financial institutions are no longer willing to hold or open accounts for customers whose only address is outside of the United States. This has constrained the banking, saving and investment activities of Americans abroad. A sensible reform would be to exempt American citizens living abroad from this provision even if they have only a non-US address.

Tuesday

Iran Deal: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Although this video clip with John Oliver is a little hilarious, there is some truth in what he is saying about President D. Trump and the Iran Deal! Watch it and judge for yourselves.

Thursday

"A Complete Disaster": Noam Chomsky on Trump and the Future of US Politics

By C.J. Polychroniou, Truthout |


Just how bad are things with Donald Trump in the White House? And what does having a racist, misogynist, xenophobic and erratic president who continues to enjoy unquestionable support from his base tell us about the state of US politics and the dangers to the future of democracy in the US and in the world on the whole? Noam Chomsky shares his thoughts on these and other related questions in an exclusive interview with C. J. Polychroniou for Truthout.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, it's been already 14 months into Donald Trump's turbulent White House tenure, but sometimes we still need to pinch ourselves to make sure that it's not a nightmare that a racist, misogynist, homophobic man who apparently cares only about himself runs the world's most powerful nation. But, really, how bad is it having Trump in the White House?

Very bad. As Trump began his second year in office, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced their Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight, citing increasing concerns over nuclear weapons and climate change. That's the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the US and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. That was before the release of Trump's Nuclear Posture Review, which significantly increases the dangers by lowering the threshold for nuclear attack and by developing new weapons that increase the danger of terminal war.

On climate change, Trump is a complete disaster, along with the entire Republican leadership. Every candidate in the Republican primaries either denied that what is happening is happening or said ... we shouldn't do anything about it. And these attitudes infect the Republican base. Half of Republicans deny that global warming is taking place, while 70 percent say that whether it is or not, humans are not responsible. Such figures would be shocking anywhere, but are remarkably so in a developed country with unparalleled resources and easy access to information.

It is hard to find words to describe the fact that the most powerful country in world history is not only withdrawing from global efforts to address a truly existential threat, but is also dedicating itself to accelerating the race to disaster, all to put more dollars in overstuffed pockets. No less astounding is the limited attention paid to the phenomenon.

When we turn to matters of great though lesser import, the conclusion is the same: disaster. While Trump's antics occupy the attention of the media, his associates in Congress have been working intensively to advance the interests of their actual constituency -- extreme wealth and corporate power -- while dismantling what is of value to the general population and future generations. With justice, the Republican leadership regard the tax bill as their greatest triumph. Joseph Stiglitz rightly describes the triumph as "The US Donor Relief Act of 2017," a vast giveaway to their actual constituency -- and to themselves. As he points out, the Republican leaders "are stuffing themselves at the trough -- Trump, Kushner and many others in his administration are among the biggest winners -- thinking that this may be their last chance at such a feast." And "Apr├Ęs moi, le deluge" -- literally in this case.

The grand triumph brings an extra advantage. It explodes the deficit (a trademark of Republicans since Reagan), which means that they can move on to cut away at entitlements, as the chief architect, Paul Ryan, announced happily at once. The US already ranks near the bottom of the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries -- the 35 richer and more developed countries -- in social justice measures. The Republican triumph will sink it even lower. The tax scam is only the most prominent of the devices being implemented under the cover of Trump buffoonery to serve wealth and corporate power while harming the irrelevant population.

Many other policies are simply [unconscionable], such as Trump's initiative to have the Department of Homeland Security separate children, even infants, from their mothers in order to discourage immigration -- 700 families have been split in this fashion since October, a New York Times investigation found. Many of these families are fleeing from the murderous consequences of US policies: Honduras has been the main source of refugee flight since the US, almost alone, endorsed the military coup that ousted the elected president and the fraudulent election that followed, initiating a reign of terror.

We also must endure the sight of Trump wailing in terror because a caravan of victims reached Mexico, most hoping to settle there. Trump's suggestion that these victims are threatening the security of the US is reminiscent of Reagan strapping on his cowboy boots and calling a national emergency because Nicaraguan troops were a two days march from Texas, and about to overwhelm us. It's amazing that such performances do not evoke profound national embarrassment.

To the extent that politics is the art of the possible, would you say that Trump has been consistent so far with the promises he made to voters during the 2016 campaign?

In some cases, yes. He is fulfilling the wishes of the Evangelicals who are a large part of his voting base. He is greatly increasing the military budget, as he promised. ... Most of his promises are about as close to fulfillment as his commitment to "drain the swamp," which is now overflowing. [Scott] Pruitt's [Environmental Protection Agency] alone is a cesspool, though its dismantling of efforts to deal with the impact of climate change are far more serious than the wholesale robbery, which seems to be a Pruitt specialty from well before he was handed the wrecking ball.

On trade, though the policies, insofar as they are coherent, are generally harmful, the rhetoric is not completely false. Thus it is true that China is using devices that violate World Trade Organization rules -- devices that were critical to the growth of the rich societies, from England to the US and beyond, and are now banned by the investor rights agreements mislabeled "free trade agreements." This is a textbook illustration of what economic historians call "kicking away the ladder": First we climb up, then we kick the ladder away so that you can't follow.

And Trump is right that the [North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)] should be revised. Some sensible proposals have been put forth by the partners in NAFTA. For example, Canada has proposed that the revised NAFTA should ban harsh US anti-labor laws, like the right-to-scrounge laws called "right-to-work" in contemporary Newspeak. These laws are soon to become federal policy, it seems, under the reactionary Roberts Court, which was made more extreme by [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell's shameful parliamentary maneuvers to prevent even consideration of Obama's nomination, opening the way to the appointment of Neil Gorsuch -- another gift to the far right.

The Canadian proposal was prominently reported in the major Canadian press, but, oddly, is missing from the discussions of NAFTA revision here, which keep to Trump proposals.

Allegations of collusion continue to haunt Donald Trump's presidency, primarily over his alleged ties to Russia and Putin, and former FBI Director James Comey said in a recent interview with ABC News that Trump is "morally unfit" to be president. What's your take on all this, and what does Trump's disrespect for law and the fact that his base is refusing to abandon him tell us about the current state of American democracy and US politics in general?

We don't need Comey to tell us that Trump is morally unfit. He made that abundantly clear in the primaries, if not before. The fact that the Oval Office is coming to resemble a schoolyard on a bad day may be obnoxious, but it doesn't rank high among the misdeeds of the administration, in my opinion. ... Same with his alleged ties to Russia and Putin. Much more serious is the clique that now surrounds him. It's a sad day when one has to hope that General [James] Mattis will keep the ... [rest] in check. The [John] Bolton appointment in particular should send shivers up the spine of any person.
As for Trump's base, they are indeed quite loyal. Most Trump voters were relatively affluent and probably are fairly satisfied with the ultra-reactionary policies. Another important segment was non-college-educated whites, a group that voted overwhelmingly for Trump (a 40 percent advantage).
There is a close analysis of this group in the current (Spring 2018) issue of the Political Science Quarterly. It found that racism and sexism were far more significant factors in their vote than economic issues. If so, this group has little reason to object to the scene that is unfolding, and the same with the white Evangelicals who gave Trump 80 percent of their vote. Among justly angry, white, working-class Trump voters, many apparently enjoy watching him stick his thumb in the eyes of the hated elites even if he doesn't fufill his promises to [working-class voters], which many never believed in the first place.

What all this tells us, yet again, is that the neoliberal programs that have concentrated wealth in a few hands while the majority stagnate or decline have also severely undermined functioning democracy by familiar mechanisms, leading to anger, contempt for the dominant centrist political forces and institutions, and often anti-social attitudes and behavior -- alongside of very promising popular reactions, like the remarkable [Bernie] Sanders phenomenon, [Jeremy] Corbyn in England and positive developments elsewhere as well.

Ryan, an influential architect of the Republican economic platform, announced that he is stepping down from Congress. Do you think his decision was motivated by the fear that a "blue wave" may be coming in November as a result of a growing backlash against Trump and Trumpism?

There is much talk about how this "admirable" figure, who bedazzled the media with fraudulent spreadsheets, wants to spend time with his family. Much more likely, I think, is that he decided to leave Congress because he had achieved his long-standing goals, particularly with the "Donor Relief Act of 2017" and the deficit cuts that open the way to sharp reduction of entitlements: health, social security, pensions -- whatever matters to the people beyond the very privileged. And perhaps he prefers to be out of town when it becomes too hard to conceal what's being done to the general population and someone will have to face the music.

With regard to foreign affairs, what do you consider to be the most menacing elements of Trump's handling of US foreign policy?

Trump inherited multiple crises. His own policies have been largely incoherent, but he has been consistent in some areas, primarily the Middle East. He has provided strong support for the Saudi war in Yemen, a major catastrophe, and is exulting in the huge arms sales to the dictatorship. Last December, UN agencies warned that the Saudi blockade of Yemen could lead to "one of the largest famines in modern times." Yemen already has the world's worst cholera outbreak, which is not under control. The Saudi blockade is hindering desperately needed imports of food, medicine and fuel.

Apart from the human disaster it is creating, the Saudi dictatorship, always with firm US backing, seems intent on carrying forward the Taliban and ISIS projects of destroying precious antiquities. Reviewing the systematic Saudi destruction, the chair of Yemen's Organization of Antiquities and Museums charges that the attacks on 60 sites are "a conscious campaign to wreck Yemen's heritage and demoralize its citizens." Western experts agree that the destruction seems deliberate, using information provided by the [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] on cultural heritage sites to direct bombing attacks, with no military objective.

The US-led attack on ISIS in Raqqa destroyed the city, and nothing is being done to reconstruct or help the victims. Under the influence of [US-UN Ambassador] Nikki Haley, one of the more sinister (and, it seems, ambitious) figures in the administration, Trump has sharply cut funding to the [United Nations Relief and Works Agency], which barely keeps millions of Palestinian refugees alive. In general, "make America great" means great at destroying, and that's where the greatness ends. It's by no means entirely new, but is now raised to a higher level and becoming a matter of principle.

In May, Trump will presumably refuse to renew sanctions relief for Iran, as required by the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). That does not constitute formal withdrawal, though that's the likely effect. Even if the European signers formally persist, the consequences will be severe because of the central role of the US in the international financial system -- not to speak of the danger that their persistence might arouse the ire of the unpredictable Trump, who can do a great deal of damage if crossed. Effective withdrawal might provide an opening for the new national security adviser, Bolton, a genuine war criminal who publicly calls for bombing Iran, presumably in collaboration with Israel and with tacit Saudi approval. Consequences could be horrendous.

There is much fevered debate as to whether Iran might have violated the JCPOA, contrary to the firm conclusion of [the International Atomic Energy Agency] Director General Yukiya Amano on March 5, 2018, that "Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments." But we hear virtually nothing about US violations, though these have been clear enough. Thus the JCPOA commits the signers to support the successful implementation of the agreement, including in their public statements, and to refrain from any adverse effect on trade and economic relations with Iran that conflict with their commitments to successful implementation of the JCPOA. The US has been in flat violation of all of these commitments, which have serious consequences.

Unmentionable as always is the obvious way to alleviate whatever threat Iranian nuclear programs are imagined to pose: establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. The way is clear. The proposal is strongly supported by Iran, the Arab states and the world generally. But there is an impediment. It has regularly been blocked by the US, for familiar reasons: Israel's nuclear weapons. Also ignored is that the US [and] UK have a special commitment to work for this goal, having committed themselves to it in the UN [Security Council] resolution they invoked in an effort to find some thread of justification for their invasion of Iraq.


There is more to say about this troubled region, but there are crises elsewhere as well. One involves North Korea, and here there might be some rays of light. Trump has so far accepted the moves of the two Koreas toward improving relations, and has agreed to negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that so far look promising. If these initiatives succeed, they might go as far as the September 2005 agreement in which North Korea pledged to abandon "all nuclear weapons and existing weapons programs." Unfortunately, the Bush administration immediately violated all of its commitments under the agreement, and North Korea proceeded with its nuclear weapons programs. We may hope that Trump will be willing to accept success in denuclearizing the peninsula and in further steps toward accommodation. And if he wants to brag about the achievement as a demonstration of his brilliance as a deal-maker, just fine.

This by no means exhausts the foreign policy issues that should be seriously addressed -- topics that would carry us far afield.

What's your overall sense about Trumpism? What is it really all about, and do you think Trumpism is showing us the future of right-wing politics in the US?

Trumpism is one of many manifestations of the effects of the neoliberal policies of the past generation. These have led to extreme concentration of wealth along with stagnation for the majority.
There have been repeated crashes of the deregulated financial institutions, each worse than the last. Bursting bubbles have been followed by huge public bailouts for the perpetrators while the victims have been abandoned. Globalization has been designed to set working people throughout the world in competition with one another while private capital is lavished with benefits. Democratic institutions have eroded. As already mentioned, all of this has led to anger, bitterness, often desperation -- one remarkable effect is the increasing mortality among middle-age whites discovered by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, analyzed as "deaths of despair," a phenomenon unknown in functioning societies.

While there are variations from place to place, some features are common. One is the decline of the centrist parties that have long dominated political life, as we see in election after election. In the US, in recent years, whenever candidates arose from the base in the Republican primaries, the established powers were able to crush them and impose their own choice: Mitt Romney, most recently. In 2016, for the first time they were unable to do so, but they quickly rallied to the winning candidate, who proved quite willing to front for the more brutal wing of the traditional party. The real surprise in the election was the Sanders campaign, which broke with a long tradition of pretty much bought elections, and was stopped only by machinations of the Obama-Clinton party managers. The Democratic Party is now split between the donor-oriented New Democrat managers and a growing activist social democratic base.

What all of this portends, worldwide, is far from clear. Though there are also significant signs of hope, some commentators have -- with good reason -- been quoting Gramsci's observation from his prison cell: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear."

How difficult would it be to repeal the Second Amendment?



Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called for the repeal of the Second Amendment on Tuesday, wading into the charged political debate over gun control that was reignited by several mass shootings in recent months.

It’s a familiar appeal from the 97-year old jurist, who was named to the bench by President Gerald Ford in 1975 and retired in 2010. But Stevens renewed his plea in an op-ed in the New York Times, three days after activists staged massive gun control demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and in other cities around the country and world over the weekend. Stevens praised the protesters for demanding reforms to current gun laws, but said they should go further.

“The demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment,” Stevens wrote.

Repealing the amendment, Stevens said, would effectively overturn the controversial 2008 Supreme Court ruling D.C. v. Heller, which found that the Second Amendment protected “an individual right to possess a firearm” for the purpose of self-defense.

In his op-ed, Stevens, who dissented in the 5-4 decision, wrote that the ruling gave the National Rifle Association “a propaganda weapon of immense power.”

He added: “Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the NRA’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.”

So, what would the process of repealing the Second Amendment actually look like?

For starters, it would require the ratification of another amendment. This isn’t an easy step, but it’s been done before: After the U.S. prohibited alcohol sales in the 18th Amendment, the country later repealed the controversial amendment about a decade and a half later, with the 21st amendment.

There are two pathways for proposing another amendment. In the first scenario, Congress proposes an amendment with a two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate.

The other option is for two-thirds of state legislatures — that’s 34 states — to call a constitutional convention. In both scenarios, three-fourths of the states — 38 states — would have to give their stamp of approval to ratify the proposed amendment.

So far, however, none of the 27 amendments to the Constitution have come out of the constitutional convention process. And remember in its 223-year lifespan, the Constitution has been amended only 27 times. The last amendment, concerning U.S. legislators’ salaries, was ratified in 1992.

What’s next?

The social media reaction to Stevens’ suggestion was swift.

Some scholars noted that Stevens’ op-ed could be counterproductive to legislative efforts to regulate guns, which would have broader public support than repealing the Second Amendment. While only about a fifth of Americans support repealing the Second Amendment, according to a February Economist/YouGov poll, about 60 percent of those polled said they favored stricter gun laws.

“To frame it as we can only have gun regulations if we repeal the #2Amendment” is not only wrong as a matter of constitutional text & history but also sets the movement up for failure,” the legal expert Elizabeth Wydra tweeted.
 
Josh Chafetz, a professor at Cornell Law School, said that Democrats could focus their energy instead on winning back the White House and Senate. Then, they could “appoint judges who share Stevens’s views and who will therefore narrow and eventually overturn Heller,” Chafetz wrote in a tweet. .

In a statement Tuesday, NRA Executive Director Chris Cox called Stevens’ proposal a “radical idea.”

Stevens’ arguments is evidence that “the gun-control lobby is no longer distancing themselves from the radical idea of repealing the Second Amendment and banning all firearms,” Cox said.

Wednesday

Jimmy Carter calls Donald Trump’s decision to appoint John Bolton his ‘worst mistake’



Former President Jimmy Carter criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to appoint John Bolton as his national security adviser, telling the PBS NewsHour in an interview Monday that it was Mr. Trump’s “worst mistake” since taking office.

Bolton, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, “has been very eager to go to war with different people including North Korea and Iran,” Mr. Carter told NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff.

Trump announced last week that Bolton would take over for national security adviser H.R. McMaster in April. The shakeup followed Trump’s decision earlier this month to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo must be confirmed by the Senate to lead the State Department; Bolton’s appointment does not require Senate confirmation. Trump’s nomination to replace Pompeo, Gina Haspel, will also requires Senate confirmation. The deputy CIA director, a 30-year veteran of the agency, will likely be questioned during her hearings for her role in enhanced interrogation techniques and destroying tapes of those tactics.

Democrats have warned that Bolton and Pompeo’s ascension marks a sharp turn to the right in U.S. foreign policy. Carter joined the chorus of critics, saying that he was skeptical the U.S. could convince North Korea to give up its nuclear program with Bolton in a top White House post. “I just have very little confidence in him,” Carter said of Bolton.

Carter said he believed the U.S. was on a path to “nuclear confrontation” with North Korea, and warned that Trump “doesn’t realize the threat that he faces” if the two nations go to war. Carter added that “the North Korean issue may be the most difficult we face at this point.”

Trump agreed earlier this month to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un sometime in May, though a date has not officially been set. Carter said he offered to help Trump resolve the issue, including flying to North Korea to help broker an agreement. The former president said he has been briefed on North Korea by Trump administration officials but didn’t say if his offer had been accepted.

Carter, who is now 93, has remained active on the world stage and met with foreign leaders since leaving the White House in 1981. He visited North Korea in 2011 as part of an effort to calm tensions between North and South Korea. The former president also visited in 1994 and 2010.

Tuesday

Three thoughts about the meaning of John Bolton

It's all on the foreign policy hawks now.






The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts did not have a positive initial reaction to the news that President Trump would name John Bolton to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser.
One of the advantages of having a couple of days to mull over the news is to read the takes of other, really smart people on Bolton’s new job.
Now that I have digested the news, I have three thoughts:
1) Bolton will be the most powerful national security adviser Trump has had. There are conflicting accounts of how Bolton will run the National Security Council. The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe reports that Bolton sees himself more in the Henry Kissinger imperialist mode of running the NSC. On the other hand, Axios’s Jonathan Swan suggests that Bolton will play a more restrained honest broker role: “Bolton has always admired the way Brent Scowcroft handled the interagency process during the Bush 41 Administration.”
As I’ll suggest below, this is a distinction without a difference. What really matters is that Bolton will have tremendous power over Trump’s foreign policy for three reasons. First, Trump does not know a lot about foreign policy. He’s a year into the job, and he hasn’t budged an inch down the learning curve. As Elizabeth Saunders has noted, unprepared presidents automatically give greater latitude to their subordinates.

Second, Bolton knows far more about the policymaking process than either Michael T. Flynn or McMaster. As someone who possesses genuine foreign affairs experience and has a reputation for being a bureaucratic street fighter, Bolton will be a better bureaucratic player than either of his predecessors.

Third, by the standards of the traditional NSC-State rivalry, the State Department is severely weakened. Foggy Bottom is hemorrhaging senior staff and in leadership limbo until Mike Pompeo is confirmed. Unless Bolton burns to the ground the staff he inherits (an admitted possibility) he has a serious home-field advantage.

2) It’s all on the hawks now. The idea that Bolton will act as an honest broker implies that there will be divergent points of view within the national security team. The White House turnover of the past month has homogenized its foreign policy perspectives, however. Gary Cohn is gone, and his replacement is a non-factor on foreign policy questions. Mike Pompeo is much more of a hawk than Rex Tillerson. Bolton is way more hawkish than McMaster. Jim Mattis is the most dovish member of this foreign policy team, and this is a guy who was sidelined by the Obama administration for being too hawkish on Iran.

For foreign policy hawks, this will be the best of times and the worst of times. It will be the best of times because they are running the entire foreign policy show now. There is no bureaucratic constraint, no countervailing faction, no informed president to block their moves. They have no more impediments. For decades, they have fantasized about the right ways to take out Iran, defang North Korea and checkmate China. Trump has given them the keys to the kingdom.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that none of these problems is easy. If the hawks worsen the situation, they will have no one to blame but themselves. Of course, they will blame their predecessors anyway, but you get my meaning.

3) Maybe, just maybe, Trump has found a way to signal resolve. To put it bluntly, Trump has developed a reputation for being a man of hollow words and feeble actions. This month, he blustered a ton about applying steel and aluminum tariffs widely, and then backed down and exempted an awful lot of countries with no evidence of any real concessions on their part. This past Friday, Trump threatened to veto the omnibus spending bill and shut down the government and then did no such thing. No one should take anything this White House says at face value.

If Trump’s words don’t matter, that’s a problem for his foreign policy. How can he communicate resolve on the global stage? One way is to hire new people with known brands, and the one thing Bolton has is a brand. It’s a somewhat toxic brand that renders him Senate-unconfirmable. It’s possible that he’ll run into security clearance issues. But while he’s around, he sends a clearer signal than Trump’s chicken-hawk rhetoric. As Matt Fay notes, “After this appointment, anyone who thought Donald Trump was the ‘dove’ in the 2016 election should have his or her pundit and/or analyst card revoked.”

I am under no illusions that Trump intended to do this as a way of signaling resolve. He does not possess that forethought. But that does not mean the signal hasn’t been sent. I am pessimistic that this will lead to better coercive bargaining in the near future. But at least we will all see whether this is true. Because — remember — it’s all on the hawks now.

I fear that my initial reaction will be proved correct. But I hope that I am wrong.