Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow and Krugman

June 19, 2017

In “Trump Is Girding for a Fight” Mr. Blow says Trump and team are attempting to defame and delegitimize the Russia investigation.  Prof. Krugman considers “Zombies, Vampires and Republicans” and when Trump is just an ignorant bystander.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his widening investigation seems to be closing in on Donald Trump and his coterie of corruption, but Trump and his emissaries aren’t sitting idly by. They’re girding for a fight.

Last week The Washington Post, citing unnamed officials, reported that Mueller was widening his investigation to include “an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice.”

This set Trump off. As the sun rose on Thursday morning, he posted the first of what would be a daylong barrage of statements on Twitter, attacking the “phony story”; later he lamented “crooked H” and “Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia.”

But that wasn’t enough.

He started up again Friday morning, this time posting: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.”

This seemed like an acknowledgment that he was indeed under investigation. But on Sunday, the Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow made the talk show rounds to insist that what the president wrote was not what the president meant. Sekulow stated emphatically, “The fact of the matter is the president has not been and is not under investigation.”

Whatever the truth may be, Trump is certainly behaving like a man who is under scrutiny and like one who is determined to defend himself every step of the way.

Last week it was reported that Mueller hired more than a dozen lawyers for his team, but as soon as he did, they came under attack by Trump cronies like Newt Gingrich. On Sunday on ABC, Gingrich issued a blistering attack on some of the lawyers Mueller has hired, suggesting Mueller stacked the deck with Democratic mercenaries out to get the president for political reasons.

At one point in the interview, Gingrich claimed:

“You tell me why the first four names that came up, I don’t know about the next nine, the first four names are all people who gave to Democrats. Two of them are people with a record of hiding evidence from the defense. And one of them is a person who defended the Clinton Foundation. Now in this environment with a Justice Department where 97 percent of the donations last year went to Hillary, 97 percent, explain to me why I should relax as a Republican.”

This was a stinging about-face from when Gingrich praised Mueller when he was selected. Host Martha Raddatz pointed this out: “In May you said he was a superb choice for special counsel with an impeccable reputation for honesty. Less than a month later, you say he won’t be fair.”

But that’s the thing with Trump and his hangers-on: They will say and do anything, even if it directly contradicts what they said or did moments earlier. This is how truth becomes degraded: by being casually disregarded.

This investigation is in the early stages, but Trump has no plans to wait for it to either condemn or clear him. He is taking a much more aggressive approach, one that in the end may do more harm than good.

He is attempting to defame, discredit and delegitimize.

Trump knows that whether anything from this investigation sees the light of day in a court of law, the investigation is already being litigated in the court of public opinion. In that court, he’s already guilty.

Trump’s public petulance about being mistreated is in fact a public appeal, in order to rehabilitate his brand.

If a legal case against Trump is born of this investigation, Trump is no stranger to a courtroom.

As USA Today reported last year, Trump has been involved in over 3,500 legal matters, which was an unprecedented number for an American presidential nominee.

Trump often prevails. As USA Today put it: “Among those cases with a clear resolution, Trump’s side was the apparent victor in 451 and the loser in 38. In about 500 cases, judges dismissed plaintiffs’ claims against Trump.”

Trump knows that the law can be fuzzy and the legal system pliable, bending in particular under the weight of massive resources like money.

Fighting has worked well for Trump. He knows that one of the critical flaws in American jurisprudence is that it too often favors fight over right.

So Trump will fight this investigation that he calls a “witch hunt,” because he realizes that it is a sprawling inquiry, potentially ending up far afield from where it started.

Mueller is not in search of a conjurer but a culprit, and he’ll shine a light in every dark corner to find one.

Gingrich told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Friday of the investigation:

“They’re going to get somebody. I don’t think they’re going to get the president, but they’re going to get somebody, and they’re going to get him for something. And they’re probably going to go to jail.”

I agree: When federal investigators start looking for something, they often find something. I’m not removing the president so quickly from jeopardy.

The president and his White House are going to fight this tooth and nail, but in the end “someone is probably going to go to jail.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Zombies have long ruled the Republican Party. The good news is that they may finally be losing their grip — although they may still return and resume eating conservative brains. The bad news is that even if zombies are in retreat, vampires are taking their place.

What are these zombies of which I speak? Among wonks, the term refers to policy ideas that should have been abandoned long ago in the face of evidence and experience, but just keep shambling along.

The right’s zombie-in-chief is the insistence that low taxes on the rich are the key to prosperity. This doctrine should have died when Bill Clinton’s tax hike failed to cause the predicted recession and was followed instead by an economic boom. It should have died again when George W. Bush’s tax cuts were followed by lackluster growth, then a crash. And it should have died yet again in the aftermath of the 2013 Obama tax hike — partly expiration of some Bush tax cuts, partly new taxes to pay for Obamacare — when the economy continued jogging along, adding 200,000 jobs a month.

Despite the consistent wrongness of their predictions, however, tax-cut fanatics just kept gaining influence in the G.O.P. — until the disaster in Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback promised that deep tax cuts would yield an economic miracle. What the state got instead was weak growth and a fiscal crisis, finally pushing even Republicans to vote for tax hikes, overruling Brownback’s veto.

Will this banish the tax-cut zombie? Maybe — although the economists behind the Kansas debacle, who have of course learned nothing, appear to be the principal movers behind the Trump tax plan, such as it is.

But even as the zombies move offstage, vampire policies — so-called not so much because of their bloodsucking nature, although that too, as because they can’t survive daylight — have taken their place.

Consider what’s happening right now on health care.

Last month House Republicans rammed through one of the worst, cruelest pieces of legislation in history. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the American Health Care Act would take coverage away from 23 million Americans, and send premiums soaring for millions more, especially older workers with relatively low incomes.

This bill is, as it should be, wildly unpopular. Nonetheless, Republican Senate leaders are now trying to ram through their own version of the A.H.C.A., one that, all reports suggest, will differ only in minor, cosmetic ways. And they’re trying to do it in total secrecy. It appears that there won’t be any committee hearings before the bill goes to the floor. Nor are senators receiving draft text, or anything beyond a skeletal outline. Some have reportedly seen PowerPoint presentations, but the “slides are flashed across the screens so quickly that they can hardly be committed to memory.”

Clearly, the goal is to pass legislation that will have devastating effects on tens of millions of Americans without giving those expected to pass it, let alone the general public, any real chance to understand what they’re voting for. There are even suggestions that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, might exploit loopholes in the rules to prevent any discussion on the Senate floor.

Why this combination of secrecy and speed? Obviously, this legislation can’t survive sunlight — and I’m by no means the first to make the analogy with vampires.

This is unprecedented. Ignore Republican lies about how Obamacare was passed: the Affordable Care Act went through extensive discussion, and Democrats were always very clear about what they were trying to do and how they were trying to do it.

When it comes to the Republican replacement for Obamacare, however, it’s not just the process that’s secretive; so is the purpose. Vox.com asked eight Republican senators what problem the legislation is supposed to solve, and how it’s supposed to solve it. Not one offered a coherent answer.

Of course, none brought up the one obvious payoff to taking health care away from millions: a big tax cut for the wealthy. As I said, while bloodsucking isn’t the main reason to call this a vampire policy, it’s part of the picture.

Oh, and one more point: What’s going down isn’t just unprecedented, it’s unpresidented. You can blame Donald Trump for many things, including the fact that he will surely sign whatever bad bill is put in front of him. But as far as health care is concerned, he’s just an ignorant bystander, who all evidence suggests has little if any idea what’s actually in Trumpcare. Maybe he’s too busy yelling at his TV to find out.

So this isn’t a Trump story; it’s about the cynicism and corruption of the whole congressional G.O.P. Remember, it would take just a few conservatives with conscience — specifically, three Republican senators — to stop this outrage in its tracks. But right now, it looks as if those principled Republicans don’t exist.

Blow and Collins

June 15, 2017

Sorry I’m late, but here we go…  In “Rhetoric and Bullets” Mr. Blow says our talk should never promote violence, but it needn’t be timid.  Ms. Collins, in “Play Ball, and Then Gunfire,” says the shooting at the congressional baseball practice was awful, but every week we hear bloodier stories.  Well, Gail, this time white Republicans were victims.  But it’s never About Race or About Politics, because nothing is EVER About Race or About Politics.  (Well, unless it’s about the Democrats doing something reprehensible…)  Or rational gun laws…   Here’s Mr. Blow:

In 2011, after Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona was gravely injured and six others were killed by a shooter in Tucson, I was moved to commit an entire column to condemning the left for linking the shooting so closely to political rhetoric.

Yes, Republican personalities and officials in the wake of Barack Obama’s election had spoken openly about “Second Amendment remedies” and being “armed and dangerous” and “revolution,” but it was not possible to connect the dots between that irresponsible talk and the Tucson shooter.

Now, here I am again, only this time extending the same condemnation to the right for doing the same after four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, were shot at an Alexandria, Va., baseball field where Republican members of Congress were practicing in advance of a charity game.

The shooter, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, appears to have had strong liberal, anti-Trump, anti-Republican views — among other things, he was a volunteer with the Bernie Sanders campaign — but at the time of this writing, authorities had not announced a motive for the shooting.

The very real possibility that the shooting was politically motivated was clearly on the minds of many, including Representative Rodney Davis, Republican of Illinois, who was at the baseball field during the shooting: “This could be the first political rhetorical terrorist attack, and that has to stop.”

Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with viewing these incidents through a political lens. Not to do so is naïve and ridiculously self-blinding in a way that avoids reality.

As Katy Waldman wrote for Slate last June:

“Things that happen for political reasons, and have political consequences, demand that we scrutinize them through a political lens. Crying ‘politicization’ is itself politicization — a way to advance whatever slate of politics favors the status quo. Often people invoke policy goals in order to get things done; what’s at stake is whether these tragedies should be regarded as irreducible lightning strikes or problems with potential solutions.”

What I abhor is ideological exploitation that reduces these acts to a political sport and uses them as weapons to silence political opponents and their “rhetoric,” rather than viewing them as American tragedies that we can work together to prevent through honest appraisal and courageous action. Every shooting in this country is a tragedy, and they happen with disturbing frequency here.

As The Washington Post reported, Wednesday’s shooting was the 154th mass shooting so far this year in America. That’s 154 mass shootings in just 165 days. Violence, particularly gun violence, is the American fact, the American shame.

This country has a violent culture, is full of guns, and our federal lawmakers — mostly Republicans, it must be said, because there isn’t any real equivalency — are loath to even moderately regulate gun access.

Pretending that America’s gun violence is a function of collective political rhetoric rather than the nexus of personal mental defect and easy access to weapons is a way of dodging, well, the bullet.

So, here I must take a stand in defense of rhetoric. While rhetoric should never promote violence, it needn’t be timid.

I was impressed by the official responses from Washington. Even Trump’s response was sober and direct, not marred by his typical lack of tact, not like the way he tried to exploit the Pulse Nightclub shooting last year. House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a stately speech from the House floor, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed his sentiments in a noble act of bipartisanship.

At the top, the responses were pitch perfect, but the political debate isn’t confined to the top. It trickles down into the cesspool of social media, which has grown exponentially since Giffords was shot. At that time, Facebook had only about a third of its current number of users, Twitter had about a fifth of its current users, Instagram was just three months old, and Snapchat didn’t exist.

On social media, where anonymity provides cover for vitriol, violent threats are a regular feature.

When Gabby Giffords wrote on Twitter, “My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police – public servants and heroes today and every day,” she was met with a sickening number of hateful responses, including one that said, “To bad it was not her.” (Yes, it should have been “too,” but grammar isn’t a major concern in a statement that grotesque.)

It is true that political rhetoric can set a tone that greases the skids for a small number of people who are prone to violence to act on those impulses. We have just gone through a political cycle where that was on full display.

But some rhetoric is necessary and real. I believe Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress are attempting to do very serious harm to the country and its most vulnerable citizens, and I will never stop saying so in the strongest terms I can summon. For many people, this isn’t an abstract policy debate between partisans. For them, these debates — about repealing the Affordable Care Act, for example — are about life and death. But that has nothing to do with the promotion of physical violence; it has everything to do with protecting this country from administrative and legislative violence.

We have to object stridently to proposals that will hurt people, and not be chilled by a deranged man with a gun. Violence is abhorrent and self-defeating, but vociferous resistance to national damage has nothing to do with that violence and must continue unabated.

You can, as I do, have sympathy for the victims of yesterday’s shooting and condemn the shooter, while at the same time raging, nonviolently of course, against an agenda that places other Americans in very real danger.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

When a gunman opened fire on a congressional baseball practice Wednesday, everyone in Washington looked for a positive message. There had to be a point to something so awful. The consensus was for Coming Together.

“For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family,” Speaker Paul Ryan told the House.

“You’re going to hear me say something you never heard me say before,” rejoined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “I identify myself with the remarks of the speaker.”

“We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good,” said Donald Trump.

This was regarded as one of Trump’s better presidential moments. He didn’t insult anyone, the way he did after the London terrorist attack. He didn’t suggest that in the future, all baseball players should be armed. And let’s hope it lasts. Since the gunman, James Hodgkinson, was known back home in Illinois as a vehement Trump critic, the president could definitely regress back into making the tragedy all about Donald.

But truthfully, American politics has been mean and verbally violent for a lot longer than Donald Trump’s been in the White House. Pelosi — who’s often depicted as the archvillain in Republican campaign ads — has been getting death threats for years. Back in 2010 a San Francisco man admitted to making more than 30 phone calls to Pelosi and her family, threatening to kill her or blow up her house if she voted for health care reform.

Ironically, the practice Hodgkinson’s bullets interrupted was for a ballgame that’s a lonely throwback to the good old days of political congeniality, when people from both parties would debate during the day and then go off to drink together after work. The drinking thing is pretty much over. But the representatives and senators do still get together every year to yell good-natured insults at each other and play ball, Democrats against Republicans.

Even better, there’s a bipartisan women’s softball team that has its own game every year: lawmakers versus reporters from the D.C. press corps.

“It’s really one of the best things we do,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the veteran players.

Gillibrand has a keen memory of the day all the team’s players signed a ball for her good friend Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 while holding a constituent meet-and-greet at a shopping center.

“I’m not shocked or surprised this happened. I lived through this once before,” Gillibrand said. “We’re in a violent time. We’ve seen Sandy Hook, we’ve seen such horrible gun violence in our communities for a very long time.”

The women’s game is next week. “We’ll play,” the senator said. “We’re meant to carry on our lives.”

Creating more comity in Washington is a good goal. (So, by the way, is getting more women in Congress.) But if we’re looking to the congressional shooting for lessons, we also have to talk about guns.

The baseball story was awful — Representative Steve Scalise and three other people were hit by gunfire. But every week in America we hear stories that are bloodier. There were 27 incidents of multiple fatal shootings in the week before Hodgkinson took out a rifle and handgun and started firing. A couple of hours after, an aggrieved UPS employee in San Francisco shot and killed three people and wounded two others before turning the gun on himself.

We’ll be spending the next few days trying to work through Hodgkinson’s history. How did this happen? Were there any warning signs separating him from the hordes of other people who post angry diatribes about politicians? What kind of guns did he use? Where did he buy them?

“I hope this doesn’t devolve into the usual situation where you expect that any one tragedy is going to change the conversation,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He’s been through too much of that already, and it’s true — if 20 little children can be shot in their Connecticut school without triggering national gun law reform, it’s not likely that the wounding of several adults in Virginia will do the trick.

But we’ll keep trying. To start, we need to come together on a consensus that there’s something wrong with a country in which an average of 93 people are killed with guns every day, in which gun homicides are so common that news reports frequently don’t bother to mention how the murderer obtained his weapon, and in which even multiple shootings often don’t make the national news unless there’s some suggestion the crime might be related to terrorism.

Write a letter. Call your representative. Hold a meeting. You can demand laws to keep criminals from buying guns, or laws to keep greedy gun sellers from ignoring background checks, or laws to ban rifles that allow one person to take down several dozen victims without reloading. Even if your hopes aren’t high, keep fighting. This is a righteous cause.

Solo Blow

June 12, 2017

In “The Resistance: Impeachment Anxiety” Mr. Blow says it’s important to face the very real possibility that Trump’s removal may not come.  (Prof. Krugman’s offerings will be sporadic for a bit — a combination of travel and a family emergency.)  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, in highly anticipated Senate testimony, fired F.B.I. Director James Comey delivered a stinging rebuke and strong indictment of Donald Trump as an abuser of power, twister of arms and, above all, a spewer of lies.

No fewer than five times did Comey accuse Trump of lying.

The White House’s response as issued from the mouth of spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “I can definitely say the president is not a liar, and I think it’s, frankly, insulting that question would be asked.”

No, you saying he’s not a liar is a lie, and it is the American people who are insulted.

Trump took to Twitter on Friday morning, writing:

“Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication … and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”

That too was a lie.

During a Rose Garden press conference Friday afternoon with the president of Romania, Trump answered the question of why he felt “complete vindication” by speaking in a hodgepodge of hashtags:

“No collusion, no obstruction, he’s a leaker.”

If America is confronted with a he-said, he-said standoff between Trump and Comey, the former having a documented history as a pathological liar and the latter not, who one grants the benefit of the doubt to is easily answered: Comey.

And yet, there was something many seemed to find unsatisfying about Comey’s testimony: There was no knockout blow. It wasn’t the penultimate moment that guaranteed impeachment, but rather just another moment in what will likely be a plodding inquiry.

This becomes the critical and increasingly urgent question for many: Will Trump be impeached — or indicted — and when? The anticipation has produced a throbbing anxiety. There is so much emotional investment in Trump’s removal that I fear that it blinds people to the fact that it is a long shot and, in any case, a long way off.

As Adam Liptak wrote last month in The New York Times, about special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation:

“Would the Constitution allow Mr. Mueller to indict Mr. Trump if he finds evidence of criminal conduct? The prevailing view among most legal experts is no. They say the president is immune from prosecution so long as he is in office.”

As to the point of impeachment, the founders made this difficult on purpose.

Only two American presidents — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — have ever been impeached by the House of Representatives. The Senate refused to convict in both cases, and both men remained in office.

Richard Nixon may well have been impeached, but resigned before the House could vote on his articles of impeachment.

Yes, there is a first time for everything, and this may well be the first time that a president is impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, or that a president is successfully indicted, but think hard about how remote that possibility is.

At this moment both the House and Senate are led by Republicans who show no inclination to hold Trump accountable and who in fact are now making excuses for his aberrant behavior.

Last week House Speaker Paul Ryan excused Trump’s highly inappropriate contacts with Comey, making the silly argument that Trump is “just new to this.”

Republican Senator Susan Collins on Friday engaged in the outlandish speculation that Comey had set the precedent for one-on-one meetings with Trump when Comey pulled Trump aside to discuss the salacious “pee-tape” dossier.

Sorry folks, ignorance — even the towering ignorance of Trump — is no excuse.

A damning report from Mueller could change Republican reticence, but such a report is likely quite far off. (Fifteen months passed from the time a special prosecutor was appointed in the Watergate investigation and the time Nixon resigned.)

Unfortunately American expectations are tuned to a Netflix sensibility in which we want to binge a complete season in a single sitting. A proper investigation will not indulge our impatience.

The best bet is for Democrats to win a majority in the House in 2018, which is possible and maybe even likely, but winning a majority in the Senate that year is a much steeper climb — not impossible, but improbable.

I know well that the very real obstacles to removal injures the psyche of those worn thin by the relentless onslaught of awfulness erupting from this White House. I know well that impeachment is one of the only rays of hope cutting through these dark times. I’m with you; I too crave some form of political comeuppance.

But, I believe that it’s important to face the very real possibility that removal may not come, and if it does, it won’t come swiftly. And even a Trump impeachment would leave America with a President Pence, a nightmare of a different stripe but no less a nightmare.

In the end, the Resistance must be bigger than impeachment; it must be about political realignment. It must be built upon solid rock of principle and not hang solely on the slender hope of expulsion. This is a long game and will not come to an abrupt conclusion. Perseverance must be the precept; lifelong commitment must be the motto.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

June 8, 2017

In “James Comey Cometh” Mr. Blow says Comey’s statement makes Trump sound more like a mob boss than like the president of a democracy.  Mr. Kristof, in “James Comey and Our Own Tin-Pot Despot, Donald Trump,” says Trump’s contempt for the legal system is clear.  In “Guess What Week It Is?” Ms. Collins says it’s time to take a highway out to lunch.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

It is hard to calculate the grievousness of the wounds that James Comey’s testimony will inflict on Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, representatives of Comey, the consummate showman whose own flair for the dramatic rivals Trump’s, requested the release of his incredibly detailed opening statement in advance of his Thursday Senate testimony.

If you believe the Comey statement, you must take away from it that Trump is a liar, a bully and a criminal. You must take away from it that Trump has a consuming need to be surrounded not only by loyalists but also by lackeys. You must take away that Trump is brand obsessed — his own brand — and that anything that besmirches that brand must be blunted. You must take away that Trump knows nothing of decorum and propriety and boundaries. You must take away that this is the most comprehensive and compelling case thus far that Trump did indeed engage in obstruction of justice.

Trump’s comments as alleged in the Comey statement make Trump sound more like a mob boss than the president of a democracy.

Comey recounts that at a Jan. 27 dinner alone with Trump in the Green Room of the White House, Trump demanded, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” This was after Trump seemed to implicitly threaten Comey’s job:

“The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.”

Trump was also insistent that Comey publicly state that Trump — not necessarily members of his campaign — was not at that time under investigation, because “the cloud” the suspicion created was impeding his progress as president. As Comey recalls, Trump said he would do as Comey advised and have the White House counsel contact the leadership of the Department of Justice to make the request for a public statement, but then Trump added:

“‘Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’”

Comey writes that he didn’t want to issue a statement that Trump was not under investigation at that time because it by no means meant that Trump would not be under investigation later, after more was known. As Comey wrote about Trump following another phone call:

“He repeatedly told me, ‘We need to get that fact out.’ (I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.)”

Trump was obsessed with the salacious dossier of unsubstantiated claims compiled by a former British spy, including the explosive claim that Russian authorities believed they could successfully exploit Trump’s “personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him.”

The document continued:

“According to Source D, where s/he had been present, TRUMP’s (perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs. OBAMA (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.”

According to Comey’s statement, Trump was so upset by the details in the dossier that at a dinner in the Green Room of the White House, “he said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen.”

It demonstrates Trump’s inexplicable and incessant pleading on behalf of his fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn; Trump implored Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn. At one point, Comey quotes Trump as saying: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy.”

Comey wrote of the exchange:

“I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.”

The supreme irony here is that Trump was apparently not under investigation at the time, but his reactions to the investigation itself and his raging narcissism may have put him at the center of an even more ominous investigation.

I don’t know if the president will ever be charged with a crime. I don’t know whether he will eventually be impeached. Prosecution and impeachment are both birds in the bush, ones that may never manifest.

But I am absolutely sure that the picture emerging of Trump’s predilections and peccadilloes reaffirms and strengthens my view of him: He is thoroughly unfit for the office and a stain on this nation and the world. Trump should not be in a mansion with white columns, but in a cell with black bars.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

In his prepared testimony before Congress, James Comey says he spoke alone with President Barack Obama on just two occasions — once simply for Obama to say a brief goodbye. In contrast, he adds, “I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months.”

These were profoundly uncomfortable and in some cases “very concerning” and highly irregular, recounts Comey, who was fired as F.B.I. director last month. After one conversation, he says, “I took the opportunity to implore the attorney general to prevent any future direct communication between the president and me.

Trump sought a pledge of personal loyalty so as to turn the head of the F.B.I. into a political lackey. “I need loyalty,” Comey quotes Trump as telling him. “I expect loyalty.”

“I didn’t move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” Comey adds. “We simply looked at each other in silence.”

Trump’s behavior is reminiscent of what tin-pot despots do. I know, for I’ve covered the overthrow of more than I can count.

So let’s not get mired in legal technicalities. Whether or not it was illegal for Trump to urge Comey to back off his investigation into Russia ties to Mike Flynn, who was fired as national security adviser, it was utterly inappropriate. What comes through is a persistent effort by Trump to interfere with the legal system. There’s a consistent pattern: Trump’s contempt for the system of laws that, incredibly, he now presides over.

All this is of course tied to Russia and its equally extraordinary attack on the American political system last year. The latest revelation is that Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one supplier of American voting software and tried to compromise the computers of more than 100 local voting officials.

Comey specifies in his testimony, to be presented Thursday, that he told Trump that there was no personal investigation of him, but that this might change. Comey seems to have an open mind — a good lesson for all of us.

To frame the Comey testimony, consider the staggering comments this week of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence until early this year.

“Watergate pales really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now,” said Clapper, a former lieutenant general with a long career in intelligence under Republican and Democratic presidents alike. He added: “I am very concerned about the assault on our institutions coming from both an external source — read Russia — and an internal source — the president himself.”

As Clapper suggested, Trump has been undermining the institutions and mores that undergird our political process; whether or not his conduct was felonious, it has been profoundly subversive.

Apart from Comey and the Russia investigation, Trump has systematically attacked the institutions of American life that he sees as impediments. He denounced judges and the courts. He has attacked journalists as “the enemy of the people,” and urged that some be jailed for publishing classified information. He has publicly savaged Democrats and Republicans who stand up to him.

More broadly, Trump has ignored longstanding democratic norms, such as that a presidential candidate release tax returns and obey certain ethics rules. He flouts conventions against nepotism. And perhaps most fundamentally, he simply lies at every turn: Politicians often spin and exaggerate, they even lie in extremis to escape scandal. But Trump is different. He lies on autopilot, on something as banal as the size of inauguration crowds.

Obama was meticulous about ethics rules. He consulted lawyers before accepting the Nobel Peace Prize; aides were forced to give up Twitter accounts when they left office, to ensure they had not benefited improperly by gaining followers.

In contrast, the Trump family seems indifferent to optics — and determined to monetize the presidency. The latest ugliness is in a devastating exposé by Forbes about charity work by Eric Trump to raise money for children with cancer.

Eric raised some $16 million, which is wonderful. The Trump family had claimed to donate the use of its golf courses for these charity events, so that virtually all of the money raised was flowing to the sick children. Instead, Forbes says, the Trumps charged huge sums to hold the events — misleading the public, and profiting from donations intended for sick children.

Skimming money meant for kids with cancer? This is cartoonlike. (The family hasn’t responded in detail, although Eric did say that, to him, the critics are “not even people.” He lamented that “morality’s just gone.”)

President Trump sought office as a law-and-order campaigner, and he is overseeing a crackdown on refugees, immigrants, drug offenders and other vulnerable people. But he is also systematically undermining the rule of law as “those wise restraints that make men free,” in the words of the late law professor John Maguire.

So as we watch Comey testify, remember that the fundamental question is not just whether the president broke a particular law regarding obstruction of justice, but also whether he is systematically assaulting the rule of law that makes us free.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Happy Infrastructure Week!

O.K., I know some of you are distracted by competing current events. But the Trump administration would prefer that we all concentrate on the president’s plans for improving the nation’s roads and bridges.

Trump promised he’d be discussing infrastructure with all the major players “in great depth next week.” This was right before he went into a meeting with legislative leaders on Tuesday. You may be wondering why he didn’t discuss it with them in great depth right at that moment. Since this is, you know, Infrastructure Week.

One possible answer is that the president likes promising to discuss important policy matters in the future much more than he likes working on them in the present. But to be fair, one of the Republican leaders did report later that Trump had mentioned the wall along the Mexican border, which would definitely be a structure. The president revealed he wants to pay for it by putting solar panels along the top.

Wait a minute, I thought he hated renewable energy!

Where did you come from? No, he doesn’t hate renewable energy. Just wind power, and that’s just because the Scottish government put some turbines near one of his golf courses.

But let me tell you a little more about Infrastructure Week. While the whole world was talking about James Comey, Trump launched it with a plug for privatization of part of the Federal Aviation Administration. He sat down in front of the cameras and signed what might have looked, to the uninitiated, like a law, or a program, or at least a calendar of events. But it was really just a letter to Congress encouraging everyone to take up the F.A.A. idea. Which they have already made pretty clear they probably won’t.

Why would we want to privatize the F.A.A.? It’s not going to make flying safer. If they wanted to make it better, they could tell the airlines to put in more leg room.

I could use a little less interruption. But, yeah.

During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a $1 trillion program to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges and waterways. It was a super popular idea, and once he was elected, one of the very few bright spots congressional Democrats saw on the horizon. They figured Republican fiscal conservatives would balk, but they could make a deal to deliver the needed extra votes.

“I told him — you know you’ll need our support,” a prominent Democrat happily told me last year. “And he said, ‘Yeah.’”

This is what conversation sounds like in Washington these days. Still, by Trumpian standards, that’s the Gettysburg Address.

But Trump’s people never reached out to the Democrats, who had reasonable reservations about the original plan, which made some very iffy presumptions about using tax credits to get private investment in the roads and bridges. Under the very best of circumstances, it would mean a lot of tolls. It would also require a lot of smart government oversight, and we are talking here about a White House that has yet to figure out how to nominate an ambassador to Great Britain.

Plus, the president’s budget actually cut $206 billion the government had already committed to infrastructure projects. So on Wednesday, when Trump was in Cincinnati standing by the mighty Ohio and extolling the glories of river transport, cynics gloomily recalled that he wants to slice a billion dollars from the Army Corps of Engineers, which fixes the dams and locks.

Did he brag about winning the election? He always does that in his speeches.

Yeah, there was a little mention of how Ohio “was supposed to be close. It wasn’t.” He spent much more time praising himself for approving the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which required him to courageously stand up to environmental groups that had not supported him in the election. (“Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg. I just closed my eyes and I said: ‘Do it.’”)

What’s wrong with investing government money on roads? President Eisenhower did the biggest highway construction program ever, and he was a Republican.

If you’re going to try to imagine Donald Trump and Dwight Eisenhower in the same party, we can’t continue talking.

But Trump did bring up Eisenhower’s grand achievement in Cincinnati. “The Interstate Highway System — we don’t do that anymore. We don’t even fix them,” he complained. There was no explanation of how the fixing was going to be accomplished through private investors, who want new tolls, not less potholes.

He didn’t say anything at all about how his infrastructure plan would work, possibly because it doesn’t appear to exist at this point in time. The Democrats do have one, but Trump certainly hasn’t read it.

Because he can’t read, right?

Don’t be mean. He just doesn’t like to read at great length. But the president made it sound as if, at the first mention of the word “infrastructure,” the Democrats had thrown themselves upon the barricades. “I just don’t see them coming together. They’re obstructionist,” he claimed.

The emperor has no clothes.

Yeah, this one has been buck naked since the day he took office.

Blow and Krugman

June 5, 2017

In “Trump’s Incredible Shrinking America” Mr. Blow says pulling out of the Paris climate accord is hazardous and shortsighted.  Prof. Krugman, in “Making Ignorance Great Again,” says climate is a casualty in the war on truth.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

My whole life I have taken for granted America’s leadership in the world. America’s might and majesty were cornerstones of international relations, cooperation and diplomacy. We were a beacon and balance to the world. America has been imperfect — sometimes disastrously so — but it always seemed to me bent toward the belief that America and the world could be made more perfect.

Well, that time has come to a close. America is exiting the world stage. Donald Trump is drawing the curtains.

On Trump’s first full weekday in office, he, and thus America, abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As The New York Times reported it:

“President Trump upended America’s traditional, bipartisan trade policy on Monday as he formally abandoned the ambitious, 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership brokered by his predecessor and declared an end to the era of multinational trade agreements that defined global economics for decades.”

Trump has had, and continues to have, an unhealthy and inexplicable admiration for the world’s strongmen, dictators and authoritarian regimes — Russia and Vladimir Putin stand out among the rest — while simultaneously chiding and chastising America’s traditional allies and those countries’ leaders.

From the way Trump has treated America’s neighbors — Mexico about immigrants and the financing of his ridiculous wall, Canada over trade practices on energy, lumber and dairy (he called policies surrounding dairy trade “a disgrace”) — to the way he has treated our friends in Europe, Trump is singlehandedly ushering in a new era of American decline.

Last month in Europe, Trump was as boorish and belligerent as it was possible to be, lashing out at our NATO allies about their defense spending just after having been gracious and magnanimous to leaders in the Middle East.

Then last week Trump thumbed his nose at the world and the planet by announcing that he would pull America out of the Paris climate accord, even though a Yale survey found the agreement was popular and a majority of Americans in every state — including those that Trump won — wanted the United States to stay in the agreement.

But even beyond whether or not it was popular, staying in was right. More than 190 countries — most of the countries on the planet — are signatories to the agreement. We have one planet. It is in trouble. The world must band together to save it. How does it look for the world’s last remaining superpower to simply walk away?

This is not putting America first, this is putting America on a path of regression and isolationism. This is putting our future and the future of the planet in peril. This is dumb, hazardous and shortsighted.

Trump justified his move using faulty information, citing issues that are not even in the agreement and flat-out lying. What else is new? Perhaps his most memorable line from his speech about the withdrawal was:

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris. I promised I would exit or renegotiate any deal which fails to serve America’s interests.”

The problem is that, as PolitiFact pointed out:

“Clinton won almost 60 percent of the vote in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh. The percentage was even higher in many precincts within the city of Pittsburgh itself. (Allegheny County includes a range of suburbs in addition to the city.)”

Indeed, the mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, told CNN after the speech: “The city of Pittsburgh voted for Hillary Clinton with nearly 80 percent of the vote.” Later on CNN, Peduto was asked if he had a message for Trump. Peduto responded: “What you did was not only bad for the economy of this country, but also weakened America in this world.”

In fact, mayors, governors and business leaders across the country were quick to rebuke Trump’s horrendous decision and to dedicate themselves to the spirit of the agreement.

Then, for me, the icing on the cake was Trump’s absolute lack of grace and tact in his response to the London terror attacks over the weekend. His first response was not to express his horror and extend America’s condolences and offer American assistance. No, that would have required that he possess a shred of empathy and common decency.

Instead, his first instinct was to use the attacks as political fodder to advance his own failed domestic agenda to impose a “travel ban.”

Shortly after the attacks, while people were still trying to get their minds around what exactly had happened in London, Trump tweeted:

“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”

(Note that Trump again calls it a “ban,” although White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who retweeted this message, scolded the media in January for calling Trump’s ban a ban, saying: “This is not a Muslim ban, it’s not a travel ban, it’s a vetting system to keep America safe.” Trump is killing himself in the courts with his own words.)

Trump is pulling America back and pulling America down. We are now witnessing the incredible shrinking America, and it’s a sad sight to behold.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump just took us out of the Paris climate accord for no good reason. I don’t mean that his decision was wrong. I mean, literally, that he didn’t offer any substantive justification for that decision. Oh, he threw around a few numbers about supposed job losses, but nobody believes that he knows or cares where those numbers came from. It was just what he felt like doing.

And here’s the thing: What just happened on climate isn’t an unusual case — and Trump isn’t especially unusual for a modern Republican. For today’s G.O.P. doesn’t do substance; it doesn’t assemble evidence, or do analysis to formulate or even to justify its policy positions. Facts and hard thinking aren’t wanted, and anyone who tries to bring such things into the discussion is the enemy.

Consider another huge policy area, health care. How was Trumpcare put together? Did the administration and its allies consult with experts, study previous experience with health reform, and try to devise a plan that made sense? Of course not. In fact, House leaders made a point of ramming a bill through before the Congressional Budget Office, or for that matter anyone else, could assess its likely impact.

When the budget office did weigh in, its conclusions were what you might expect: If you make huge cuts in Medicaid and reduce subsidies for private insurance — all so you can cut taxes on the wealthy — a lot of people are going to lose coverage. Is 23 million a good estimate of those losses? Yes — it might be 18 million, or it might be 28 million, but surely it would be in that range.

So how did the administration respond? By trying to shoot the messenger. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, attacked the C.B.O., declaring that it did a “miserable” job of forecasting the effects of Obamacare. (It got some things wrong, but overall did pretty well.) He also accused the office — headed by a former Bush administration economist chosen by Republicans — of political bias, and smeared its top health expert in particular.

So, Mr. Mulvaney, where’s your assessment of Trumpcare? You had plenty of resources to do your own study before trying to pass a bill. What did you find? (Actually, the White House did do an internal analysis of an earlier version of Trumpcare, which was leaked to Politico. Its predictions were even more dire than those from the C.B.O.)

But Mulvaney and his party don’t study issues, they just decide, and attack the motives of anyone who questions their decisions.

Which brings us back to climate policy.

On climate change, influential conservatives have for years clung to what is basically a crazy conspiracy theory — that the overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is warming due to greenhouse-gas emissions is a hoax, somehow coordinated by thousands of researchers around the world. And at this point this is effectively the mainstream Republican position.

Do G.O.P. leaders really think this conspiracy theory is true? The answer, surely, is that they don’t care. Truth, as something that exists apart from and in possible opposition to political convenience, is no longer part of their philosophical universe.

The same goes for claims that trying to rein in emissions will do terrible economic damage and destroy millions of jobs. Such claims are, if you think about it, completely inconsistent with everything Republicans supposedly believe about economics.

After all, they insist that the private sector is infinitely flexible and innovative; the magic of the marketplace can solve all problems. But then they claim that these magical markets would roll over and die if we put a modest price on carbon emissions, which is basically what climate policy would do. This doesn’t make any sense — but it’s not supposed to. Republicans want to keep burning coal, and they’ll say whatever helps produce that outcome.

And as health care and climate go, so goes everything else. Can you think of any major policy area where the G.O.P. hasn’t gone post-truth? Take budgeting, where leaders like Paul Ryan have always justified tax cuts for the rich by claiming the ability to conjure up trillions in extra revenue and savings in some unspecified way. The Trump-Mulvaney budget, which not only pulls $2 trillion out of thin air but counts it twice, takes the game to a new level, but it’s not that much of a departure.

But does any of it matter? The president, backed by his party, is talking nonsense, destroying American credibility day by day. But hey, stocks are up, so what’s the problem?

Well, bear in mind that so far Trump hasn’t faced a single crisis not of his own making. As George Orwell noted many years ago in his essay “In Front of Your Nose,” people can indeed talk nonsense for a very long time, without paying an obvious price. But “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” Now there’s a happy thought.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

June 1, 2017

Mr. Blow has a question in “The Complexities of James Comey:”  Is it fair to harbor some hostility toward Comey while still cheering his coming confrontation with Trump?  Oh, hell yes, Charles, hell yes.  In “On a Portland Train, the Battlefield of American Values” Mr. Kristof says the best of our nation materialized against the worst on a fateful commute in Oregon.  Ms. Collins says “Oh Dear.  The Trumps Keep Multiplying.”  She tells us the family is so busy, their government and personal interests are a blur.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There is no other way to put it: Former F.B.I. Director James Comey tragically botched the investigation into Hillary Clinton, no doubt playing a part in her losing and Donald Trump’s being elected.

But it is also true that Comey may be a linchpin in undoing the mistake he made.

Trump was completely out of bounds when he fired Comey — the man who was leading an investigation into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign — and then bragged to the Russians about the firing.

Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump asked Comey “to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.”

“ ‘I hope you can let this go,’ the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.”

The question of whether Trump’s ask, Comey’s continuance and Trump’s subsequent firing of Comey constitutes obstruction of justice looms large.

Now CNN is reporting that “Comey plans to testify publicly in the Senate as early as next week to confirm bombshell accusations that President Donald Trump pressured him to end his investigation into a top Trump aide’s ties to Russia, a source close to the issue said Wednesday.”

This is shaping up to be a high-drama media event.

But the clarity of good vs. evil isn’t as clear-cut here as I would like it to be. To me it registers more as a matter of degrees: A good man exposed for colossal mismanagement versus a wretched man craning toward monstrosity.

You see, Comey is simultaneously hero and villain, and presumably right where he likes to be: in the spotlight.

In an extensive report on Comey in April, The Times painted a picture of a man who sought desperately not to appear political but who was not immune to the lure of self-promotion and publicity.

As The Times put it:

“For Mr. Comey, keeping the F.B.I. out of politics is such a preoccupation that he once said he would never play basketball with President Barack Obama because of the appearance of being chummy with the man who appointed him. But in the final months of the presidential campaign, the leader of the nation’s pre-eminent law enforcement agency shaped the contours, if not the outcome, of the presidential race by his handling of the Clinton and Trump-related investigations.”

The Times also added that Comey made his decision to treat the handling of the Clinton and Trump-related investigations during the campaign in such vastly different ways “with the supreme self-confidence of a former prosecutor who, in a distinguished career, has cultivated a reputation for what supporters see as fierce independence, and detractors view as media-savvy arrogance.”

A Vanity Fair profile of Comey went further:

“One observer cites Comey’s willingness to say, ‘I know what’s right,’ even when doing so causes potentially avoidable drama. Another person who knows Comey well says, ‘There is stubbornness, ego, and some self-righteousness at work.’ ”

I don’t doubt the integrity and intent of this modern-day Achilles, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a heel.

It is hard to know exactly how to consider Comey. Are the beans he may spill about Trump to be considered absolution for the sins he committed concerning Clinton’s email? Must we simply choose the lesser of two evils in an epic battle: a man of integrity who made a huge error in judgment over a man who lacks integrity and whose judgments are near absolute in their erroneousness?

Is it fair to believe sincerely that Comey should indeed have been fired, just not at this time, in this way, for this reason? Is it fair and right to harbor some hostility toward Comey while still cheering his coming confrontation with Trump?

No matter which way I think about it, I’m torn.

And yet, I wait with the greatest of anticipation for Comey’s testimony. Will he confirm the existence of contemporaneously produced memos by him that reportedly document his unease with his interactions with a newly elected Trump? If so, how many memos are there and what do they say?

Will he directly contradict the story that the White House, including Trump, has told?

Will this be a clash of the titans or an arm wrestle of egos?

Whether or not there is a case against Trump for obstruction of justice is likely to hinge in large part on what Comey says and what, if any, proof he can produce.

Comey is one of the people who damned us to the reign of Trump, and Comey may be one of the only people who can save us from it.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

America may seem leaderless, with nastiness and bullying ascendant, but the best of our nation materialized during a moral crisis on a commuter train in Portland, Ore.

A white man riding on that train on Friday began screaming anti-Muslim insults at a black 16-year-old girl and her 17-year-old Muslim friend wearing a hijab. One can imagine people pretending not to hear and staring fiercely down at their phones; instead, three brave passengers stepped forward to protect the girls.

The three were as different as could be. One was a 23-year-old recent Reed College graduate who had a mane of long hair and was working as a consultant. Another was a 53-year-old Army veteran with the trimmest of haircuts and a record of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The third was a 21-year-old poet and Portland State University student on his way to a job at a pizzeria. What united the three was decency.

When they intervened, the man harassing the girls pulled a knife and slashed the three men before fleeing. Rick Best, the veteran, died at the scene. Taliesin Namkai-Meche, the recent Reed graduate, was conscious as he waited for an ambulance. A good Samaritan took off her shirt to cover him; she recounted that some of his last words were: “I want everybody on the train to know, I love them.” He died soon after arriving at the hospital.

Another passer-by stanched the bleeding of the student poet, Micah Fletcher, and called his mother to tell her to go to the hospital — but played down the injuries to avoid terrifying her. Fletcher underwent two hours of surgery to remove bone fragments from his throat and is recovering.

Police arrested Jeremy Christian, 35, a white supremacist, and charged him with the murders. The train attack doesn’t fit America’s internal narrative of terrorism, but it’s a reminder that terrorism takes many forms. Last year Americans were less likely to be killed by a Muslim terrorist (odds of one in six million) than for being Muslim (odds of one in one million), according to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina.

In tragedy, we can sometimes find inspiration. In that train car, we saw that courage and leadership are alive — if not always in Washington, then among ordinary Americans converging from varied backgrounds on a commuter train, standing together against a threat to our shared humanity.

I’d been dispirited by recent events. President Trump’s overseas trip marked an abdication of American leadership, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel concluding that Europe can no longer rely on the United States. The Trump budget was intellectually dishonest and morally repugnant, with cuts in global AIDS funding alone that may cost one million lives.

Today’s White House seems to stand for nothing loftier than crony capitalism and the scapegoating of refugees, Muslims and immigrants. To me, Trump “values” are primarily narcissism, nepotism and nihilism.

And this is infectious: Cass Sunstein of Harvard cites psychology research indicating that Trump has made it more acceptable for Americans to embrace xenophobia. I wrote last year that “Donald Trump is making America meaner,” prompting bigotry in rural Oregon where I grew up, and around the country.

We don’t know whether the murderer on the Portland train felt empowered to scream at a Muslim girl because of Trump’s own previous Islamophobic rants, any more than we can be sure that Trump’s denunciation of reporters led a Montana candidate to body slam a journalist. But when a president incites hatred, civilization winces.

If all that is one thread of America, another is represented by those three men who stepped forward on that train. It’s also represented by the good Samaritans who helped them when they were stabbed, by the countless people who joined vigils to honor the victims and who donated more than $1 million in a few days for the families of those killed and for the survivor.

It’s terrific that the White House eventually acknowledged these heroes in a tweet. But it would have been more convincing if the tweet came sooner and from Trump’s own @realDonaldTrump account rather than the @Potus account mostly managed by his staff.

What the three men in Oregon understood, but the White House doesn’t, is that in a healthy society, Islamophobia doesn’t disparage just Muslims, racism doesn’t demean blacks alone, misogyny hurts more than women, xenophobia insults more than immigrants. Rather, we are all diminished, so we all have a stake in confronting bigotry.

Best, the veteran, had three teenage children and a 12-year-old daughter, and I hope his kids understand that their dad died challenging a venomous intolerance that threatens our social fabric. He fell on the battlefield of American values. He deserves the chance to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

One thing I’ve learned in my reporting career is that side by side with the worst of humanity, you find the best. The test for all of us is whether we can similarly respond to hatred and nihilism with courage and, in the dying words of Namkai-Meche, with “love.”

After coming out of surgery, weak but indomitable, Fletcher wrote a poem that offers us guidance. According to the Oregonian, it read in part:

“I, am alive.

I spat in the eye of hate and lived.

This is what we must do for one another

We must live for one another.”

And last but not least we get to Ms. Collins:

The kids are not alright.

Let’s see now. Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is under investigation for weird cloak-and-daggerish meetings with the Russians. Ivanka just took a bunch of money from the Saudis for her favorite charity. Eric and Don Jr. are traveling the world to promote Trump hotels and golf courses while being looked after by the Secret Service on our dime.

Tiffany is going to law school. If only the others were in law school.

Pop question: Who’s your favorite mini-Trump? I’m sort of attached to Eric, the one who compared waterboarding to a fraternity hazing.

In theory, Eric and Don Jr. are supposed to be totally unconnected to the government, running the family business in a manner so separate from the president that they might easily be working in a totally different dimension.

Hahaha.

“I do not talk about the government with him and he does not talk about the business with us. That’s kind of a steadfast pact we made, and it’s something we honor,” Eric told Forbes earlier this year.

Then, Forbes reported, about “two minutes later” Eric volunteered that he’d still be making “profitability reports and stuff like that” to the president. He and Dad are, Eric added, “pretty inseparable.”

Darned tootin’. Besides traveling the world to publicize Trump golf courses and hang out with potential investors, Eric and Donald Jr. are also working the political side of the street. The boys recently met with Republican leaders to discuss 2018 election plans. (Don Jr., by the way, is the one who was recently off shooting prairie dogs during their breeding season.)

Eric’s wife, Lara, was at the meeting, too. More relatives! When she’s not talking with Republican leaders, Lara is active in an animal rights group called the Beagle Freedom Project. It helps find homes for dogs that were used in scientific studies, which is commendable. On the other hand, one of its leaders spent six years in jail for harassing research workers.

Her father-in-law isn’t really into pets, which is now looking like a good thing. Given the way he operates, if Trump had, say, a cocker spaniel it would probably now be deputy secretary of agriculture.

Lately, the Trump relatives we’ve been hearing most about are Ivanka, an official presidential adviser, and her husband, Jared, whose portfolio includes modernizing government and bringing peace to the Middle East. They recently accompanied the president on his overseas trip — the one that began in Saudi Arabia with fun festivities and the glowing orb.

While the Trumps were there, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates announced they were honoring Ivanka by donating $100 million to a World Bank fund for women entrepreneurs.

Perhaps you remember a presidential debate last fall in which Trump denounced the Clinton Foundation for accepting money from conservative Arab nations like, um, Saudi Arabia. (“You talk about women and women’s rights? So these are people who push gays off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money.”) Ah, well.

Jared’s current issue is the mysterious back channel he attempted to set up with the Russians. Like so very many things involving this administration, it’s a controversy in which the most positive interpretation is that he had no idea what the hell he was doing.

In December Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russia bank, to talk about setting up a special communication system, apparently so he could talk without American intelligence overhearing.

It had to be disastrous in some way, since Mike Flynn was involved. Among the possible explanations:

A) The incoming administration had directed a 36-year-old real estate developer with no government experience to solve the Syrian crisis while keeping the whole thing secret from everybody except Vladimir Putin.

B) Jared was trying to do a favor for his sister-in-law Lara by setting up a channel to smuggle abused beagles out of Russia.

C) This is something about Russian money backing Trump businesses.

I am of course going for the beagles. But feel free to be cynical.

“We know Kushner’s business operations are in constant need of loans and investors. It’s highly suspicious,” said Fred Wertheimer of the good-government group Democracy 21. He used to specialize in campaign finance reform, but now Wertheimer lives in a world where a president’s daughter joins Dad at a dinner with the Chinese president the very same day she receives trademark rights for selling Ivanka Trump glitz in China.

And speaking of sleazy contacts with foreign investors, last week Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley called for an investigation into “potentially fraudulent statements and misrepresentations” made by a Chinese company promoting deals that seemed to involve U.S. visas for financiers who made big investments in a luxury condo project in New Jersey.

The condos are being developed by Kushner Companies and were being marketed by Jared’s sister. Yes! There’s no end to them.

Stay the course, Tiffany.

Blow and Krugman

May 29, 2017

In “Donald Trump; The Gateway Degenerate” Mr. Blow says Republicans in the age of Trump have sadly moved away from morality as a viable concept.  Prof. Krugman, in “Trump’s Energy, Low and Dirty,” says the administration is risking the planet to keep a lie alive.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, when voters in Montana elected Greg Gianforte to fill the state’s lone seat in the House of Representatives, even after he was recorded in a physical altercation with a reporter, many Americans — like me — were left to look on in astonished bewilderment.

There was an audio recording of the altercation. The reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, says Gianforte body-slammed him while he was simply doing his job, asking questions on the eve of the election. Gianforte’s camp issued a bogus statement basically blaming Jacobs for the incident, but that statement was not at all backed up by the audio.

There were witnesses. A Fox News crew was there, and as Fox’s Alicia Acuna wrote of the altercation:

“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’ ”

She added: “To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

In a statement, the local sheriff’s department “determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault.” Gianforte has to appear in court June 7 to answer the charge.

And yet, as The New York Times reported, “Voters here shrugged off the episode and handed Republicans a convincing victory.”

Three of the largest daily papers in Montana were aghast and withdrew their endorsements of Gianforte. But Republicans in Congress didn’t possess that courage of conviction. Their collective response essentially amounted to, “Eh.”

Other notably notorious Republicans went further. Babbling Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center wrote on Twitter:

“Jacobs is an obnoxious, dishonest first class jerk. I’m not surprised he got smacked.”

Interestingly enough, Bozell commented on Fox about Donald Trump’s hostile relationship to the media, saying: “What Donald Trump is saying is, ‘If you hit me unfairly, I’m going to knock your teeth out.’ And that’s what he’s been doing.”

This rhetoric is overheated, violent and dangerous.

The detestable radio host Laura Ingraham wrote in a couple of Twitter posts:

“Politicians always need to keep their cool. But what would most Montana men do if ‘body slammed’ for no reason by another man?”

And: “Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?”

Outrageous. Assault is not a game. It’s not a joke. It’s criminal. Any moral person would know better than to treat it so cavalierly. A moral person wouldn’t make a joke; that person would take a stand.

But Republicans in the age of Trump have sadly moved away from morality as a viable concept.

Yes, Gianforte’s assault is a glaring display of toxic masculinity in an environment made particularly toxic by the man in the White House and his media bullying. But more telling and more ominous is the degree to which Republicans no longer seem to care, and their increasing ability to compartmentalize and justify.

This is all an outgrowth of Trump’s degradation of common decency. Trump was the gateway candidate. When Republicans allowed themselves to accept and support him in spite of his glaring flaws and his life lived in opposition to the values they once professed and insisted upon, they moved themselves into another moral realm in which literally nothing was beyond the pale.

It is a sort of by-any-means-necessary, no-sin-is-too-grave, all-facts-are-fungible space in the moral universe where the rules of basic human decency warp.

The moment that they allowed themselves to vote for a man who bragged on tape about assaulting women, appeared in at least two pornos, and once joked about dating his own daughter, they surrendered the mantle of morality.

When they allowed themselves to vote for a man who insulted Mexicans and Muslims, who mocked a disabled reporter, who called for executing the Central Park Five and who had “a long history of racial bias at his family’s properties, in New York and beyond,” according to an extensive report by The Times, Republicans surrendered the mantle of morality.

Republicans sold their souls to this devil and now are forced to defend as right what they know full well is wrong. They must defend his incessant lying, clear incompetence and dubious dealings. What was once sacrilege among Republicans is now sacrosanct.

It is in that context that Gianforte could be charged with assault and Republicans would pat him on the back instead of rapping him on the knuckles.

Republicans, blinded by fear and rage, thirsty for power, desperate for a reclamation and reassertion of racial power, have cast their lot with the great deceiver and all their previous deal-breakers are now negotiable.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump has two false beliefs about energy, one personal, one political. And the latter may send the world on a path to disaster.

On the personal side, Trump reportedly disdains exercise of any kind except golf. He believes that raising a sweat depletes the finite reserves of precious bodily fluids, I mean energy, that a person is born with, and should therefore be avoided.

Many years of acting on this belief may or may not explain the weird and embarrassing scene at the G-7 summit in Taormina, in which six of the advanced world’s leaders strolled together a few hundred yards through the historic city, but Trump followed behind, driven in an electric golf cart.

More consequential, however, is Trump’s false belief that lifting environmental restrictions — ending the supposed “war on coal” — will bring back the days when the coal-mining industry employed hundreds of thousands of blue-collar Americans.

How do we know that this belief is false? For one thing, coal employment began falling long before anyone was talking much about the environment, let alone global warming. In fact, coal jobs fell by two-thirds between 1948 and 1970, the year the Environmental Protection Agency was founded. This happened despite rising, not falling, coal production, mainly reflecting the replacement of old-fashioned pick-and-shovel mining with strip-mining and mountaintop removal, which require many fewer workers.

It’s true that in the past few years coal production has finally begun to fall, in part due to environmental rules. Mainly, however, coal is fading because of progress in other technologies. As one analyst put it last week, coal “doesn’t really make that much sense anymore as a feedstock,” given the rapidly falling costs of cleaner energy sources like natural gas, wind and solar power.

Who was that analyst? Gary Cohn, chairman of the National Economic Council — that is, Trump’s own chief economist. One wonders, however, whether he’s expressed those views — which pretty much represent the consensus among energy experts — to the president.

There was a time, not that long ago, when advocating clean energy was widely considered an impractical, counterculture sort of thing. Hippies on communes might talk about peace, love and solar energy; practical people knew that prosperity was all about digging stuff up and burning it. These days, however, those who take energy policy seriously see a future that belongs largely to renewables — and definitely not a future in which we keep burning lots of coal, let alone employ a lot of people digging it up.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 25, 2017

In “The Flynn Affair” Mr. Blow has a question:  Why has President Trump remained so loyal to Michael Flynn?  Mr. Kristof is flexing his satire muscles in “The Republican Hypocrisy Hall of Fame” when he says thank God for our truth-seeking patriots in the G.O.P.!  Ms. Collins, in “Trump Can’t Add Things Up,” says the president is a man with a budget plan that nobody understands.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the greatest political mysteries of our time is why President Trump has clung — and continues to cling — so steadfastly to the perfidious Michael Flynn.

Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, is at the nexus of Trump’s problems. There was Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey and his contacts with Russia. There was Trump’s dismissal of all warnings to steer clear of Flynn; his refusal to fire Flynn as soon as he was alerted to the fact that Flynn posed a security risk; his efforts to impede or even terminate the investigations of Flynn.

Not only has Trump staunchly defended Flynn — even after firing him — he is apparently still in contact with him, sending him encouraging messages. As Michael Isikoff reported last week for Yahoo News about a dinner Flynn convened with “a small group of loyalists”:

Not only did he remain loyal to President Trump; he indicated that he and the president were still in communication. “I just got a message from the president to stay strong,” Flynn said after the meal was over, according to two sources who are close to Flynn and are familiar with the conversation, which took place on April 25.

This level of extreme fealty is puzzling. It extends beyond basic loyalty to an early supporter. It seems to me that there is something else at play here, something as yet unknown. Trump’s attachment to Flynn strikes me less as an act of fidelity and more as an exercise in fear. What does Flynn know that Trump doesn’t want the world to know?

What are the dirty details of what could only be called The Flynn Affair?

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who served as head of the Trump transition team before being brushed aside for Vice President Mike Pence, said he warned Trump about Flynn. As Christie said earlier this week: “I didn’t think that he was someone who would bring benefit to the president or to the administration, and I made that very clear to candidate Trump, and I made it very clear to President-elect Trump.”

Christie continued: “If I were president-elect of the United States, I wouldn’t let General Flynn into the White House, let alone give him a job.”

Trump apparently ignored the warning.

Barack Obama warned Trump not to hire Flynn. As The New York Times reported earlier this month:

Mr. Obama, who had fired Mr. Flynn as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Mr. Trump that he would have profound concerns about Mr. Flynn becoming a top national security aide, said the administration officials, who were briefed on the Oval Office conversation. Mr. Trump later ignored the advice, naming Mr. Flynn to be his national security adviser.

Sally Q. Yates, the acting attorney general, warned Trump about Flynn. As The Times reported earlier this month, when she delivered mesmerizing testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Yates informed the White House, less than a week into the Trump administration, that Flynn had lied to Pence about his Russian contacts and was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.

As Yates put it, “To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”

Trump again ignored the warning.

Eighteen days passed. Then, on Monday, Feb. 13, The Washington Post reported that Yates had warned Trump about Flynn, a warning the White House had kept secret.

That night, according to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Trump requested Flynn’s resignation, with Spicer saying the following day:

“The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation in a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for General Flynn’s resignation.”

Spicer quickly pointed out that the firing was not caused by a “legal issue, but rather a trust issue.”

As White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said on television that Tuesday morning, “It was misleading the vice president that made the situation unsustainable.”

In fact, it appeared that it was Trump being embarrassed by press reports that he had been warned of Flynn’s treachery and had done nothing with the information that led to Flynn’s ultimate resignation.

In Trump’s mind, this was all the fault of the press, not Flynn’s double-dealing or the president’s own faulty vetting and subsequent inaction. In a news conference the day after Spicer described Flynn’s departure, Trump said of Flynn, “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media — as I call it, the fake media, in many cases.” Trump continued, “I think it’s really a sad thing he was treated so badly.”

The day after Flynn was forced out his job, Trump told the former F.B.I. director, James Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” according to contemporaneous notes written by Comey, referring to a meeting in which Trump asked Comey to lay off the federal investigation of Flynn.

Comey wouldn’t let it go, and Trump would later fire him and reportedly brag about it to Russians in the Oval Office a day later: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.” Trump continued, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Now, all the hoops Trump has jumped through to hire, keep and protect Flynn may lead to Trump’s undoing. The question of whether Trump’s actions amount to obstruction of justice is very real. The White House Counsel’s Office is researching impeachment. This week Trump retained Marc Kasowitz as outside counsel for his impending legal problems. This is going to get ugly.

So the question not only remains, but is amplified in this light: What about Flynn is worth all this? Why continue to stick by someone who seems to have so clearly been in the wrong and is causing you such woes?

Does Flynn have knowledge of something so damaging that it keeps Trump crouched in his defense? This is the question that ongoing investigations must answer, particularly the investigation now led by the Justice Department’s newly appointed special counsel, Robert Mueller.

It’s time to lay bare this fishy bromance and come to know the full breadth of Flynn’s furtive activities and whether Trump was aware or complicit, before, during or after. Kick back America; it’s Mueller time.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

We certainly don’t want leading Republicans to tumble into hypocrisy, so let’s refresh their memories.

Patriots like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have eloquently warned of the importance of ferreting out the truth and holding politicians accountable, including for leaking classified information. Thank God for their insistence on truth-seeking!

As McConnell warned, for example: “The president did not value the sacred oath. He was interested in saving his hide, not truth and justice. I submit to my colleagues that if we have no truth and we have no justice, then we have no nation of laws. No public official, no president, no man or no woman is important enough to sacrifice the founding principles of our legal system.”

Such passion for justice and accountability (expressed in 1999, during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton) inspires us all. And at this historic moment when timid or myopic politicians balk at congressional oversight and resist an independent commission to investigate President Trump and possible collusion with the Kremlin, it behooves us to cherish the wisdom of such honest souls.

They’re busy, but no problem! I’ve helpfully dug out their brilliant insights:

“Extreme carelessness with classified material … is still totally disqualifying.”

— Donald Trump, July 11, 2016

“It’s simple: Individuals who are ‘extremely careless’ w/ classified info should be denied further access to it.”

— House Speaker Paul Ryan, tweet, July 7, 2016

“The security clearance of any officer or employee of the federal government who has exercised extreme carelessness in the handling of classified information shall be revoked.” — Senate Bill 3135, co-sponsored last year (to shame Hillary Clinton) by 16 Republican senators: Cory Gardner, John Cornyn, Shelley Moore Capito, Tim Scott, James Risch, Pat Roberts, Dean Heller, Kelly Ayotte, John Barrasso, David Perdue, Johnny Isakson, Thom Tillis, John Thune, David Vitter, Mike Rounds and James Inhofe

“Those who mishandled classified info have had their sec clearances revoked, lost their jobs, faced fines, & even been sent to prison.”

— Reince Priebus, tweet, July 6, 2016

“What do I say to the tens of thousands of people that live and work in my district who work for the federal government, including more than 47,000 Marines? What do I say [to them] when saying something that isn’t true and handling classified information in an extremely careless way has no criminal ramifications?”

Representative Darrell Issa, July 12, 2016

“In my opinion, quite frankly, it’s treason.”

Representative Michael McCaul, Nov. 3, 2016, on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server

“Presidents are not ordinary citizens. They are extraordinary, in that they are vested with so much more authority and power than the rest of us. We have a right; indeed, we have an obligation, to hold them strictly accountable to the rule of law. … It is self-evident to us all, I hope, that we cannot overlook, dismiss or diminish the obstruction of justice by the very person we charge with taking care that the laws are faithfully executed.”

— Senator John McCain, Feb. 12, 1999, in voting to convict President Clinton in his impeachment trial

“By his words and deeds, he had done great harm to the notions of honesty and integrity that form the underpinnings of this great republic. … If we do not sustain the moral and legal foundation on which our system of government and our prosperity is based, both will surely and steadily diminish.”

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Feb. 12, 1999, as a senator

“The true tragedy in this case is the collapse of the president’s moral authority. … There was no better reason than that for the resignation of this president.”

— Senator Charles Grassley, Feb. 12, 1999

“Our freedom is assured by the rule of law. … Even the most powerful among us must be subject to those laws. Tampering with the truth-seeking functions of the law undermines our justice system and the foundations on which our freedoms lie.”

Senator Mike Crapo, Feb. 12, 1999

Such Ciceros! At a time when so many Americans have a narrow, partisan vision, I am grateful that we are blessed with patriots of such vision.

In all seriousness, let’s adhere to the spirit of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who as a senator during the 1999 Clinton trial declared:

“The chief law officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend and protect the law and, in fact, attacked the law. … Under our Constitution, such acts are high crimes, and equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. … It is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth.”

And they’ll do anything about Trump when pigs fly.  Last but not least we have Ms. Collins:

We’re now getting a feel for what it was like to work in a business run by Donald Trump.

His budget is out, and it predicts we will have super-duper, excellent, great — no, huge — economic growth based on monster tax cuts for the rich and cuts in spending that will leave the poor with no money to buy anything.

It was produced in concert with that great health care bill, which the Congressional Budget Office now estimates would cost 23 million Americans their insurance coverage over the next 10 years.

On the plus side, in 10 years Trump will definitely not be president. Unless there’s a coup.

We’re being run like a bad Atlantic City casino. It’s only a matter of time before the government will be trying to make ends meet by selling its name to golf course developers and marketing USA Steaks.

The budget came out while Trump was overseas, talking about peace with Pope Francis, who occasionally looked as cheerful as if he was watching his car being towed away.

Meanwhile at home, the detailed presidential spending plan was being unveiled, like the magic show at a mismanaged gambling house tottering toward bankruptcy court. There were a few, um, flaws. For one thing, the budget appeared to count the same $2 trillion twice. We hate when a government does that.

It also presumes that a country with an aging population is going to spur economic growth by battling immigration. And the big tax-cutting plan that is the basis of said explosive growth is still just that one-page summary the administration handed out to catcalls last month.

And it has two names. “Well, it’s called the New Foundation for American Greatness, but I wanted to call it the Taxpayer First Budget,” said budget director Mick Mulvaney at the rollout.

Which do you prefer, people? I am imagining a salesman urging his customer to buy extra supplies “so you’ll be ready for the New Foundation for American Greatness.” Maybe we could just call it by the nickname it has already acquired in the outside world, Thing that Won’t Add Up (TWAUP). I sort of like TWAUP. It sounds like a dyspeptic frog.

Congress could not have been less enthusiastic about the president’s plan if the members had been with the pope at that picture-taking session. Perhaps they were remembering that one of Trump’s casinos went on to a career that involved ultimately being sold for 4 cents on the dollar.

“Probably dead on arrival,” said Senator John McCain when the budget emerged.

You have to believe that McCain is having a good time these days. He made his name as the tough-talking, truth-telling presidential candidate before he actually won a nomination and became the cranky guy who looked as if he was yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Then he was the bored loyal Republican during the Obama administration. And now, it’s back to anything goes.

The spending cuts were so ridiculous that nobody was taking them very seriously. (Good luck with squashing the National Institutes of Health.) But in this administration, just because something is stupid and universally derided doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention. These days, that’s life as we know it, and Trump’s plan could serve as a potential justification for whatever less-nutty cuts the Republican majority is going to try to make. So let’s treat them seriously for a minute.

Mulvaney claimed the new budget was all about “compassion.” It’s not everybody whose heart bleeds so much for wealthy taxpayers that he’s prepared to feed them the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But Mulvaney used to be a leader in a House caucus so conservative that even the rest of the Republican majority thought they were sort of bananas. Now he’s definitely in the running for most awful cabinet member, even in a competition that includes Jeff Sessions.

The goal of dismantling the social safety net, Mulvaney said, was to make recipients of federal aid “take charge of their own lives.” You could certainly do some of this by identifying, say, disabled Social Security recipients who might be capable of working and giving them the right training. But that presumes your goal is actually to make the programs better. “There are a number of things that could be done. But they’re very labor-intensive,” said Cristina Martin Firvida of the AARP.

And the effort would probably have to be led by an administration that has made more than 54 nominations for the 500-plus top positions requiring Senate confirmation.

The Trump budget — just one more carp, please — is apparently going to try to limit food stamp benefits to poor families with a lot of young children. Yes! The Department of Agriculture says it’s going to cap food stamps at six people per household. If another kid comes along, they’re out of luck.

The budget also eliminates all government payments to Planned Parenthood.

Roll the dice. ☐

Blow and Krugman

May 22, 2017

In “Blood in the Water” Mr. Blow says it doesn’t seem possible that Mike Pence knew nothing.  In “The Unfreeing of the American Worker” Prof. Krugman says we are creeping along the real road to serfdom.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has left the country for his first foreign trip as president and what he has left behind is a brewing crisis that appears to deepen by the day, and even the hour.

There is a sense that blood is in the water, that Trump’s erratic, self-destructive behavior, aversion to honesty and authoritarian desire for absolute control may in some way, at some point, lead to his undoing and that the pace of that undoing is quickening.

Last week Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein took the extraordinary step of naming former F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

This was a significant ratcheting up. This is a criminal inquiry, by an independent operator who is well respected. The investigation is now largely insulated from politics. This investigation must now run its course, whether that takes months or years, and go wherever the facts may lead.

But that has not stopped Trump from whining in a tweet, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” and saying during a commencement address:

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Not only is this a laughable assertion that could only be uttered by someone who isn’t a student of history or a reader of books, but it also resurfaces one of Trump’s most vexatious qualities: perpetual wallowing in self-victimization and the shedding of his own tears for a spurious suffering that only exists in the muddle of his mind.

Grow up! Just correction is not jaundiced crucifixion. Any hell you’re in is a hell you made. You are the author of your own demise. You are not being unfairly targeted; instead your above-the-rules, beyond-the-law sense of privilege is being tested and found insufficient. It will not immunize you against truth and justice.

There are very serious questions here, ones that include but are not limited to collusion. They also now include the possibility of treason, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

It is increasingly clear that there is more to know than we now know.

There is more to know about former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn’s activities, and who knew what about those activities and when. There is more to know about the president’s interactions with James Comey and the reason for Comey’s firing. There is more to know about the true extent of contact between Trump associates and the Russians.

Did the president have inappropriate conversations with Comey, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in an effort to exculpate himself and mitigate inquiries about Flynn?

Trump’s and Comey’s accounts, at least as they are being reported, conflict on these counts. One of these men is lying. And while I am no fan of Comey — his buzzer-beating hijinks with Hillary’s email just before the election helped hand this country over to Trump and his cabal of corruption — I am more prone to believe him than Trump, a proven, pathological liar.

The crisis isn’t limited only to Trump.

Did Vice President Mike Pence not know that Flynn was under investigation by the F.B.I. for lobbying on behalf of Turkey until “March, upon first hearing the news”? How can that be when, as The New York Times reported last week, Flynn “told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.” Pence led the transition team.

How can Pence claim ignorance when Representative Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Pence a letter on Nov. 18, explicitly spelling out:

“Lt. Gen. Flynn’s General Counsel and Principal, Robert Kelley, confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests, stating: ‘They want to keep posted on what we all want to be informed of: the present situation, the transition between President Obama and President-Elect Trump.’ When asked whether the firm had been hired because of Lt. Gen. Flynn’s close ties to President-elect Trump, Mr. Kelley responded, ‘I hope so.’ ”

It isn’t possible Pence knew nothing. I believe Pence is a liar like his boss.

We knew that Pence was a liar when during the vice-presidential debate he repeatedly claimed that Trump had not in fact said things that he was recorded on television saying.

The only difference between the two is delivery. Trump is bombastic and abrasive with his lies. Pence cleverly delivers his with earnestness and solemnity. But a lie is a lie.

The whole White House crew must be fully investigated and held to account. It is time for justice to be served and honor restored. The dishonest must be dislodged.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

American conservatives love to talk about freedom. Milton Friedman’s famous pro-capitalist book and TV series were titled “Free to Choose.” And the hard-liners in the House pushing for a complete dismantling of Obamacare call themselves the Freedom Caucus.

Well, why not? After all, America is an open society, in which everyone is free to make his or her own choices about where to work and how to live.

Everyone, that is, except the 30 million workers now covered by noncompete agreements, who may find themselves all but unemployable if they quit their current jobs; the 52 million Americans with pre-existing conditions who will be effectively unable to buy individual health insurance, and hence stuck with their current employers, if the Freedom Caucus gets its way; and the millions of Americans burdened down by heavy student and other debt.

The reality is that Americans, especially American workers, don’t feel all that free. The Gallup World Survey asks residents of many countries whether they feel that they have “freedom to make life choices”; the U.S. doesn’t come out looking too good, especially compared with the high freedom grades of European nations with strong social safety nets.

And you can make a strong case that we’re getting less free as time goes by.

Let’s talk first about those noncompete agreements, which were recently the subject of a stunning article in The Times (the latest in a series), plus a report from the Obama administration pushing for limits to the practice.

Noncompete agreements were originally supposed to be about protecting trade secrets, and therefore helping to promote innovation and investment in job training. Suppose that a company trying to build a better mousetrap hires a new mousetrap engineer. Her employment contract might very well include a clause preventing her from leaving a few months later for a job with a rival pest-control firm, since she could be taking crucial in-house information with her. And that’s perfectly reasonable.

At this point, however, almost one in five American employees is subject to some kind of noncompete clause. There can’t be that many workers in possession of valuable trade secrets, especially when many of these workers are in relatively low-paying jobs. For example, one prominent case involved Jimmy John’s, a sandwich chain, basically trying to ban its former franchisees from working for other sandwich makers.

Furthermore, the terms of the clauses are often defined ridiculously widely. It’s as if our hypothetical mousetrap engineer were prohibited from seeking employment with any other manufacturing firm, or in any occupation that makes use of her engineering skills.

At this point, in other words, noncompete clauses are in many cases less about protecting trade secrets than they are about tying workers to their current employers, unable to bargain for better wages or quit to take better jobs.

This shouldn’t be happening in America, and to be fair some politicians in both parties have been speaking up about the need for change (although few expect the Trump administration to follow up on the Obama administration’s reform push). But there’s another aspect of declining worker freedom that is very much a partisan issue: health care.

Until 2014, there was basically only one way Americans under 65 with pre-existing conditions could get health insurance: by finding an employer willing to offer coverage. Some employers were in fact willing to do so. Why? Because there were major tax advantages — premiums aren’t counted as taxable income — but to get those advantages employer plans must offer the same coverage to every employee, regardless of medical history.

But what if you wanted to change jobs, or start your own business? Too bad: you were basically stuck (and I knew quite a few people in that position).

Then Obamacare went into effect, guaranteeing affordable care even to those with pre-existing medical conditions. This was a hugely liberating change for millions. Even if you didn’t immediately take advantage of the new program to strike out on your own, the fact was that now you could.

But maybe not for much longer. Trumpcare — the American Health Care Act — would drastically reduce protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. And even if that bill never becomes law, the Trump administration is effectively sabotaging individual insurance markets, so that in many cases Americans who lose employer coverage will have no place to turn — which will in turn tie those who do have such coverage to their current employers.

You might say, with only a bit of hyperbole, that workers in America, supposedly the land of the free, are actually creeping along the road to serfdom, yoked to corporate employers the way Russian peasants were once tied to their masters’ land. And the people pushing them down that road are the very people who cry “freedom” the loudest.

Blow and Krugman

May 15, 2017

Mr. Blow says “Trump’s Madness Invites Mutiny,” and that we may have reached an inflection point at which even partisans grow weary of the barrage of lies.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Priming of Mr. Donald Trump,” says he’s not the only one with fiscal fantasies.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When people behave as if they have something to hide, it is often because they do. For me, this is a basic law of human behavior.

That’s why President Trump’s baffling, outrageous, unfathomable and just plain bizarre behavior last week strengthened my already strong suspicions that there is something that Trump knows about the investigations into his campaign’s contacts with Russia that he doesn’t want us to know.

That is the only way that I can make sense of what happened: These are either the machinations of concealment, expressions of a burgeoning insanity, or both.

The details of the most recent episode in the Trump madness are now well known and yet every new detail that helps add texture to the story also renders it more horrifyingly egregious.

According to news reports (some of which the White House disputes, I hasten to add), after former F.B.I. Director James Comey refused to pledge loyalty to Trump, publicly rebuked some of Trump’s lies, and sought to intensify the bureau’s investigation into the Russia connections, Trump unceremoniously dismissed him. He then let his surrogates go out — or possibly sent them out — to lie about why Comey was fired. And then Trump tweeted a threat at Comey that seemed like an attempt to bully him into remaining quiet.

Who does that?

Legal and ethical questions abound about the impropriety and even legality of attempting to strong-arm, and then dismissing and threatening, the law enforcement official leading an investigation into your circle of associates.

Many of those questions rise not from clandestine sources, but rather from Trump himself. He is talking and tweeting himself into legal jeopardy. He can’t seem to help himself. Something in the man is broken.

He is insecure, paranoid and brittle, jostling between egomania and narcissism, intoxicated with a power beyond his meager comprehension and indulging in it beyond the point of abuse.

Some people are ebulliently optimistic that the abomination is coming undone and may soon be at an end.

But I would caution that this is a moment pregnant with calamity.

The man we see unraveling before our eyes still retains the power of the presidency until such time as he doesn’t, and that time of termination is by no means assured.

Trump is now a wounded animal, desperate and dangerous. Survival is an overwhelming, instinctual impulse, and one should put nothing beyond a being who is bent on ensuring it.

Banking on an easy impeachment or resignation or a shiny set of handcuffs is incredibly tempting for those drained and depressed by Trump’s unabated absurdities, perversions of truth and facts and assaults on custom, normalcy and civility.

But banking on this is, at this point, premature. I share the yearning. A case for removal can most definitely be made and has merit. But there remain untold steps between plausibility and probability. Expectations must be managed so that hopes aren’t dashed if the mark isn’t immediately met.

There are incredibly encouraging signs that the Comey debacle has crystallized sentiment about the severity of Trump’s abnormality and the urgent need for an independent investigation into the Russia connection.

Last week after Comey was fired, 20 attorneys general sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging it to immediately appoint an independent special counsel to oversee the investigation. The letter read in part:

“As the chief law enforcement officers of our respective states, we view the President’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey in the middle of his investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election as a violation of the public trust. As prosecutors committed to the rule of law, we urge you to consider the damage to our democratic system of any attempts by the administration to derail and delegitimize the investigation.

Furthermore, according to a poll released on Thursday: “A majority of Americans — 54 percent — think that President Donald Trump’s abrupt dismissal of F.B.I. Director James Comey was not appropriate, while 46 percent think that Comey was fired due to the Russia investigation, according to results from a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll.”

This followed a Quinnipiac Poll taken before the Comey firing that found: “American voters, who gave President Donald Trump a slight approval bump after the missile strike in Syria, today give him a near-record negative 36-58 percent job approval rating.”

The report continued: “Critical are big losses among white voters with no college degree, white men and independent voters.”

The army of righteous truth-seekers is gathering; the hordes of sycophants are faltering. The challenge now is to keep the media’s microscope trained on this issue and to keep applying sufficient pressure to elected officials.

We may have reached an inflection point at which even partisans grow weary of the barrage of lies and the indefensible behavior, and Republican representatives finally realize that they are constitutional officers who must defend the country even if it damages their party.

Something is happening. It’s in the air. It is an awakening, it is an adjustment, it is a growing up.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump has said many strange things in recent interviews. One can only imagine, for example, what America’s military leaders thought about his rambling, word-salad musings about how to improve our aircraft carriers.

Over here in Econoland, however, the buzz was all about Trump’s expressed willingness, in an interview with the Economist magazine, to pursue tax cuts even if they increase deficits, because “we have to prime the pump” — an expression he claimed to have invented. “I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good.”

Actually, the expression goes back generations — F.D.R. used it in a 1937 speech — and has been used many times since, including several times by Trump himself. What’s more, it’s a bad metaphor for modern times. Twenty years ago, in a paper warning that Japanese-style problems might eventually come to America, I urged that the phrase be withdrawn from circulation: “Since hardly anybody in the thoroughly urbanized societies of modern America and Japan has any idea what it means to prime a pump, I hereby suggest that we rename this the jump-start strategy.”

But why should anyone besides pedants care?

First, a mind is a terrible thing to lose. Senior moments, when you can’t remember a name or phrase, or misremember where it came from, happen to many of us. But that Economist interview was basically one long senior moment — and it wasn’t very different from other recent interviews with the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.

Second, we’re talking about some really bad economics here. There are times when temporary deficit spending can help the economy. In the first few years after the 2008 financial crisis, for example, unemployment was very high, and the Federal Reserve — normally our first line of defense against recessions — had limited ability to act, because the interest rates it controls were already very close to zero. That was a time for serious pump-priming; unfortunately, we never got enough of it, thanks to scorched-earth Republican opposition.

Now, however, unemployment is near historic lows; quit rates, which show how confident workers are in their ability to find new jobs, are back to pre-crisis levels: wage rates are finally rising; and the Fed has begun raising interest rates.

America may not be all the way back to full employment — there’s a lively debate among economists over that issue. But the economic engine no longer needs a fiscal jump-start. This is exactly the wrong time to be talking about the desirability of bigger budget deficits.

True, it would make sense to borrow to finance public investment. We desperately need to expand and repair our roads, bridges, water systems, and more. Meanwhile, the federal government can borrow incredibly cheaply: Long-term bonds protected from inflation are paying only about 0.5 percent interest. So deficit spending on infrastructure would be defensible.

But that’s not what Trump is talking about. He’s calling for exploding the deficit so he can cut taxes on the wealthy. And that makes no economic sense at all.

Then again, he may not understand his own proposals; he may be living in an economic and political fantasy world. If so, he’s not alone. Which brings me to my third point: Trump’s fiscal delusions are arguably no worse than those of many, perhaps most professional observers of the Washington political scene.

If you’re a heavy news consumer, think about how many articles you’ve seen in the past few weeks with headlines along the lines of “Trump’s budget may create conflict with G.O.P. fiscal conservatives.” The premise of all such articles is that there is a powerful faction among Republican members of Congress who worry deeply about budget deficits and will oppose proposals that create lots of red ink.

But there is no such faction, and never was.

There were and are poseurs like Paul Ryan, who claim to be big deficit hawks. But there’s a simple way to test such people’s sincerity: when they propose sacrifices in the name of fiscal responsibility, do those sacrifices ever involve their own political priorities? And they never do. That is, when you see a politician claim that deficit concerns require that we slash Medicaid, privatize Medicare, and/or raise the retirement age — but somehow never require raising taxes on the wealthy, which in fact they propose to cut — you know that it’s just an act.

Yet somehow much of the news media keeps believing, or pretending to believe, that those imaginary deficit hawks are real, which is a delusion of truly Trumpian proportions.

So I’m worried. Trump may be not just ignorant but deeply out of it, and his economic proposals are terrible and irresponsible, but they may get implemented all the same.

But maybe I worry too much; maybe the only thing to fear is fear itself. Do you like that line? I just came up with it the other day.