Tuesday toon

The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday, Sept. 9:

The sight of 12 Cleveland Browns football players kneeling in a prayer circle during the national anthem before an exhibition game last month did not sit well with many in the national television audience.

Some veterans took it as an insult. Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, a Vietnam War veteran and longtime Browns fan, said he is done cheering for Cleveland: “I will NEVER attend a sporting event where the draft-dodging millionaire athletes disrespect the veterans who earned them the right to be on that field,” Justice O’Neill said on Facebook.

The heated emotions are understandable. But the players have the right to engage in protest. Justice O’Neill should understand that better than anyone. It is disappointing when a jurist criticizes the exercise of a fundamental American right.

As for players, they should also know that sometimes free speech has consequences. Colin Kaepernick was the first NFL player to protest during the national anthem. In 2016, as a player for the San Francisco 49ers, he began sitting during the national anthem to bring attention to racial inequality. He became a free agent and has yet to be signed by another team.

Left and right in America both have forgotten that freedom of speech is hollow if it is never uncomfortable. Athletes have a right to make the unpopular choice of protesting during the national anthem. Jurists should uphold the right to dissent.

Quick action on relief itself a relief

The following editorial appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune on Saturday, Sept. 9:

Congress’ quick agreement on a bill providing $15.25 billion in aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey — which was promptly signed into law by President Donald Trump — is a welcome sign that dysfunction in Washington isn’t going to get in the way of helping the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been turned upside-down by the giant storm.

Early last week, a relief measure seemed likely to get caught up in never-ending fights over raising the government debt ceiling and approving a short-term federal budget. Many Republicans objected to Democrats using the needs of Harvey’s victims to win concessions on these issues, but when the tactic didn’t faze Trump, the path was clear for quick action. The Senate passed the relief measure with a 80-17 vote on Thursday and the House followed suit on a 316-90 vote Friday. Congress should be poised to provide similar relief if Hurricane Irma is as hard on Florida as many fear.

Meanwhile, private fundraising to help Hurricane Harvey’s victims continues. On Friday, all five living former presidents — Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — released a video asking for Americans to help all they can. Houston Texans star J.J. Watts’ Houston Flood Relief Fund was at $29.6 million and counting Friday afternoon. The American Red Cross and many other groups are also collecting donations.

This shows America at its finest. Our nation has many problems and many critics. But as reflected in the response to Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, we remain resilient, compassionate and eager to help those in need.

Will Trump’s deal with Democrats end gridlock?

The following editorial appeared in the Star Tribune on Saturday, Sept. 9:

The idea that Donald Trump would barrel into Washington, D.C., and get things done was a key reason many voters cast their ballots for him in the 2016 presidential election. Last week, President Trump delivered on that promise, in a way his political party may not have appreciated but the rest of America should.

On Wednesday, Trump reached an important deal at an important time with congressional leadership. To his credit, he recognized that a country dealing with one, possibly two major hurricane disasters didn’t need a political fight over raising the debt ceiling or run the risk of economic fallout from failing to do so. So the president made a get-it-done decision to work with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, fund the government and provide Hurricane Harvey relief.

The short-term deal avoids the unnecessary drama of a midnight vote as deadlines for taking care of this vital agenda loom by the end of month. The agreement also avoids unnecessarily rattling the markets and gives Congress breathing room until mid-December to reach consensus on thoughtful, longer-term solutions on government spending and the debt ceiling. The measure easily passed the Senate and House with support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Trump should sign the legislation with a flourish and shrug off carping by some Republicans that he’d worked with the opposition party. This is what demolishing gridlock looks like. Polls show that Americans value bipartisanship, and Trump’s pragmatism in rounding up necessary votes when his own party can’t deliver them merits thanks, not complaints.

Trump should also build on this momentum to pass a permanent solution warding off future congressional stalemates — scrapping the debt ceiling. The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump had reached a “gentleman’s agreement” with Democratic leaders to work on this. Republicans ought to sign on, too.

Misunderstandings about the debt ceiling have fueled detestable brinkmanship in Congress for years. Some mistakenly believe that not raising it reins in spending. But lifting it actually ensures that the nation can pay its bills for spending Congress has already approved — decisions that lawmakers knew at the time would involve borrowing to meet budget needs. Defaulting on the nation’s debt is simply reckless and ill-informed grandstanding.

Throughout much of congressional history, lawmakers have understood that and have voted routinely to raise the debt ceiling. That began changing in the early part of this decade, when GOP lawmakers wanted to attach spending cuts that they couldn’t get passed through traditional means. In 2011, rancor over raising the debt ceiling caused Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. debt rating for the first time.

The fact that hurricane relief aid was tied into the debt ceiling debate this month suggests that dubious demands will continue into the future from both parties. Trump should codify the “gentleman’s agreement” and claim credit for finally blowing up an irresponsible source of gridlock.

Mueller finds alarming signs of worse to come

The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Tuesday, Sept. 5:

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Donald Trump presidential campaign and agents of the Russian government has been remarkably discreet, as it should be. But other sources have leaked three names — Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and Eric Schneiderman — that indicate that Mueller’s team is probing very deeply. If there’s a smoking gun to be found, Mueller is getting closer to it.

Cohen is Trump’s longtime lawyer and executive vice president of the Trump Organization. Sater is a childhood friend of Cohen, a former business associate of Trump, and a onetime government informant with ties to all manner of unsavory people, including Russian oligarchs. Schneiderman, at the opposite end of the probity scale, is New York state’s attorney general.

Cohen and Sater are making big blips on Mueller’s radar screen, as well as those of congressional committees looking into possible election collusion. Last week, The New York Times reported that Cohen had written an eight-page letter to the House Intelligence Committee vehemently denying allegations that he was a central figure in contacts between the Trump campaign and agents of the Russian government.

The allegations were made in a controversial dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. That dossier identified Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin, as the man in charge of a Kremlin operation to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and promote Trump’s.

In January 2016, six months after Trump announced his candidacy, Cohen emailed Peskov asking for his help getting Russian government approvals for a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow. Peskov never replied. Trump had been fully briefed on the Moscow project, but by January 2016 claimed to have no business dealings with Russia.

Sater is the one who encouraged Cohen to contact Peskov. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in an email to Cohen. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

Sater does have connections in Russia but also has been linked to the Russian mafia, the U.S. mafia, money laundering and al-Qaida. He has served as an informant to the U.S. Justice Department. He also has connections with the Russian oligarchs who helped finance the Trump Soho hotel. Former associates say he met frequently with Donald Trump and traveled with his children.

Schneiderman is reported to be partnering with Mueller’s investigation into contacts that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had with entities tied to Putin. If Trump were to pardon Manafort of federal crimes, Manafort might still face state charges — unless he cuts a deal.

The deeper Mueller digs, the more alarming the possibilities become. Even Americans who don’t care for this president should be worried about the presidency.

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