5.23 Sen. Jeff Flake at Harvard: Not to be unpleasant, but I do bring news from our nation’s capital. First, the good news: Your national leadership is…not good. At all. Our presidency has been debased. By a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division. And only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works.
And our Article I branch of government, the Congress (that’s me), is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily. I do not think that the Founders could have anticipated that the beauty of their invention might someday founder on the rocks of reality television, and that the Congress would be such willing accomplices to this calamity. Our most ardent enemies, doing their worst (and they are doing their worst), couldn’t hurt us more than we are hurting ourselves. Now, you might reasonably ask, where is the good news in that? Well, simply put: We may have hit bottom.. . . This is it, if you have been wondering what the bottom looks like. This is what it looks like when you stress-test all of the institutions that undergird our constitutional democracy, at the same time. You could say that we are witnesses to history, and if it were possible to divorce ourselves from the obvious tragedy of this debacle, I suppose that might even be interesting, from an academic perspective. The way some rare diseases are interesting to medical researchers. But this is an experience we could and should have avoided. Getting to this state of distress did not occur naturally. Rather, this was thoroughly man-made. This disease of our polity is far too serious to not be recognized for what it is, the damage it threatens to do to our vital organs is far too great for us to carry on as if all is well. All is not well. We have a sickness of the spirit. To complete the medical metaphor, you might say that we are now in critical condition. How did we arrive at a moment of such peril – wherein a president of the United States publicly threatens – on Fox & Friends, historians will note — to interfere in the administration of justice, and seems to think that the office confers on him the ability to decide who and what gets investigated, and who and what does not? And just this week, the President – offering an outlandish rationale, ordered an investigation into the investigation of the Russian attack on our electoral process – not to defend the country against further attacks, mind you, but to defend himself. Obviously, ordering investigations is not a legitimate use of presidential power. I pick this egregious example of recent presidential conduct not because it is rare in terms of this president’s body of work, but because it so perfectly represents what we have tragically grown accustomed to in the past year and a half. Who would have thought that we would ever see encouragement coming from the White House for chants at rallies calling for the jailing of a defeated political opponent. When you don’t even know that there are limits on presidential power, then you might not even care when you are abusing that power.
5.23 Lesley Stahl, on interviewing Trump after the election: “I said, ‘You know, this is getting tired. Why are you doing it over and over? It’s boring and it’s time to end that. You know, you’ve won … why do you keep hammering at this?'” Stahl went on. “And he said: ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.'”
5.23 Philip Roth dies at 85
5.22 Frank Bruni in the Times: Trump’s mantra is “no collusion,” “no collusion,” “no collusion.” Contrary to what his aides reportedly murmur, he’s no idiot. He knows that if he sets the bar at incontrovertible evidence of him and Putin huddled over a Hillary Clinton voodoo doll, he just might clear it. And he knows that if Americans are fixated on collusion, they aren’t concentrating on much else. That’s good for him and terrible for the country. He could be entirely innocent of soliciting or welcoming Russian help and he’d still be a proudly offensive, gleefully divisive, woefully unprepared plutocrat with no moral compass beyond his own aggrandizement. While we obsess over what may be hidden in the shadows, all of that is in plain sight.
5.22 Wynton Marsalis: “My words are not that powerful. I started saying in 1985 I don’t think we should have a music talking about niggers and bitches and hoes. It had no impact. I’ve said it. I’ve repeated it. I still repeat it. To me that’s more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee.”
5.22 Christine Emba in the Washington Post: Last week, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that U.S. fertility had fallen to a record low — for the second straight year. The fertility rate declined to 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, down 3 percent from 2016. The number of births in the United States fell 2 percent to 3.85 million, the lowest in 30 years. In fact, the only group for whom birthrates have risen this year is women over 40. This slump began, somewhat predictably, during the Great Recession. Birthrates tend to drop during periods of economic distress as people put off having babies, but potential parents usually get back to business once the economy rebounds. What’s worrying now is that the recession has more than ended but the baby numbers haven’t picked back up
5.21 Adam Serwer in The Atlantic: There are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.
5.21 Dana Milbank in the Post: Right now the fear of the United States going totalitarian doesn’t feel quite right. This crowd is too clownish to be Stalinist. Rather, the United States is turning into a banana republic:
5.19 Justify wins Preakness
5.19 Prince Harry marries Meghan Markle
5.19 Matthew Stewart in The Atlantic: “So what kind of characters are we, the 9.9 percent? We are mostly not like those flamboyant political manipulators from the 0.1 percent. We’re a well-behaved, flannel-suited crowd of lawyers, doctors, dentists, mid-level investment bankers, M.B.A.s with opaque job titles, and assorted other professionals—the kind of people you might invite to dinner. In fact, we’re so self-effacing, we deny our own existence. We keep insisting that we’re “middle class.” As of 2016, it took $1.2 million in net worth to make it into the 9.9 percent; $2.4 million to reach the group’s median; and $10 million to get into the top 0.9 percent. (And if you’re not there yet, relax: Our club is open to people who are on the right track and have the right attitude.) “We are the 99 percent” sounds righteous, but it’s a slogan, not an analysis. The families at our end of the spectrum wouldn’t know what to do with a pitchfork. We are also mostly, but not entirely, white. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, African Americans represent 1.9 percent of the top 10th of households in wealth; Hispanics, 2.4 percent; and all other minorities, including Asian and multiracial individuals, 8.8 percent—even though those groups together account for 35 percent of the total population.
5.18 Ten killed, ten wounded at a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas
5.18 David Frum in The Atlantic: Only 30 percent of Americans own guns. Thus far, that minority has sufficed to block substantial federal action on guns. But a one-third minority—and especially a nonurban one-third minority—may no longer suffice to shape American culture. The outrage after Parkland looked less like a political movement, and more like the great waves of moral reform that have at intervals since the 1840s challenged the existing political order in the name of higher ethical ideals. The most important success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for example, was not to change laws (although they changed some), but to change hearts: to persuade Americans that drunk driving was not funny, not charming, and not acceptable. American gun culture in the 2010s is as blithely irresponsible as American alcohol culture in the 1960s. According to a Pew survey, only about one-quarter of gun owners think it essential to alert visitors with children that guns may be present in the home. (Twice as many non-gun-owners think so.) Only 66 percent of gun owners think it essential to keep guns locked up when not in use. (Ninety percent of non-gun-owners think so.) Only 45 percent of them actually do it. This carelessness and disregard is taking lives and breaking families. The first step toward correcting a social wrong is opening people’s eyes to see that wrong. America has now tallied still more victims and broken the hearts of still more mourners. It’s a horrible price to pay for a moral reckoning and awakening—but the history of the nation promises that while the awakening may often come tragically slow, it does come in time, with all the power of justice delayed but not denied.
5.17 Ron Brownstein in The Atlantic: The Republican bet is that the party can mobilize elevated turnout among their older and blue-collar white base without provoking the young and racially diverse voters who personify the emerging next America to show up on Election Day to defend it. Few things are likely to shape November’s outcome more than whether that bet pays off.
5.17 Michael Gerson in the Post: Trumpism “ has given permission for the public expression of shameful sentiments. People such as Blankenship, Williams, Arpaio and Nehlen are part of a relatively (and thankfully) small political group. But the president has set boundaries of political discourse that include them and encourage them. Even when Trump opposes their candidacies, he has enabled the bolder, more confident expression of their bigotry. The Trump era is a renaissance of half-witted intolerance. Trump’s Christian supporters in particular must be so proud. Second, Trump’s attacks on outgroups have revealed the cowardice of a much broader faction within the GOP — those who know better but say little. Some Republican leaders (see House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin) have been willing to criticize specific instances of Trump’s prejudice. But few — and very few with a political future — have been willing to draw the obvious conclusion that Trump is prejudiced, or to publicly resist the trend toward prejudice among the GOP base.
5.16 Doanld Trump: “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”
5.16 Rex Tillerson, speaking at the Virginia Military Institute: “If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.” Truth, he said, is the “central tenet of a free society.” “It is truth that says to our adversaries, ‘We say what we mean, and we mean what we say.’ ” “When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth — even on what may seem the most trivial of matters — we go wobbly on America.” “If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both public and private sector — and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector — then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years.”
5.16 Daniel Russell, who served as senior Asia director at the National Security Council under Barack Obama: “President Trump has forged a new category of international relations that I would call ‘diplotainment,’ and the Singapore meeting is going to demonstrate diplotainment at its pinnacle. Imagine the size the crowd is going to be in Singapore — it’s going to be ‘huge.’ But those are very different deliverables than, say, the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
5.16 Yanny or Laurel?
5.16 Dana Milbank in the Post: Sanders, with one presidential run under his belt, was better than most at articulating a unified theory. He spoke of tuition-free public universities, ending institutional racism and the war on drugs, reforming criminal justice and immigration, and fighting climate change — “but there is one issue out there which is so significant and so pervasive that, unless we successfully confront it, it will be impossible for us to succeed on any other of these important issues.” And that is inequality. “The oligarchy in this country, whose greed is insatiable, is destroying Lincoln’s view of America, our vision of America, and is leading us to a government of the few, by the few and for the few.” This is a big idea. Maybe the big idea. Whoever can best make that case should lead the Democrats in 2020
5.15 Tom Wolfe dies at 88
5.15 Donald Trump’s sudden desire to help Chinese phone manufacturer ZTE came just 72 hours after the Chinese government agreed to put a half-billion dollars into an Indonesian project that will personally enrich the president.
5.14 Anne Applebaum, in the Post: “Like Cicero, McCain now stands for a set of ideals, expressed in his action and his words. His refusal to use his status as an admiral’s son to get out of a POW camp during the Vietnam War; his principled opposition to the use of torture; his efforts to reach a bipartisan agreement on immigration; his efforts, more generally, to forge bipartisan consensus around foreign policy; his famous refusal, during his failed 2008 campaign for president, to attack Barack Obama as a “Muslim” or a traitor, as many in his party demanded. All these are things one might very well describe as “the effusions of an exalted patriot.” McCain would be the first to say that he didn’t always live up to all of his ideals, but his lifelong attempt to live them helps explain why, as he is dying, there is a sudden flurry of interest in McCain, a glut of commentary about McCain, a plethora of short anecdotes about McCain circulating on social media. This is also why people close to the White House cannot stop themselves from making vulgar comments or vile jokes about McCain: They know that McCain embodies not just a form of patriotism but a kind of courage and honor that Trump will simply never have. The “odious contrast” is particularly stark because, for the moment, Trump’s vision of America has won. The White House is dominated by a completely different worldview: mean-spirited and partisan, self-serving and corrupt, transactional rather than idealistic, more favorable to dictatorship than democracy. Cicero also lost. But his ideas continued to resonate long after his death, even inspiring America’s founding fathers. We have to hope that McCain’s vision of America and its place in the world will outlast him too – even if his ideals appear right now to be in rapid retreat.”
5.12 Avengers: Infinity Wars, with Ginny and Cara
5.12 USA Today: “We read every one of the 3,517 Facebook ads bought by Russians. Their dominant strategy: Sowing racial discord” — Of the roughly 3,500 ads published this week [by the House Intelligence Committee], more than half — about 1,950 — made express references to race. Those accounted for 25 million ad impressions — a measure of how many times the spot was pulled from a server for transmission to a device.”
5.12 Gov. Jerry Brown said yesterday that as few as 15,000 tax filers in the state provide one-quarter of all income taxes.
5.11 John Brennan: Kim is tricking Trump by presenting “an appearance of cooperation” and predicted the Korean leader will never agree to give up his nukes. “Unfortunately, I think (Kim) has been masterful in how he has manipulated perceptions and how he has manipulated, and quite frankly duped, Mr. Trump.”
5.11 Phone giant AT&T paid Trump attorney Michael Cohen $600,000 in the days after the president was sworn in for information, including advice on a pending $85 billion merger with Time Warner. Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti added to Cohen’s woes Thursday, warning the embattled fixer he still has more emails and text messages to release.
5.11 Anne Applebaum in the Post: Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal exposed America’s weak hand. For we left — but then what? In different circumstances — after negotiations, after obtaining proof that Iran was in violation of the deal — it might have been possible to recreate the international coalition that imposed sanctions so successfully in the first place. In different circumstances, it might also have been possible to change the deal: That’s what the French president and German chancellor were offering during their recent visits to Washington, though their efforts were rebuffed. In different circumstances, it might even have been possible to threaten Iran militarily — not a position I advocate, but I can imagine how it could be done. Instead, we are now in the worst of all possible worlds. We have broken the agreement with Iran, but we are unable to impose a new sanctions regime in its place. Instead of making a diplomatic investment, we are shouting and barking orders. Just after Trump’s announcement, the American ambassador to Germany issued a threat on Twitter: “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.” As a result, European leaders are not talking about Iran. They are talking about how they can protect their companies from American sanctions, and how they might retaliate.
5.10 At 3 Am, Trump goes to Andrews to greet three captives North Korea released
5.10 “I’m crushing it,” Michael Cohen said. Cohen quickly leveraged his role as Trump’s personal attorney, developing a lucrative sideline as a consultant to companies eager for insight into how to navigate the new administration. The rapid flow of millions of dollars to Cohen shows the rush by corporations — unable to rely on the influence of Washington’s traditional lobbying class in dealing with a new, populist outsider president — to lock in relationships with Trump’s inner circle.
5.10 While acknowledging Gina Haspel‘s patriotism, John McCain opposed her nomination as CIA director, saying, “I know that those who used enhanced interrogation methods and those who approved them wanted to protect Americans from harm. I appreciate their dilemma and the strain of their duty. But as I have argued many times, the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world.”
5.10 Gina Haspel: “My parents raised me right. I know the difference between right and wrong. … I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that is immoral, even if it is technically legal.”
5.10 Ben Terris of the Post: “For Democrats looking for details, getting a straightforward answer from Haspel was like interrogating vapor.”
5.10 Fareed Zakaria in the Post: Iran is a repressive and anti-American regime that has spread its influence in the Middle East, often to America’s detriment. But it is also an ancient civilization, with centuries of power and influence in the region. The notion that the United States could solve all of its problems with Tehran by toppling the regime is fanciful. It has withstood U.S. pressure and sanctions for nearly four decades. And even if it were somehow possible to topple it, look around. The lesson of the past two decades in the Middle East is surely that regime change leads to chaos, war, refugee flows, sectarian strife and more. It opens a Pandora’s box in a land already rife with woes.
5.9 Reuters: Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani: “ President Donald Trump is not fit for his job. Trump does not have the mental capacity to deal with issues.”
5.9 CNN: Asked by a reporter while holding a Cabinet meeting at the White House whether he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, the President replied with a large smile: “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it.”
5.9 George F. Will in the Post: Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew. The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by dethroning his benefactor, is augmenting the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.
5.9 Dana Milbank in the Post: “Tom Cotton is no ordinary guy. Colleagues and staff on the Hill report that he can be as nasty privately as he is publicly, as uncivil to Republicans as he is to Democrats. He imputes ill motives to those who disagree with him. He served in the military but now treats politics as war.He is, in short, an embodiment of what ails Washington: no compromise, and no disagreement without disagreeability.
5.9 Axios: America’s highest paid CEOs are Hock Tan, Broadcom, $103.2 million; Les Moonves, CBS, $69.3 million; W. Nicholas Howley, Transdigm, $61 million; Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner, $49 million; and Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor, $47.9 million
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) May 9, 2018
5.8 Trump withdraws US from Iran deal
5.8 Pablo Picasso’s 1905 painting “Fillette à la corbeille fleuri,” sold for $115,000,000 at Christie’s record-breaking auction. on Tuesday night. Priscilla Frank on the Huffington Post: “We know the painter referred to her as Linda, and according to a description on Christie’s website, she lived on the “mean streets” of Paris’ bohemian Montmartre district. (It’s also possible, given that Picasso was Spanish, that “Linda,” which translates to “pretty,” was just a nickname.) We know she supported herself financially through sex work and flower sales. We know she posed for other artists, including Amedeo Modigliani and Kees van Dongen. We also know that when Picasso painted her, she was a pubescent girl. We know what her body looks like ― thin, pale and hairless, breasts not yet developed.But the majority of Linda’s story remains undocumented: Her true identity, her age, where she came from, where she ended up, or what transpired when she took off her clothes and posed for a then-21-year-old Picasso, not yet the “greatest artist of the 20th century” as Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s America, would later describe the man. (The same man who allegedly beat one of his muses unconscious and threatened to put out a cigarette on the face of another.) Linda’s is a paradoxical position many women deemed “muses” occupy, their images iconic and their identities irrelevant. “Known and nameless, it’s that dichotomy that stands out,” Shelly Bahl, an artist, curator and educator at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, told HuffPost. Throughout her career, Bahl has worked with museums and public galleries to diversify and re-contextualize their programming and collections, towards challenging institutional sexism and racism. Not even the sudden newsiness of Picasso’s painting ― on the auction block after sitting in Peggy and David Rockefeller’s possession since 1968 ― has provoked substantial academic inquiry into its subject’s identity. (It was purchased over the phone by an unknown bidder at $102,000,000, plus $13,000,000 in additional fees.)Indeed, Porter’s lot essay cataloging the painting’s provenance is well over 4,000 words long, yet it does not delve deeply into Linda’s life, save for the detail that she probably “died sadly young.”She was “the female equivalent of ‘p’tit Louis,’” Porter writes, referring to the model for Picasso’s “Garçon à la pipe,” presumed to have died at a young age on the streets. “We do not know what became of Linda, but the long-term odds of evading a similar fate were not in her favor.”
5.7 Scarlett Johannsen at the Met Gala
5.7 Oliver North was named president of the NRA. On Hannity the next night, he said, ““Never believe an Iranian, because if their lips are moving, they’re lying.”
5.5 Paul Krugman in the Times: What employers learned during the long slump is that you can’t cut wages even when people are desperate for jobs; they also learned that extended periods in which you would cut wages if you could are a lot more likely than they used to believe. This makes them reluctant to grant wage increases even in good times, because they know they’ll be stuck with those wages if the economy turns bad again.This hypothesis also explains something else that’s been puzzling me: widespread anecdotes about employers trying to attract workers with signing bonuses rather than higher wages. A signing bonus is a one-time cost; a higher wage, we now know, is more or less forever. If there’s any truth to this story, the protracted economic weakness that followed the financial crisis is still casting a shadow on labor markets despite low unemployment today.
5.5 Citi Field with Ginny and Ron Swoboda. Rockies beat Mets 2-0. Above, Steven Matz, who pitched well, giving up just one run over siz innings, faces Charlie Blackmon
5.4 Rudy Giuliani has warned special counsel Robert Mueller not to target Ivanka Trump in his probe — but said her husband, Jared Kushner, is “disposable.”
5.4 Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted Friday, with lava flows sparking mandatory evacuations
5.3 Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic: He’s not an undisciplined golden boy whose private behavior, if exposed, could destroy his image. He is the first truly shameless president, the first porn president, and that is why it is Stormy Daniels—more than the FBI or the IRS or the string of women who have claimed sexual harassment or abuse by him—who just might take him down. Daniels and Trump built their careers in different industries. She is entirely self-made, he is not. But the business approach she has taken to her porn career is similar to the one he has taken in his real-estate and political enterprises, and although the asymmetry of their respective powers—the aging sex worker and the president of the United States—might seem insurmountable, in many respects they are equally matched.
5.3 Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is now a member of President Trump’s legal team, told Fox News that Trump had reimbursed his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 payment made to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. Giuliani’s comments suggest that the payment was made to protect Trump’s campaign from Daniels’s allegations of an affair with the then-candidate—meaning that the deal may have violated campaign-finance law.
5.2 Harold Bornstein, the doctor who released a glowing, controversial health assessment of Trump in 2016, now claims that the then-candidate dictated the letter.
5.2 Elizabeth Bruenig in the Post: that our government arises (as national mythology holds) from our own will says something about the government and something about us. If this is the kind of government we want and deserve — one permanently mired in controversy, much of it sordid and exploitative; one that never seems to operate with anything approaching full transparency or honesty; one that mercurially sets its sights on a rotating cast of enemies, blundering from one to another faster than it can dispense with its own personnel — then what kind of people are we? But then there’s the clincher that turns a typical democratic concern into our current nightmare: You actually don’t have much control over what goes on in government, not because of widespread voter fraud or whatever fantasy but because a few wealthy donors and their underlings have the privilege of setting the political agenda, of selecting the choices you will be offered long before you have the opportunity to make them. A sense of bitter impotence underlies the political mood on both the left and right, I think, for precisely this reason. When you know that nothing you do matters very much, even victory is frustrating; defeat, meanwhile, feels like utter despair. It is an unlivable paradox, knowing both that you’re implicated in the authority of your government and that you have little say in which decisions you will eventually be credited with, at least in part. Our condition is particularly tense at the moment because the scandals, intrigues and crusades of the Trump administration are so egregious, meaning that people are even likelier to be drawn into the question of: What binds me to this government, and it to me?
5.1 Richard Cohen in the Post: the term “Trumpism” works best because it describes something uniquely American. It’s true that nations all over the world have moved to the authoritarian right, but China, Russia, Poland, Hungary and others are returning to their histories. These nations were never democracies for very long. The United States is different. The closest thing we previously had to Trump was Huey Long, the 1930s-era governor and then senator from Louisiana. He had the makings of a dictator, but he was killed before he could mount a presidential campaign. Long, to his credit, actually had a program. Trumpism has no such program. He sometimes mentions jobs, but that’s just a talking point. His most consistent reference points are his own grudges. For all his wealth, Trump is a bundle of insecurities and resentments. In that way, he validates similar feelings in others. If they loathe the establishment, so does he. If they loathe foreign aid, so does he. If they misunderstand trade agreements, so does he. If they fret over an America that is less white and more tolerant of homosexuality and immigrants, then so does he. If they recoil from a news media that talks the PC language they abhor, so does he. They are him. He is them. That’s the program.
5.1 NBC: “He doesn’t even understand what DACA is. He’s an idiot,” Kelly allegedly said during a meeting about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and overall immigration policy. “We’ve got to save him from himself.”