Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a young political candidate who thought people would praise his transparency if he released 20 years’ worth of income tax returns, going all the way back to when he was first married. Alas, nobody gave him credit for his honesty or charitable giving. The only people who cared were his political opponents, who poured over his forms, hunting for any obscure item they could wrench out of context and turn into attack ads. The unsurprising twist: that young candidate was me. And the moral I learned was: “Never help somebody load a gun when it’s pointed at your own head. It’s not going to end well.”
Donald Trump is the latest candidate to be pressured to release his income tax forms. My Reaganesque advice to him: “Just say no!” Some have tried to interpret that as me favoring Trump, but I’ve given this same advice to candidates for years: Don’t release your personal tax forms. Trump, like every other candidate, is required by law to release detailed financial information. It must be signed under oath to verify that it’s accurate on penalty of perjury. Trump has done that, and it’s available for all to see.
Personally, I think that’s better than income tax returns. We all know how complicated tax forms are, particularly for someone like Trump. No average human can comprehend them; that’s why we have to pay experts to do our taxes. Do you really think some junior reporter at the Washington Post will understand Trump’s voluminous tax forms? If he did, he’d be a seven-figure CPA.
I was disappointed to see Mitt Romney suggest that Trump might be hiding something in his tax returns. That’s the same kind of baseless innuendo that Harry Reid aimed at Romney in 2012. If Trump becomes the nominee, he’ll likely release his tax forms. But for now, he’s complied with federal disclosure laws, and his personal tax forms are nobody’s business but his own.
I know the argument: if he doesn’t release them, the media will beat him up. News flash: if he does release them, no matter what’s in them, the media will still find some reason to beat him up. I learned from bitter experience: when you’re a Republican, even if you’ve got nothing to hide, the media and your political opponents will find something anyway. Why make their job easier?
When I was growing up, the FBI was personified by Efrem Zimbalist Jr., and the Highway Patrol by Broderick Crawford.
The G Men and the State Troopers were there to keep us safe from bank robbers and people who would commit carnage on our nation’s highways.
And no little boy in the 50s and 60s would ever think anything different.
We trusted them, and we believed they were the good guys because, for the most part, they were.
They have lost that luster in many cases, and much of what has happened is reflected in the FBI’s ongoing attempt to force Apple to write an entirely new piece of software to hack one of its iPhones, ostensibly to “help” them in the investigation of a now dead terrorist.
It all gets down to who you trust, and frankly, it is an interesting juxtaposition to see Donald Trump complaining about Apple’s actions in this case when his candidacy has been boosted and supported by many of the people who no longer trust the Federal Government to do the right thing. And, as smart as I believe Trump is, he’s being badly misinformed in this case.
Back when I was growing up, it took some research if you wanted to commit a federal crime. There were maybe a few thousand violations of the law which would possibly qualify for the FBI’s attention. Robbing a federally insured bank was a mainstay. So was kidnapping across state lines.
Today, because some clown in Congress is always crying, “There ought to be a law!” there are nearly 5,000 acts for which the FBI can investigate and arrest you. If you mistakenly import wood from a country on Barack Obama’s list, as did the Gibson Guitar Company, you can be a target as they were.
So, before we get all high and mighty about Apple’s “duty” to assist the FBI, let’s put this question in a different form.
Sure, we want to make the world safe from terrorism.
But what if the FBI was—two years after the fact—investigating Cliven Bundy and his guests who made the Bureau of Land Management stand down in 2014? And what if they wanted to hack THEIR iPhones to get evidence against them? (Was the FBI carrying Harry Reid’s water there?)
Or…what if you told your bank a fib on your last Mastercard application and that application only existed and was encrypted in YOUR iPhone? (Yes, you can go to prison for that.)
In point of fact, the FBI can lie to you all day long with no legal consequence; but if you lie to them, you can go to prison. That’s the law. Ask Scooter Libby.
Now do you see the problem?
And that’s only one of a number of problems.
The second problem here is that what this little Federal Magistrate in California has ordered Apple to do is to write a piece of software which doesn’t exist.
Writing software is like writing this column. Could that Magistrate order me to write a column? I think not.
The third problem is that once that software is written, the genie is out of the bottle.
Which returns us to the issue of who do you trust.
This is, after all, the same FBI which orchestrated the killing of one Lavoy Finicum recently in Oregon by the Oregon Highway Patrol. He was killed because he did not comply with the “commands” of law enforcement.
These folks are not Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Broderick Crawford. Do you really want to give them the right to shoot you dead for not obeying their “commands” AND the right to peer into your most private information which you carry with you every day?
Truth be told, I carry an aging iPhone 5, and I had not password-protected it.
Until I discovered that the FBI couldn’t crack Apple’s encryption software.
Now, I’m much more impressed with my iPhone than I used to be..
But, if Apple caves, I’ll find a new phone which is manufactured by a company which won’t.
At what point during his administration does a duck become lame?
While meeting in the Oval Office Wednesday for a photo op with Jordan’s King Abdullah, President Obama addressed that issue by taking a question concerning the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice before he leaves office. He spent nine luxurious minutes answering, taking yet another opportunity to lecture us at length on the Constitution and show us how he stands up for it every time that doing so will suit his political purposes. Lame duck or no, there was more quacking going on than in any given chapter of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
In true Alinsky-like form, Obama pointed his finger squarely at Republicans for causing further deterioration in his ability to make judicial appointments. It’s all their fault that such appointments become “simply an extension of our polarized politics.” He then tied this to the loss of credibility of the Court itself.
Who knew that “GOP” really stands for “Grand Old Polarizers”? As if the most polarizing President in history — I’d be happy to make that case — had nothing to do with this political reality.
Without mentioning it specifically (a smart move), he alluded to Joe Biden’s message to then-President George H. W. Bush in 1992, etched into history on videotape, that a nominee should not be put forward during an active Presidential campaign. Biden made it clear that the Senate Judiciary Committee “should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings until after the political season is over.” Of course, he anticipated criticism over such a move — the accusation that they were just trying to “save a seat” for the Democrats. “But that would not be our intention,” he insisted.
I’ll pause for a moment while you double over laughing and dab your crying eyes.
Sometimes in our political discourse, there’s an irony so rich, a humor so intense, that it actually brings a bit of entertainment value to the passing parade of idiocy and frustration. But Obama knows good and well that this is much more than a show or a political game. He knows everything that’s at stake in his waning months in office, and he’ll pound like mad to carve his ideology into stone before heading off to his Hawaiian lair. Regardless of tradition, or the Constitution, or how the American people want to live their lives, the duck is lame when he says it is. As for Biden’s words from 1992, Obama had this to say:
“Senators say stuff all the time.”
So do lame duck Presidents, but that doesn’t mean we have to act on it.