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Doubts about Biden’s mental acuity aren’t the only reason to limit prez’s nuke power

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Doubts about Biden’s mental acuity aren’t the only reason to limit prez’s nuke power

Should it be harder for presidents to push the nuclear button? That’s what some lawmakers are asking, with three dozen congressional Democrats recently urging President Biden to give up his sole authority. Although that has led to cruel jokes about the new commander-in-chief’s mental prowess, it’s actually a pretty good question.

Since the dawn of the Cold War, the United States has held itself ready to respond to a massive nuclear attack from an adversary — the Soviet Union originally, now Russia or China — by launching its own missiles and bombers while the attacking missiles were still in flight, a strategy known as “Launch on Warning.”

The advantage of launching before enemy missiles had even landed was that it made it impossible for an enemy to wipe out our missiles on the ground, ensuring that a retaliatory strike would get through. That being the case, no sane enemy — or even very many crazy enemies — would bother to attack at all.

The disadvantages of this approach are twofold. First, there is the danger of a false alarm. In fact, the Cold War era saw several false alarms on both the American and the Soviet sides, which blessedly didn’t trigger an accidental war but which raised that terrifying prospect.

There is a second problem. In theory, an incoming nuclear strike would lead to the president and several other senior officials being called together on a conference call to decide what to do. In this missile-threat conference, the president would be briefed, presented with options and asked to make a decision. The problem is that with a total of about 20 minutes to work with in responding to an incoming nuclear attack, there isn’t really much time to talk or think.

Maybe that’s the best we can do facing a massive incoming nuclear strike. But while that was the big fear of the Cold War days, any incoming nuclear strikes today are likely to come from rogue nations like North Korea and Iran. They may inflict devastation on their targets, but they’re likely to come in the form of a handful of missiles — or, more likely, weapons smuggled on board freighters or civilian jets. There is no danger of such a strike destroying the United States’ ability to retaliate.

Then there’s the question of an attack launched by, not at, the United States. In theory, the president has the nuclear codes and could launch a massive nuclear strike on a whim. That’s why the Democratic lawmakers, headed by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), want to change the rules so a president launching a first strike would have to consult with other officials first. 

They recommend requiring the president to consult with other officials, such as the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives, neither of whom can be fired by the president, before launching a nuclear first strike.

It isn’t a bad idea, and I encourage these members not to simply write a letter, but to step up and introduce legislation. The US Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war. It also grants the legislative branch the power to “make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces,” and, of course, to “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper” not only for carrying out Congress’ powers, but “all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States or in any department or officer thereof.”

Congress tried, with limited effect, to curb a president’s commitment of troops abroad through the 1973 War Powers Act. That act foundered to a degree on presidents’ willingness to evade its provisions, and on Congress’ unwillingness to assert its prerogatives. But a nuclear first strike on another nation is a whole ’nother kettle of fish, and it seems doubtful that a president would set out to evade a law governing such an attack; indeed, any effort to do so would set off alarm bells within the military leadership.

For longer than I have been alive, the United States has let a single person control the nuclear trigger. Maybe it’s time that changed.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the InstaPundit.com blog.

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Opinion

Letters to the Editor — June 12, 2021

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Letters to the Editor — June 12, 2021

The Issue: A teen gang member who allegedly shot a young father while released on reduced bail.

How many people have to die for these idiot judges to realize that “leniency” doesn’t turn violent, recidivist criminals into good citizens (“Free to kill,” June 10)?

If anything, it encourages their psychopathy and teaches them that there is essentially no punishment at all for their violent acts.

Innocent and good people get hurt because judges like acting Criminal Court judge Denis Boyle try more to show just how liberal they can be.

If anything, these judges are even more guilty than the perpetrators they treat with kid gloves, because they should know better.

Thanks to jerks like this judge, our lives become that much more endangered — all in the name of deadly, blind and inexplicably stupid “liberalism.”

Norman Gold

West Hempstead

I don’t think I’ve ever been so emotional while submitting a letter to The Post.

I’m filled with both rage and sadness while looking at the photos of a defiant reputed punk gangmember, a clueless judge and a grieving family.

Would Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Maya Wiley suggest group therapy in lieu of incarceration for Alberto Ramirez?

T. King

Manhattan

Judge Boyle reminds me of the hand-wringing, breast-beating progressive jurists who contributed enormously to the decline of New York City in the 1960s and 1970s with their revolving-door sense of justice.

I guess Judge “Cut ’Em Loose” Bruce Wright was Boyle’s inspiration. It is evident that Boyle, like all too many other New York jurists past and present, regards criminals as the true victims of a racist society, which is entirely to blame for their behavior.

Now a law-abiding minority father of two is dead, apparently thanks to Boyle’s decision to dramatically lower bail on this clearly violent and dangerous gunslinger.

It is doubtful that a liberal ideologue like Boyle will lose any sleep over this, any more than he lost sleep over the various victims of other miscreants that he let loose on the citizenry of this city over the objections of prosecutors.

Dennis Middlebrooks

Brooklyn

Judges are supposed to possess a lot of wisdom, so why does Judge Boyle seem to have less wisdom than a wisdom tooth?

Two months after Alberto Ramirez was arrested for an October shooting, he was re-arrested for another gun crime.

Yet after his bail was set to only $2,000, Boyle set him free with no bail. After a third gun arrest in February, Ramirez was again locked up — until Boyle lowered his $75,000 bail to $10,000, thus enabling Ramirez to be free to allegedly shoot Eric Velasquez to death on May 16.

That’s not surprising, since Judge Boyle had previously released manslaughter-charged Jordan Benjamin so that he was free to slash a young woman across her abdomen (and yet be re-released on $3,500 bail).

I daresay that Boyle’s public-be-damned judicial decisions make him somewhat akin to a boil on the backside of justice.

Richard Siegelman

Plainview

It would be interesting and enlightening if a question was posed to mayoral and district attorney candidates regarding the cover subject “Free to Kill” in the June 10 paper.

How do candidates feel about Alberto Ramirez being freed with his prior arrests and then allegedly randomly killing Eric Velasquez? How would each of them address the issue of the shooter being freed numerous times?

This isn’t about police, this question is about policy regarding imprisonment, bail, safety and how they want to run New York City.

Peter Wunsch

East Hampton

Judge Boyle has blood on his hands.

He has repeatedly set free thugs who go on to hurt innocent people.

RIP, Eric Velasquez.

Laura Whitley

Garden City

Want to weigh in on today’s stories? Send your thoughts (along with your full name and city of residence) to [email protected]. Letters are subject to editing for clarity, length, accuracy and style.

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Opinion

An illegal and fake hit job on wealthy US taxpayers

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An illegal and fake hit job on wealthy US taxpayers

ProPublica obtained the tax returns of the richest Americans and discovered what every informed person already knew: They don’t pay as much in income taxes as some people would like them to. This is being called a great scandal by many Democrats and liberal journalists.

Meanwhile, that these returns were almost surely leaked by someone at the IRS seems not to bother a lot of the same people. There’s no way ProPublica got this information from dozens of high-priced accountants and attorneys. Barring the possibility that this was a computer hack — which itself would be a monumental scandal — this is outrageous. Weaponizing the IRS for political purposes is not just a crime; it is a long-term political disaster.

But I want to focus on the fake scandal.

Billionaires often pay little in income taxes, because billionaires don’t typically make their money from a salary. Billionaires exist for the most part because they own assets — stocks, businesses, commodities, property, etc. — and the paper value of those assets amounts to bulk of their wealth. And in America, we do not tax wealth.

Nor should we.

Let’s say you collect baseball cards. On paper, your collection is worth a bundle. But its real value is only realized when you sell it. Do you think the IRS should tax you every year for what your collection could be worth if you sold it? Do you want the IRS to tax you for the value of your wedding ring — not at purchase, but forever — even if you’re never going to sell it?

The same principle applies to other unrealized gains. If your stock portfolio increases in value, you get taxed on your gains when you sell.

ProPublica ignores all this. “We compared how much in taxes the 25 richest Americans paid each year to how much Forbes estimated their wealth grew in that same time period,” they explain. “We’re going to call this their true tax rate.”

Except it’s not a true tax rate.

First, this suggests that the only taxes they’ve paid are income taxes, when in reality they’ve paid a slew of other taxes: capital gains, property, sales, etc. Second, wealth is not income.

About a decade ago, it was a hot talking point on the right to complain that some 47 percent of Americans had no “skin in the game” because they didn’t pay income taxes. This got reduced to a lot of bad rhetoric about “makers and takers.” Liberals (rightly) shot back that the same Americans paid a lot in payroll and other taxes.

Why is conflating “taxation” with “income taxes” wrong for some Americans but speaking truth to power for others?

By the way, according to the Tax Foundation, in 2018 the top 1 percent of American earners paid more in income taxes (40.1 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (28.6 percent).

Also, it’s worth remembering that the tax laws have been written in ways to encourage things such as business investment, economic growth and charitable giving. I’d prefer a flatter, simpler tax code that eliminated a lot of this stuff. But when people complain that the tax code favors corporations and the wealthy, they’re ignoring the fact that it was written to advance all sorts of policies they like.

Want corporations to invest in green energy? Don’t whine when they use tax incentives to do just that. Want billionaires to fund charities or invest in new job-creating businesses? Fine, but then don’t freak out about “loopholes” that allow them to reduce their tax bill. These are features, not bugs.

Of course, reasonable people can argue for changing those features, but that would have costs, too.

The underlying premise of the people complaining the loudest about all of this is inherently unreasonable. For instance, politicians like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren often claim that if billionaires and millionaires simply ponied up a fraction of their wealth, we could have socialized medicine and a Green New Deal.

No, we couldn’t. You could confiscate all of the wealth of the top 1 percent — seize their bank accounts and stock portfolios, kick them out of their homes, sell all their stuff at auction — and it wouldn’t come close to paying for it all.

But let’s pretend it would work. What next? Everyone tries to minimize their tax burdens. Eliminate the incentives for people to get rich, or to invest, or to hire, and — ta-dah! — people will stop doing those things. Maybe not all of them. But enough of them to make us all poorer.

 Twitter: @JonahDispatch

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Opinion

Democrats’ disastrous ‘voting rights’ bill is a non-solution to a non-crisis

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Democrats’ disastrous ‘voting rights’ bill is a non-solution to a non-crisis

H.R. 1 has achieved sacrosanct status on the center-left, such that the nation’s democratic future is said to depend on it. If so, it is time to weep for the republic.

H.R. 1 (S. 1 in the Senate), which is known as a voting bill but wanders into all sorts of other areas, is objectively terrible legislation.

It is unfocused, high-handed in its impositions on the states, careless of speech rights and constitutionally dubious. Absent some radical turnabout, the bill is dead in the Senate, and it deserves to be.

The core of the bill forces every state to adopt automatic voter registration, same-day registration, no-excuse absentee balloting and early in-person voting, among other mandates.

The case that the bill will save democracy depends on the myth that voters are being turned aside in droves by onerous restrictions in the states — even though turnout in last year’s presidential election was the highest since 1900.

States like Georgia have tightened up their rules since that election, in part in reaction to Donald Trump’s ongoing campaign of disinformation, but these provisions are in many cases improvements and certainly don’t constitute Jim Crow 2.0.

In short, H.R. 1 is a non-solution to a non-crisis.

Even if you believe that, for instance, same-day registration is the preferable policy, it’s not remotely plausible that is the difference between democracy and authoritarianism in America. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 20 states and Washington, DC, have same-day registration, and yet we’ve still had free and fair elections, including in those states — among them, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Oregon — without it.

There’s also no reason to wipe out every voter-ID law in America, when research shows that even strict ID laws have had no effect on turnout.

So long as they aren’t actually disenfranchising people (which none is), states should be able to adopt the mix of voting rules that their democratically elected officeholders deem appropriate and that suit their particular political cultures.

If the goal is to increase confidence in the electoral system, by the way, having a narrow partisan majority in Congress make it harder for states to maintain clean, up-to-date voter rolls (as H.R. 1 does) at the same time it wipes out ID requirements is not the way to do it.

Then there are all the other provisions. Do we really need Congress, in its wisdom, to write an ethics code for the Supreme Court? What’s the urgency to adopt public financing of congressional elections and make taxpayers fund political candidates they oppose? Why does the composition of the Federal Election Commission need to change to make it less bipartisan?

H.R. 1 is a free-speech disaster.

As Bradley Smith, a former chair of the FEC explains, to this point, the definition of electioneering in election law has taken care to provide wide latitude for general policy advocacy. H.R. 1 broadens the definition to treat more ads as election expenditures, crimping the ability of groups to criticize elected officials.

The bill would also make more organizations disclose their donors, opening them up to intimidation.

Walter Olson of the Cato Institute has catalogued the constitutional problems with H.R. 1:

  • Congress has the authority under the Constitution to determine the “time, places and manner” of congressional elections, but less power over presidential elections, which H.R. 1 seeks to micro-manage anyway.
  • The mandate that all states form election commissions to determine redistricting is constitutionally vulnerable as federal overreach.
  • The stipulation that presidential candidates release their tax returns might be impermissible as a qualification on candidates beyond what’s in the Constitution.
  • The speech restrictions and disclosure requirements could well run afoul of the First Amendment.

Unless Joe Manchin has a sudden change of heart, H.R. 1 is heading to the legislative dustbin. Good riddance.

Twitter: @RichLowry

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