Quick hits (part I)

1) Mike Pesca’s interview with Clint Watts on Russia was among the most enlightening experts I’ve read/heard on the matter.

2) Really interesting story on how Google has taken over classrooms– and universities in a different way.  I love google’s system at NCSU.  I have an @ncsu.edu account that’s actually gmail and unlimited Google drive space.  It all works great for me.  Interesting issues in K-12, though.

Mr. Casap, the Google education evangelist, likes to recount Google’s emergence as an education powerhouse as a story of lucky coincidences. The first occurred in 2006 when the company hired him to develop new business at its office on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe.

Mr. Casap quickly persuaded university officials to scrap their costly internal email service (an unusual move at the time) and replace it with a free version of the Gmail-and-Docs package that Google had been selling to companies. In one semester, the vast majority of the university’s approximately 65,000 students signed up.

And a new Google business was born.

Mr. Casap then invited university officials on a road show to share their success story with other schools. “It caused a firestorm,” Mr. Casap said. Northwestern University, the University of Southern California and many others followed.

This became Google’s education marketing playbook: Woo school officials with easy-to-use, money-saving services. Then enlist schools to market to other schools, holding up early adopters as forward thinkers among their peers.

The strategy proved so successful in higher education that Mr. Casap decided to try it with public schools.

3) Yes, to hard-right Republicans every health problem is your own damn fault.  Sure diet plays a role in type II diabetes, but genetics plays a hell of a big role, too.

4) Speaking of which, dialysis is just  a giant profit machine in America.  John Oliver is on the case.

5) Julia Azari and 538 friends on how even the biggest scandals cannot break through party identity.

But, at least historically speaking, even the biggest scandals don’t wash away partisanship.

We went back and looked at key congressional votes during three relatively recent periods in which a president was accused of wrongdoing: Watergate(Richard Nixon), Iran-contra (Ronald Reagan) and the Monica Lewinsky scandal (Bill Clinton). Two trends stick out. First, partisanship still matters. And in a big way. Second, when defections do come, they’re more likely to come from the centrist wing of a party.

6) Catherine Rampell on the stupidity of Trump’s “prime the pump” tax plan.

7) On why proper etiquette when addressing professors is important:

The facile egalitarianism of the first-name basis can impede good teaching and mentoring, but it also presents a more insidious threat. It undermines the message that academic titles are meant to convey: esteem for learning. The central endeavor of higher education is not the pursuit of money or fame but knowledge. “There needs to be some understanding that degrees mean something,” Professor Jackson-Brown said. “Otherwise, why are we encouraging them to get an education?”

The values of higher education are not the values of the commercial, capitalist paradigm. At a time when corporate executives populate university boards and politicians demand proof of a diploma’s immediate cash value, this distinction needs vigilant defense.

The erosion of etiquette encourages students to view faculty members as a bunch of overeducated customer service agents. “More and more, students view the process of going to college as a business transaction,” Dr. Tomforde, the math professor, told me. “They see themselves as a customer, and they view knowledge as a physical thing where they pay money and I hand them the knowledge — so if they don’t do well on a test, they think I haven’t kept up my side of the business agreement.” He added, “They view professors in a way similar to the person behind the counter getting their coffee.”

8) This is important– “how home ownership became the engine of racial equality.”  These were policy choices made that dramatically disadvantage Black families through today.

9) Vox took a look at how right-wing media covered the week in Trump scandals.  Squirrel!

10) Duck ramps are awesome.  Amazing lede:

Political turmoil rocked the nation’s capital again on Tuesday evening as politicians from both parties responded to President Trump’s — you know what, never mind. This is a story about ducks.

And a worthwhile expense of taxpayer dollars.  NC Congressman opposing is just an idiot– great comments to him on twitter.

11) Speaking of Republicans unfairly attacking ducks, duck sex is actually an absolutely fascinating area of study within evolutionary biology.  If you don’t know the wonders of duck penises and vaginas (serious), it’s time you learn.

12) William Ayers on the misguided search for ideological purity in college speakers.  He makes a really good case, but I think I would argue against inviting James Watson in the first place.

13) Are men with bears more desirable?  Yes (mostly), says science.  Somebody tell my wife.  She hates mine, but puts up with it for 5/12 of the year.

14) Thomas Friedman gets it with this column (emphases in original):

Since President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey, one question has been repeated over and over: With Democrats lacking any real governing power, are there a few good elected men or women in the Republican Party who will stand up to the president’s abuse of power as their predecessors did during Watergate?

And this question will surely get louder with the report that Trump asked Comey in February to halt the investigation into the president’s former national security adviser.

But we already know the answer: No…

That’s why the only relevant question is this: Are there tens of millions of good men and women in America ready to run and vote as Democrats or independents in the 2018 congressional elections and replace the current G.O.P. majority in the House and maybe the Senate?

Nothing else matters — this is now a raw contest of power.

15) There’s a war between the Washington Post and the New York Times over breaking new scoops on Trump and the American public is the winner.  If you don’t already, you should strongly consider subscribing to at least one.  I could actually have lower-priced educational subscriptions, but I pay the regular rate because I believe in supporting the highest quality journalism.

16) If you are into public opinion polling, this report from Pew on the impact of low response rates on telephone surveys (not all that much, for the most part) is really good.

17)  National Review’s Kevin Williamson needs to tell conservative readers that newspapers are not actually fake news.

18) Jonathan Turley makes the case that the Comey memo is far from the standard of impeachable offense on Trump’s part.

19) Radley Balko on what Mississippi owes a 13 year-old! wrongly convicted and coerced into a false confession.  A hell of a lot more than the nothing he’s getting:

NBC News has published a long story about Tyler Edmonds, a Mississippi man convicted in the 2003 murder of his half sister’s husband. Edmonds and his half sister Kristi Fulgham were both convicted of the crime.

The NBC News story is mostly a look at the limits of the laws states have passed to compensate the victims of wrongful convictions. Most of these laws prohibit victims who contributed to their own convictions from getting compensated, a stipulation that tends to ensnare people convicted because of false confessions. (Edmonds initially confessed, then retracted his confession a few days later.)

This sort of exception to compensation laws is really unfair. It discounts all of the coercion and manipulation that can go into a false confession. In fact, there’s some evidence that innocent people are especially likely to confess under conditions such as prolonged interrogation, sleep deprivation and threats of additional charges. This is because in the moment, they calculate that a confession will at least end the interrogation, and because they’re innocent, the evidence will eventually exonerate them.

But Mississippi’s refusal to compensate Edmonds is particularly troubling for a few reasons. First, there’s Edmonds’s age. He was 13 when he confessed.

Oh, and that’s just the beginning of the wrongness in this case.  I think I might rather be tried in many a third-world country than Mississippi.  Disgusting.

20) In a normal week, the behavior of Turkey’s thugs would be a much bigger story.  So wrong.  And it is deplorable that the Trump administration has not condemned this.  Jennifer Rubin:

Turkey behaves this way in part because Trump ignores, even rewards (by praising an arguably stolen election) bad behavior. He is not putting American values or interests first. He has allowed himself to be “played,” just as he has been by Russia by setting up assistance in the fight against the Islamic State as the sole concern of U.S. foreign policy. This simplistic, inept brand of foreign policy sprinkled with admiration for thuggish leaders has become standard operating procedure in an administration without vision, experience or conscience.

21) Pence’s credibility ain’t looking so great these days.

22) Louisiana looks to become somewhat less an outlier in mass incarceration.  But damn if they are going to let out those feeble, old prisoners to terrorize us!

But in a deal announced on Tuesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) agreed to drop the proposal to offer early parole to geriatric prisoners in exchange for state district attorneys’ support for easing penalties for nonviolent offenders — changes that aim to reduce Louisiana’s prison population by 10 percent in a decade.

It’s a landmark agreement for Louisiana, which locks up residents at a rate twice the national average, making it the country’s biggest jailer per capita. An unusual coalition of business and political leaders, religious groups and liberal activists has been working to end the state’s ignominious distinction with a package of bills that would shorten some prison sentences, prevent certain nonviolent offenders from going to prison and expand eligibility for parole.

23) Jill Lepore on how impeachment ended up in the Constitution.

24) Don’t always love Matt Taibbi, but when it comes to writing about the life of Roger Ailes (“one of the worst Americans ever”), he’s perfect.

He is on the short list of people most responsible for modern America’s vicious and bloodthirsty character.

We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we’re that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.

Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate. When the former daytime TV executive and political strategist looked across the American continent, he saw money laying around in giant piles. He knew all that was needed to pick it up was a) the total abandonment of any sense of decency or civic duty in the news business, and b) the factory-like production of news stories that spoke to Americans’ worst fantasies about each other.

25) I don’t deal with too many hyper-involved college parents (but FB’s on this day reminds me of the few occassions I’ve posted about it), but I don’t doubt that it’s a growing problem.

Not a child?

David Brook’s column this week comparing Trump to a child was great.  Yglesias makes an interesting argument– Trump is not a child, but the living embodiment of the spoiled, unaccountable rich person that American culture creates.  Personally, I thin they are both right.  Yglesias:

The truth is that Trump is no child. He’s 70 years old. And he’s not just any kind of 70-year-old. He’s a white male 70-year-old. A famous one. A rich one. One who’s been rich since the day he was born. He’s a man who’s learned over the course of a long and rich life that he is free to operate without consequence. He’s the beneficiary of vast and enormous privilege, not just the ability to enjoy lavish consumption goods but the privilege of impunity that America grants to the wealthy…

Donald Trump is not a toddler

My 2-year-old son misbehaves all the time. The reason is simple: He’s a toddler.

He stuck his foot in a serving bowl at dinner Tuesday night. He screams in inappropriate situations. He’s terrified of vacuum cleaners. He thinks it’s funny to throw rocks at birds. He has poor impulse control and limited understanding of the consequences of his actions.

But he’s also, fundamentally, a good kid. If you tell him no, he’ll usually listen. If you remind him of the rules, he’ll acknowledge them and obey. He shows remorse when his misdeeds are pointed out to him, and if you walk him through a cause-and-effect chain he’ll alter his behavior. Like all little kids, he needs discipline, and he’s got a lot to learn. But he is learning, and he has some notion of consequences and right and wrong.

Trump is not like that — at all… [emphasis mine]

What’s beyond question, however, is that Trump’s expressed view that a rich and famous man like him can get away with anything is both sincere and largely correct. From his empty-box tax scam to money laundering at his casinos to racial discrimination in his apartments to Federal Trade Commission violations for his stock purchases to Securities and Exchange Commission violations for his financial reporting, Trump has spent his entire career breaking various laws, getting caught, and then essentially plowing ahead unharmed. When he was caught engaging in illegal racial discrimination to please a mob boss, he paid a fine. There was no sense that this was a repeated pattern of violating racial discrimination law, and certainly no desire to take a closer look at his various personal and professional connections to the Mafia.

Sense and nonsense on crime

1) Philadelphia has nominated a Democratic District Attorney candidate (who will surely win) who really gets it:

If elected in November — and he is the heavy favorite in this overwhelmingly Democratic town — Krasner has pledged to never seek capital punishment while working to end bail policies that lock up people for being poor, an asset-forfeiture program that has been a national disgrace, and stop-and-frisk searches that disproportionately target non-whites.

Krasner told his wildly enthusiastic supporters tonight that “[o]ur vision is of a criminal justice system that makes things better, that is just, that is based on preventing crime and is based on building up society rather than tearing it apart.”

2) The Trump administration is bringing in literally one of the worst law enforcement officials in the country:

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has gained national notoriety for his inflammatory remarks on Fox News and social media, such as when he called a black CNN commentator a “jigaboo” and repeatedly claimed that Black Lives Matter is a “hate group” and a “terror organization.” Most recently, he’s also drawn scrutiny for his mishandling of the county jail he oversees, where three people and a newborn baby died last year between April and December.

Now Clarke is set, he said, to accept a role in President Donald Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.

3) And a very nice piece of good news, NC looks to finally be on track and no longer be the only state in the country to automatically try 16 and 17 years-olds as adults:

A “Raise The Age” bill to take some teenagers out of the adult court system passed the N.C. House Wednesday in a 104-8 vote.

House Bill 280 would allow a 16- or 17-year-old who commits certain crimes to be tried as a juvenile – not as an adult. North Carolina is the only remaining state that automatically prosecutes people as young as 16 as adults. Violent felonies and some drug offenses would still be handled in adult court.

Similar bills have passed the House in previous years, but this year’s effort has backing from law enforcement and N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin. After Wednesday’s House vote, the bill goes to the Senate, where Republican leaders have included similar legislation in the budget bill passed last week.

Hooray.  But do you want to know why it is so hard to have nice things.  Because there are still so many people (and let’s be honest, most of them old white guys) who are extraordinarily retrograde on these things.  Introducing Larry Pittman:

Rep. Larry Pittman, a Concord Republican and opponent of the bill, said he wants to protect the rights and safety of his constituents, and “I don’t believe we can do that by going soft on crime. One of those is the right not to be robbed.” …

But Pittman said North Carolina shouldn’t follow the lead of other states. “Standing alone does not mean you’re wrong,” he said. “Should we be lemmings running off the cliff into the sea just because 49 other states have done so?”

Good grief.  How much better a place the world would be if there weren’t still all these, “oh no soft on crime!” types.  The very good news is that Pittman is now the minority, at least on this.

Mueller? … Mueller?

This is big.  The fact that Trump totally trashed Rosenstein’s reputation on the Comey firing means Rosenstein wants to do what he can to salvage it. And, that means, appointing a serious special prosecutor.   This could ultimately prove to be some very, very bad news for Trump.  And, if there really is no there there, we can be confident in that result if that’s what Mueller determines.

Evan Osnos:

Rod Rosenstein’s decision is an important indication of the shifting mood in Washington: his appointment of Robert Mueller was an act of self-protection. A career prosecutor who was criticized for lending his voice to the firing of the former F.B.I. director James Comey, Rosenstein has chosen to hand off the Russia investigation, rejecting Republican leaders’ repeated statements that such a move was unnecessary, that he should soldier on amid criticisms of his independence. This is the move of a man who does not see his fate as strictly aligned with the President’s. The question facing Republicans in Congress and others throughout the executive branch is: How many are reaching the same conclusion?

Mueller has been handed what must be described as one of the most consequential jobs in American history, and his work could take months or years to complete. But—as I’ve written—investigations beget investigations. By reputation, Mueller is a meticulous investigator and fact-finder. He inspires bipartisan political support, and has abundant experience with pressure. President Trump just lost a lever with which to shape his own future.
John Cassidy:
Several aspects of this development are encouraging, beginning with the fact that it was Rosenstein who did the deed. With the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, having recused himself from dealing with the investigation following the revelation that he had made misleading statements about his meetings with the Russian Ambassador, Rosenstein demonstrated the independence for which he had been known until last week, when he wrote a memo to Sessions that effectively recommended the firing of James Comey, now the former head of the F.B.I.

Just minutes after Wednesday’s surprise announcement, some of Trump’s supporters were already accusing Rosenstein of buckling under pressure from Democrats and the mainstream media. What actually happened is that the legal system worked as it is meant to work. Given the revelation, earlier this week, that Trump allegedly asked Comey to drop the F.B.I.’s investigation of Michael Flynn, the former national-security adviser, and given the fact that Rosenstein himself was publicly associated with Comey’s dismissal, something had to be done to assure the public that the fix wasn’t in—that the Bureau’s investigators would pursue the Russia probe vigorously and professionally, regardless of where it took them.

Rosenstein, to his great credit, recognized this necessity and took action.

Josh Marshall:

First, this is a good pick.

Mueller has a strong reputation for professionalism. He was in DC for years. So people will have disagreements about this or that. He also headed the FBI for the whole post-9/11 era, during which the US pursued numerous highly controversial law enforcement and counter-terrorism policies. But with Mueller overseeing the investigation, I think that if anyone under scrutiny broke any laws they’re likely in pretty big trouble. For the purposes of this appointment, that’s what matters. I don’t think Mueller has any interest or willingness to cover for President Trump or any of his associates…

I still think Rosenstein deserves all the reputational damage he incurred over the last ten days or so. He knew what he was participating in when he involved himself in the Comey firing. What he probably didn’t realize was that Trump would essentially blame him for the decision. How much this is payback, an attempt to repair his reputation or simply put things right, you’re as good a judge as I am.

I believe this decision was close to inevitable. It is a major investigation, with a focus directly on the White House, with massive public interest. The President has already demonstrably tried to end the investigation. There’s simply no way that investigation can be credibly carried on by personnel serving at the pleasure of the President.

But here’s the key. This is important and necessary but not sufficient.

There also needs to be an independent commission to investigate what happened in the 2016 election. These two options – special counsel or independent commission – are often bandied about as two separate options, one or the other, or as steps of escalation in a scandal. None of those things is true.

Dana Milbank:

With the stroke of a pen, Rod Rosenstein redeemed his reputation, preserved the justice system, pulled American politics back from the brink — and, just possibly, saved the Republican Party and President Trump from themselves.

The deputy attorney general’s memo Wednesday night announcing that he had appointed Robert Mueller as special prosecutor to investigate the Trump administration’s ties to Russia was pitch perfect in its simple justification: While he has not determined that any crime has been committed, he wrote that “based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”

This is precisely what Rosenstein needed to do for all parties, but particularly for his own honor. Rosenstein, just two weeks into the job, had trashed the reputation he had built over the years as a fair-minded and above-the-fray prosecutor by allowing Trump to use him as cover for Trump’s own decision to sack FBI Director James Comey. Many who admired Rosenstein were stunned that he would let himself be used this way; I argued last week that “if he cares at all about rehabilitating the reputation he built, Rosenstein has one option: He can appoint a serious, independent and above-reproach special counsel — the sort of person Rosenstein was seen as, until this week — to continue the Russia probe.” In tapping Mueller — a solid figure who served ably as FBI director under two presidents — that’s what Rosenstein did…

In this sense, Rosenstein also did a favor for congressional Republicans. A minority of GOP lawmakers had begun to see the urgency of putting country before party. House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who is retiring, had directed the FBI to turn over documents. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and others have called for Comey to testify. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) invoked Watergate, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and several others joined calls for an independent commission or special prosecutor, and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said impeachment could be in order.

 

What to do about Trump?

Lots and lots of good stuff.  I’m still just trying to process the presumed obstruction of justice regarding Comey’s memo, so I’ll wait a bit on that.  For now, lots of good stuff on Trump and the classified intel and what it all means.

1) Eliot Cohen on the damage done:

To a remarkable degree, the United States relies on liaison relationships with other powers with whom it shares information. If Trump has indeed compromised a source of information, it is not merely a betrayal of an ally’s trust: It is an act that will jeopardize a whole range of relationships. After all, the Director of Central Intelligence cannot very well say, “Don’t worry, we won’t share that with the president.” So now everybody—even our closest allies like the United Kingdom—would be well-advised to be careful with what they share with us. That is a potential intelligence debacle for us, but the danger goes beyond that. If any foreign government harbored lingering illusions about the administration’s ability to protect any information, including sensitive but non-intelligence matters like future foreign-policy initiatives or military deployments, they no longer do. They will be even more apprehensive about sharing sensitive information of any kind because…

Quite apart from making himself and the country a laughingstock around the world, the president has now practically begged Vladimir Putin to toy with him, tantalize him, tease him, flatter him, manipulate him. He has shown the Russians (and others, who are watching just as closely) just how easy that is to do, and he has shown the rest of us that his vanity and impulsiveness have not been tempered by the highest responsibilities.

2) Jamelle Bouie with a really good piece– this is a stress-test for our democracy, and we’re currently failing it:

It’s not shocking that Donald Trump—a reality television star and poster boy for crude excess—is manifestly unsuited for an office that even at its least challenging, requires unusual patience and ability. That much was apparent throughout the presidential contest, from the moment he announced his campaign to his eventual triumph in the general election. What is shocking is how little the Republican Party seems interested in reining this in. Despite the weight of Trump’s transgression—a dangerous contempt for discretion, on the heels of an authoritarian push against the independence of federal law enforcement—GOP lawmakers are largely silent, frustrated with the “drama“ but unwilling to challenge the president’s grossly abusive behavior…

With Trump, it failed. And that failure—like the present failure to hold the president accountable for his actions—belongs primarily to the GOP, which offered Trump as a choice to the nation at large. At every turn during the presidential primary, Republican lawmakers and elites sought to accommodate or pacify Trump, giving him the legitimacy he craved. Outlets like Fox News boosted Trump as much as possible, and his competitors saw him as a wild card to use, not a legitimate threat for the nomination. After he captured the prize, those leaders and lawmakers acquiesced and endorsed, sending a key signal to Republican voters; that Trump was mainstream, that Trump was safe, that Trump could be president. By the time he reached the general election, Trump was just another nominee; a major-party candidate who, by the law of averages, had a chance to win the White House. The same dysfunction and myopia that led Republicans to stick by a nominee who all but confessed sexual assault has led them to a similar place with a president who divulges sensitive information on a whim.

3) Yglesias on how Republicans need to stop hoping Trump will change.  And the fact, that something being “legal” is an extraordinarily low bar for a president:

Normal people do learn and change over time, of course, but it’s extremely difficult to change your fundamental nature. But what’s more, people don’t generally learn and change at the age of 70. The fact that Trump managed to win an election that pretty much everybody — him included — thought he was going to lose only reinforces the problem.

Trump not changing isn’t the story here. The story is whether GOP leaders will finally accept that Trump won’t change and adjust accordingly…

Throughout Trump’s brief presidency, Republicans in Congress have acted like lawyers for him, noting that it’s perfectly legal for him to maintain huge financial conflicts of interest or can Comey or say whatever he wants to Sergei Lavrov. The legality of Trump’s actions is precisely the problem. If it were illegal for Trump to do these things, then he could be stopped by the courts and the country wouldn’t have to worry.

But the president has a lot of legal authority. Authority that can be abused or misused. Trump could, for example, have his enemies killed and then pardon the killers, and it would be perfectly legal. [emphasis mine]

4) On that very point, excellent piece that democracies slide into autocracies without explicitly breaking the law:

One lesson is that the road away from democracy is rarely characterized by overt violations of the formal rule of law. To the contrary, the contemporary path away from democracy under the rule of law typically relies on actions within the law. Central among these legal measures is the early disabling of internal monitors of governmental illegality by the aggressive exercise of (legal) personnel powers. Often, there are related changes to the designs of institutions, which might be brought about through legislation. Ironically, the law is deployed to undermine legality and the rule of law more generally…

These examples, and there are many more, suggest that the legality of a measure is not a good index of its corrosive effect on democratic practices. Rather, as the Princeton political scientist Kim Lane Scheppele has explained, it is more often the case that democracy is dismantled through an opportunistic patchwork of reforms that are legal, and which might even seem innocuous in isolation. Factions, or individual officeholders, steadily tweak the design of governing institutions in ways that insulate them from challenge.

5) Brian Beutler:

To chase a partisan agenda, Republicans in Congress have abetted a compromised, paranoid, and erratic president. Until four months ago, the party tossed around words like “lawless” and “tyrannical” to describe a Democratic president who promulgated policies they disagreed with; they now absolve a Republican president with vast financial conflicts of interest, who obstructed an FBI investigation of his campaign, and breached national security to impress Russian government officials, on the grounds that at the presidential level, conflicts of interest, firing the FBI director and disclosing classified information aren’t technically illegal. The degree of special pleading we’ve witnessed since Trump secured the GOP nomination would be laughable if a country, and international stability, weren’t at stake…

It is possible to imagine Trump losing the support of congressional Republicans by announcing he won’t approve a tax cut, or losing support of his core supporters through unexpected leniency to ethnic minorities. But it is worth remembering that the backdrop of Trump’s presidency is an anti-majoritarian electoral college victory, which he won with the help of extraordinary interference by both Russian intelligence and now-fired FBI Director James Comey.

The constitutional remedy for an unfit president who violates his oath of office and lacks a popular mandate is impeachment, but impeachment would almost certainly derail the Republican legislative agenda and redound to Democrats’ benefit in coming elections. It is thus off the table.

6) And, last for now, Chait, “The Law Can’t Stop Trump. Only Impeachment Can.”

The president has a massive amount of leeway because the system is set up with the unstated presumption that the president is a responsible person who will act in a broadly legitimate, competent fashion. Trump’s brief tenure in office so far has supplied a constant stream of evidence that this reasoning does not apply…

One of the oddities of the moment is that Republican officials who work closely with Trump almost uniformly regard him as wildly unfit for office. Trump’s gross unsuitability for office is the subtext of the constant stream of leaks that have emanated from his administration (and, before that, his campaign). James Comey told associates he found the president “outside the realm of normal,” even “crazy,” reported the New York Times recently. A Republican close to the White House told the Washington Post Trump is “in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion.” A friend of Trump, trying to spin the latest debacle in the most forgiving way, tellsPolitico, “He doesn’t really know any boundaries. He doesn’t think in those terms … He doesn’t sometimes realize the implications of what he’s saying. I don’t think it was his intention in any way to share any classified information. He wouldn’t want to do that.” (This was offered as an alternative to the suspicion that Trump is deliberately undermining U.S. intelligence to benefit his Russian friends.)…

And so, at the moment, Congress remains in the hands of a party that conceives of its role as Trump’s junior partner. His erratic behavior is disconcerting to them, but their pain is mostly private, and mostly confined to the risks it implies to their domestic agenda. The system is designed so that the only remedy for a president who cannot faithfully act in the public interest is impeachment. For the moment, that course of action — the only one that can save the country from the dire risk of its man-child president — is unfathomable to the Republicans who have a hammerlock on government.

Okay, so that’s all stuff written pre Comey memo.  Maybe that will start to change things.

R.I.P. McMaster’s credibility

McMaster may very well still be, relatively speaking, the adult in the room when Trump is handling foreign policy, but wow, did he just trash his own reputation in the past 24 hours.  Yesterday at

this time, most journalists/pundits would assume if McMaster said it, it’s probably true.  Today, not so much.  Trump just seems to ruin and corrupt everything he touches.

Dara Lind:

If it’s possible to work for Donald Trump and still remain an honest person, we haven’t seen evidence of it yet.

Time and again, even the most serious and respected people in the Trump administration — people who were looked to as good influences on the ignorant and impulsive president, or, in a worst-case scenario, as canaries in the coal mine — have ended up going out to defend Trump over something indefensible. They may not be technically lying, but they are advancing Trump’s narrative instead of advancing the truth. And more often than not, Trump has repaid them by making them look like fools — admitting he committed whatever sin they’ve helped to cover up. [emphases mine]

Take National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who was trotted out to the press Monday night to push back against reports that Trump had divulged super-classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting last week (and possibly put a key anti-ISIS source in danger by doing so).

McMaster’s carefully worded non-denial denial all but went up in smoke by Tuesday morning, when Trump tweeted that he’d had very good reasons to give information to the Russians. By the time McMaster delivered a second press briefing Tuesday, he was affirmatively defending Trump’s decision to share information as “wholly appropriate” — and chiding the press for the “leaks” he’d earlier tried to discredit…

What McMaster, Pence, and Rosenstein have done is different. They’ve made statements that are carefully crafted to avoid saying anything that’s technically inaccurate. But those statements have been made to serve a White House narrative that is, itself, a lie.

They’re being accurate. But they’re not being honest…

There are other definitions of integrity. You can decide that you’re acting with integrity if you failed to stop something bad from happening but didn’t do anything to facilitate it. You can decide you’re acting with integrity if lies are going on around you but you don’t say anything that is a lie yourself.

If you’re concerned with preserving your own reputation, that may well make sense. “Yes, I was part of the Trump administration,” you can imagine someone saying a decade from now, “but they never made me lie.” You might be impressed by that. It’s an impressive feat.

Right now that’s the standard that McMaster, Rosenstein, and Pence have met. They have never made false statements. They have only been used to make falsehoods appear true — and made people look like fools for taking them at their word.

Alex Ward:

This might seem like a Post-said, White House-said scenario, but this is much, much more than that. Specifically, there are three main takeaways from the press conference:

  1. One of the most respected generals of the past 20 years is laying his reputation on the line for the president.
  2. When repeatedly asked if Trump leaked classified information, McMaster refused to answer.
  3. McMaster did not deny that Trump decided to leak the information on his own without having first discussed doing so with intelligence officials…

Here’s what is clear: McMaster is entering dangerous territory here by trying to refute this story and adopting the administration’s talking points. For the “hero” who once passionately argued for the importance of standing up for truth in the face of a president’s lies, that course of action seems decidedly unheroic.

Josh Barro:

“It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary,” national security adviser H.R. McMaster said on Tuesday, not denying that President Donald Trump shared classified information from an allied intelligence service with Russian diplomats last week.

This is the sad, laughable defense the White House is left with: When the president does it, that means it is not inappropriate.

When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

The president indeed has the legal authority to share classified information if he wants. Contrary to what McMaster claimed, this doesn’t make his choice to do so automatically appropriate.

 

 

Various on-point tweets:

 

The war that is the biggest failure

Terrific piece on the idiotic decision of Trump/Sessions to “get tough” on drugs from the editors of The National Review.  The fact that this is the source gives me some hope.  At least some conservatives see the utter folly of the war on drugs approach:

Jeff Sessions wants to get tough in the war on drugs. The problem with his line of thinking is that managing the duplex problem of drug abuse and drug trafficking is not a war, however much the rhetoric of war may be mistaken for the fact of war, and the Trump administration’s get-tough posture is unlikely to produce the desired result…

The problem with the war on drugs is the war on drugs.

To believe, as we long have, that the decriminalization of some drugs is preferable to the prohibition of them is not to adopt a stance of moral neutrality on the issue of drug abuse and drug addiction. It is instead a concession to reality, which even politicians must take into account from time to time. The reality is that drug prohibition has not produced the desired results; that it is not an effective means of managing drug abuse or drug addiction; that it creates enormously powerful economic incentives for domestic trafficking operations and allied cartels abroad; that incarceration is in many cases not the best way to turn a drug user or drug dealer into a citizen; that the human and financial costs of fighting a “war” on drugs are enormous, and that the martial rhetoric and assumptions associated with that effort are a menace to privacy and civil liberties; that fighting drug crime has become a ready excuse for police and prosecutors to abuse tools such as civil-asset forfeiture; that our focus on winning the so-called war distracts us from the much more important business of winning the peace by helping addicts and offenders reenter society as productive and valued citizens.

Wow!  Could totally imagine the same thing on the editorial pages of the Times or the Post.  Alas, the guys actually setting policy are retrograde morons.

And, speaking of which, Secretary Tom Price, M.D., is just a stupid, angry old man when it comes to the reality of opiate addiction:

Addiction experts are up in arms following remarks from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, in which he referred to medication-assisted treatment for addiction as “substituting one opioid for another.”

Nearly 700 researchers and practitioners sent a letter Monday communicating their criticisms to Price and urging him to “set the record straight.”

The medicines Price referred to are methadone and buprenorphine, both of which are opioids. The letter notes that there is a “substantial body of research” showing the drugs’ effectiveness, and that they have been the standard of care for addiction treatment for years…

Experts say Price’s remarks, made last week to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, ignore the primary benefits of such medications and go against scientific evidence.

“I was just totally gobsmacked,” says Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Saloner says that Price’s own Department of Health and Human Services displays information online that contradicts his comments.

Yeah, but who needs scientific evidence– much less common sense– in Trump’s America.

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