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Columnists
CAL THOMAS: Bill and Hillary Clinton: Political Houdinis

How do they do it? I am not the first to compare the Clintons to Harry Houdini, the great magician and escape artist, but Bill and Hillary make him look like a rank amateur.

No law seems to touch them. No regulation seems to control them. No prosecutor wants to take the risk of holding either Clinton accountable for anything. OK, Bill was impeached by a Republican House, but not convicted in the Senate.

The latest escape for Hillary involves former FBI Director James Comey and the law governing classified materials. The Hill newspaper's John Solomon has obtained an early draft of Comey's statement about Hillary's mishandling of classified documents on her email account.

Initially, Comey was going to charge her with being "grossly negligent," a violation of the law which subjects one to prison and fines. In his public statement that sounded like an indictment, Comey changed his description of her actions to "extremely careless," a distinction without a difference, but which he said was not an indictable offense because she didn't intend to violate the law.

About Comey's rationale for changing the words in his draft memo, the public does not yet know, but Comey testified before a Senate committee that it made him "mildly nauseous" when he considered the FBI's impact on the election.

Gregg Jarrett, an attorney who frequently offers legal opinions on the Fox News Channel, has been keeping track of Hillary Clinton's skirting of the laws and escapes from its penalties.

Here is his account of only a few recent examples of what might be a twist on the song "I Fought the Law (And the Law Won)." In her case, Hillary fought the law and bested it.

Speaking about a deal that allegedly allowed for the sale of some U.S. uranium to the Russians via a Canadian, who heavily contributed to Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, then receiving $500,000 for a speech in Moscow (a sale some other commentators say didn't occur), Jarrett says, "... it's a crime to use a public office to confer a benefit to a foreign government in exchange for money ... it can be prosecuted under a variety of anti-corruption laws passed by Congress, including the federal bribery statute (18 USC 201-b), the federal gratuity statute (18 USC 201-c), the mail fraud statute (18 USC 1341), the wire fraud statute (18 USC 1343), the program bribery statute (18 USC 666) and the Travel Act (18 USC 1952)."

As for the anti-Trump Russian dossier, which a Republican operative initially paid for and Democrats, including those associated with the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee took over and continued to pay for, Jarrett says it's a violation of federal law to pay foreign nationals to impact a U.S. political campaign (52 USC 30121), and it's also a violation to file a false or misleading campaign report (52 USC 30101). He said it appears the Clinton campaign did just that by financing the dossier through a series of middlemen.

"I've been hearing Democrats say, 'Oh, those are just civil penalties,'" says Jarrett. "They are not. The government produces a book -- it's 319 pages -- outlining the federal election laws and all those who have been criminally prosecuted and ended up in prison."

How does Hillary Clinton get away with it? Jarrett says: "The Clintons are escape artists that would make Houdini proud. Whenever they are caught dangling their feet over the edge of illegality, they usually dummy up."

He pointed out that when Hillary Clinton spoke with FBI investigators about her private email server last year, she said, "I cannot recall" 39 times.

If the Justice Department refuses to appoint a special counsel to hold Hillary accountable under the laws the rest of us can't escape, and if Robert Mueller won't do it, then Congress should continue with its own investigations.

We often hear "no one is above the law." That has never applied to the Clintons.


Columnists
LEONARD PITTS, JR.: Why we we as nation accept mass shootings?

I hate mass shootings.

Everybody hates them, of course: innocent death, fathers, fiances, best friends, and sons snatched violently away, sudden carnage crashing ordinary days. But I hate them for an additional reason.

When things like this happen, you see, it's my job to have something to say. And I've got nothing. More accurately, I've got nothing left that I haven't already said.

Shall I parse the killer's motivations? I did that after Columbine.

Shall I praise heroism in the midst of massacre? I did that after Aurora.

Shall I call out the evil in this world? I did that after Virginia Tech.

Shall I demand a re-examination of our gun laws? I did that after Umpqua Community College.

And it's a mark of how often this sort of thing happens, how routine it has become, that you probably don't even remember Umpqua. Or Isla Vista.

So no, I've got nothing -- and even that is something I've said before.

The need to have something is, as you doubtless know, occasioned by our latest atrocity: 26 people shot dead in a rural church near San Antonio. Half of the victims reportedly were children, including a toddler 18 months old. The 26-year-old killer, reportedly motivated by a domestic dispute, shot babies point blank, according to an eyewitness.

Yet even at that wretched extreme, the whole thing feels routine, just another Sunday in America. Which leaves me with nothing. Except a question:

Why are we OK with this?

Not you and me as individuals, perhaps. But America, as a corporate body? It seems ever more obvious that for all the lip service we pay to "thoughts and prayers," for all the candles we light and tears we weep, this is a thing we accept. As opposed to Islamic terror, which we don't. You can read the distinction starkly in Donald Trump's tweets.

After a Muslim shot up a nightclub in Orlando, the then-candidate decried our lack of toughness and demanded a ban on Muslim travel.

After a non-Muslim killed nearly 60 people in Las Vegas and wounded over 500 more, he said the killer's "wires were crossed pretty badly in his brain."

After a Muslim killed eight people in New York City, he mused about sending him to Gitmo and demanded the "DEATH PENALTY."

After Sunday's murders by a non-Muslim, he promised to stand with the people of Sutherland Springs.

It's not that Trump won't condemn a non-Muslim killer, but that he saves his greatest energy and outrage for the killer who claims to worship Islam, even though the former is the far deadlier threat.

And though Trump is often an outlier, his moral inconsistency here seems to reflect America's own. Do you think that if the Texas killer had had an exotic name or begun his attack with a cry of "Allahu Akbar!" our responses would be limited to thoughts and prayers and lawmakers would be content to mouth impotent pieties?

As a wag named Michael Skolnik pointed out on Twitter, "One shoe bomber tried to blow up a plane and now we take off our shoes." When the killer is not a Muslim, though, we treat the killing like rain, a natural vexation we lament but also accept because, what are you going to do?

But this is not rain, just a different kind of murder. Why are we OK with it?

The answer is obvious, but until we can bring ourselves to face it, we will be ill equipped to find ways of preventing tragedies like this. They will come again and again and again and again and again, numbing repetitive carnage. It will never end.

Not until it stops being OK.


OTHER VOICES: All options must be on table to combat shortfall

Another revenue projection, another downward revision of tax revenues.

With the Nebraska Legislature needing to close a $195 million gap this year, taxes and spending will again take center stage at the Capitol.

The outcome is ultimately up to the 49 men and women in the chamber when they reconvene in January. But for any senator to say any option is entirely off the table would be shortsighted, given the prolonged problems faced by the state, most notably in its largest industry, agriculture.

Right now, the open-mindedness being expressed by Gov. Pete Ricketts and the Legislature is encouraging. The governor said he’s “willing to discuss different ideas” floated by senators – a promise that he must keep in 2018 and that must be reciprocated by legislators.

However, this dedication by lawmakers to a common cause must continue long beyond the immediate aftermath of this latest forecast, without devolving into the acrimony that can result from the butting of heads during a stressful legislative session, as was seen in the spring.

This year’s long session was dominated by sometimes heated discussion of plans for various tax cuts. Tax reform, in particular, is long overdue for Nebraska. But the urban-rural split reared its head during debate on proposals regarding income tax vs. property tax reductions – and neither passed.

It’s also worth considering that Nebraska may have a revenue problem, rather than a spending problem. Various groups have targeted for removal a variety of incentives, credits and exemptions – both in state code and the tax structure – they argue would help the state bring in more money to fund essential government operations. Some, however, view those as an intolerable tax increase.

Large spending cuts to a variety of state agencies, including the University of Nebraska system, also drew loud criticism from several legislators. But, a government can’t cut its way to prosperity. Many expenditures need to be viewed as long-term investments – including, for example, education, child welfare and prisons – in the positive future of Nebraska.

To paraphrase Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. John Stinner: Short-term gain must come with as minimal of long-term pain as possible.

The work of the Legislature will not be easy this year, particularly for those who sit on Appropriations. Trimming $195 million from an $8.9 billion budget represents just slightly more than 2 percent of the state budget. But years of restraining spending and cuts some agencies felt hit the bone mean that further reductions or the elimination of some incentives will no doubt be met with resistance.

Despite this, for the good of all Nebraskans, these early indications of accord must carry over into the difficult work of balancing the budget in 2018.