APRIL 2018: “WHY DON’T I JUST FIRE MUELLER?”

4.30 E.J. Dionne Jr in The Washington Post: “One of the many costs of the Trump era is the dumbing down of our political discourse. The incoherent spoken and tweeted outpourings from President Trump and the daily outrages of his administration leave little time for serious debate about policy or meaningful dialogue about our larger purposes. In a normal environment, the Republican Congress’s assault on food-stamp recipients, the administration’s waivers allowing states to erode Medicaid coverage, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s proposed rent increases for some of the country’s poorest people would be front and center in the news.”
4.29 Raul Grijava in the Post: “Marriage equality, long championed by progressives and once opposed even by Democrats such as President Bill Clinton (who signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996), is now the law of the land. The progressive-led opposition to Bush’s invasion of Iraq, formerly considered irresponsibleby would-be guardians of “serious” liberal politics, has been vindicated. Progressive ideas once treated as unrealistic – the need to more strictly regulate big banks, for instance, another area in which Clinton was on the opposite side — are now largely treated as common sense.These examples are not as disparate as they may appear. For progressives, the central questions of public policy revolve around who has power, why they have that power and how it can be more fairly distributed. Progressives do not believe anyone should have the power to deny an adult the right to marry the person they love, the power to wage an expensive and destructive war under false pretenses, or the power to destroy millions of lives through economic greed and irresponsibility. We also question the system that granted anyone those powers in the first place, and ask whether a better way of doing things is possible. Anyone who agrees with this approach is more of a progressive than they may have imagined. Power comes in many forms — economic, cultural, political — and in our view, too few people have wielded power throughout American history. This imbalance has hurt millions of hard-working families who haven’t gotten a raise in years. It has also hurt our neighbors the old American political consensus ignored or forgot about — and let’s not forget, they work too and also haven’t gotten a raise in years. Any politics that accepts such harmful power imbalances, or denies some Americans their full rights in the name of moving cautiously, is not “liberalism.” It’s conservatism that doesn’t want to admit what it is. Lyndon B. Johnson was right to sign the Civil Rights Act and enforce desegregation even though it made people uncomfortable and brought political consequences. Those were progressive acts. Anyone looking at today’s political landscape should consider whether they would have had the same courage. The alternative for Democrats, at the time, was suggested by Johnson’s “liberal” critics such as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (N.Y), who wrote a now largely debunked 1965 report blaming African American poverty rates not on discriminatory policies or deeply rooted economic disenfranchisement but on single parenthood. Moynihan’s report, which confused symptoms for causes and suffered a lack of rigorous scholarship that has only become more apparent over time, became a foundational text of the victim-blaming mythology now popular on the political right. Where conservatives, broadly speaking, consider most forms of government activity excessive, and where the non-progressive left is often content to sand down the rough edges of the status quo, progressives often seek deep systemic reforms. Waiting for a broken power structure to right itself is a recipe for failure. Our recent focus on economic fairness, an approach dismissed as “populism” by conservatives uncomfortable with questions about capitalism’s imperfections, is a case in point. It’s worth remembering, especially with President Trump in the White House, that the richest 1 percent in this country hold about 38.6 percent of all privately held wealth — more than is held by the “bottom” 90 percent, otherwise known as the vast majority of Americans. This is not just a wealth imbalance. It’s a power imbalance that threatens our way of life. Progressives are hardly alone in this view. Dating back to the 1980s, voters of all political stripes have consistently said that wealth distribution in the United States is unfair. It’s no accident that progressives today are at the forefront of campaigns for a higher minimum wage, for stiffer bank regulations and government anti-monopoly crackdowns, and for single-payer health care, an idea now supported by more than half of Americans after facing years of condescension even from many liberals. If Democrats take nothing else from our moment of self-reflection, we should remember that on issue after issue, what was once pigeonholed as the “progressive” position has since become the popular position, or become law, or both.
4.29 Franklin Foer in The Atlantic: “The current era of ‘fake news’ may soon seem quaint. Video manipulation is eroding society’s ability to agree on what’s true — or what’s even real.”
4.29 Axios: President Trump tells people he keeps the world guessing with his wild unpredictability. But those who work most closely with him say he’s a one-trick pony in negotiations. The trick: Threaten the outrageous, ratchet up the tension, amplify it with tweets and taunts, and then compromise on fairly conventional middle ground. ​“His ultimate gamble is: ‘You don’t have as big of stones as I do,'” a source close to Trump told me. “‘You’re going to feel too uncomfortable where I go. The stakes are too high. This is too far outside your comfort zone.'” Consider these threats: To withdraw from Syria (he reengaged with missile strikes), withdraw from Afghanistan (he settled on the more-of-the-same strategy recommended by his generals), withdraw from the U.S.-Korean trade deal (Trump’s team negotiated with the Koreans and announced modest changes to the deal), veto the government spending bill (he signed it), and impose severe worldwide tariffs on steel and aluminum (he offered a bunch of exemptions). Sources who’ve been in the room with Trump for negotiations over NATO and various trade deals tell me they’ve at times felt “awkward” watching Trump go in hard against foreign leaders. They say Trump seems immune to awkwardness — but then rarely follows through on his most extreme rhetoric.
4.28 John McCain: “The appearance of toughness, or a reality show facsimile of toughness, seems to matter to Trump more than any of our values.”
4.28 Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents Dinner: “There’s a ton of news right now; a lot is going on, and we have all these 24-hour news networks, and we could be covering everything. But, instead, we’re covering, like, three topics. Every hour, it’s Trump, Russia, Hillary and a panel of four people who remind you why you don’t go home for Thanksgiving. . . . You guys [the media] are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off him. And if you’re going to profit off Trump, you should at least give him some money, because he doesn’t have any.
4.27 Richard Haass: “I don’t know how to say ‘charm offensive’ in Korean, but that is what we are seeing. What matters, though, in the context of N-S relations is what the North is prepared to do to reduce the conventional military threat it poses to the South.”
4.27 Reuters: “Smiling and holding hands, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met at the heavily fortified demilitarized zone between the countries on Friday, pledging to pursue peace after decades of conflict.”
4.27 Rose‘s funeral. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
4.26 Philadelphia Inquirer: “A jury in Montgomery County found Bill Cosby guilty of drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand, a verdict that delivered the first celebrity conviction of the #MeToo era.”
4.25 Kanye West in a tweet: “ You don’t have to agree with Trump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don’t agree with everything anyone does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.”
4.25 Michael Gerson in the Post: “a message of cultural nostalgia will eventually lose in a nation growing more diverse and progressive in its social views. But not yet. And not everywhere. Much about the quality and bearability of U.S. politics going forward will be determined by the grace and understanding of the ascendant group. Views about diversity, sexual norms and the nature of gender are changing. But that transition will be peaceable only in a society committed to genuine pluralism — allowing people with more traditional views to inhabit voluntary institutions (including religious institutions) that reflect their values.”
4.25 Elizabeth Breunig in the Post: “There’s a balance to be struck where it comes to work and rest, but in the United States, values and laws are already slanted drastically in favor of work. I would advise those concerned about Americans’ dignity, freedom and independence to not focus on compelling work for benefits or otherwise trying to marshal people into jobs when what they really need are health care, housing assistance, unemployment benefits and so forth. Instead, we should focus more of our political energies on making sure that American workers have the dignity of rest, the freedom to enjoy their lives outside of labor and independence from the whims of their employers.”
4.24 Mick Mulvaney Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, at the American Bankers Association conference: “We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”
4.20 David Frum in The Atlantic: Those memos have enhanced James Comey’s testimony, and left Trump looking guiltier than ever. The big news in the Comey memos is that Comey directly told Reince Priebus that a federal court had issued a FISA warrant against his national-security adviser. The president presumably knew this—and kept Flynn on the job while pressuring Comey to end the investigation of Flynn. The leak of the Comey memos has succeeded only in more deeply implicating Trump in the gravest espionage scandal of recent decades.
4.20 Rose dies
4.18 Robert Kagan to Jonathan Capehart: My argument is that the liberal world order is an incredible achievement. It, in fact, is sort of an aberration from history,” Kagan told me during an interview for the latest episode of “Cape Up” recorded in Brussels on March 9. “We need to understand that this liberal world order is an artificial construction. It isn’t just an evolution of mankind, humankind, and it won’t stay. And that the forces of nature, human nature, and the forces of history going back centuries, inclines to overrun this order, unless it’s actively protected.” That jungle regrowth, Kagan said, can be seen already. “You could see it in the upheaval against liberal democracy in Europe, all the populist nationalist movements,” he said. The election of President Trump is part of this upheaval. But because of the United States’ role in the world, it has tremendous consequences. “The remarkable thing that the United States did after World War II, which no country in history had ever done before, was in a way to define our national interest so broadly that they became international responsibilities,” Kagan explained. “Normal nations don’t have international responsibilities. They look out for their own. The United States basically made itself an onshore power in Europe and in Asia, in a way to create zones of peace there, putting an end to German and Japanese ambition, steering Germany and Japan toward economic ambition, economic success, which then made it possible for the neighboring countries in those regions to worry less about being attacked.” As a result, Kagan argues, “The United States basically provided the underpinning which allowed this great economic growth that we’ve seen over the past five decades to take placeBut after the end of the Cold War, Kagan says, “A lot of Americans increasingly [began] asking, ‘Why are we doing this?’” The question got louder as the United States began ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early part of the last decade and as the economy collapsed in 2008. “Trump came in and really ran on the premise, insofar as he talked about foreign policy, that this liberal world order was bad for us, that we were getting screwed in the liberal order,” Kagan told me. “There’s no way in the world that an American public that was concerned about America’s role in the world could have voted for Donald Trump.”
4.18 David von Drehle in the Post: President Trump 2.0, and versions beyond, will take the Trumpian tools of hype, novelty and shock that are so compelling on social media and deploy them with less frenzy, heat and bluster. They’ll resemble Elon Musk — with the proper birth certificate.
4.16 Kendrick Lamar Wins Pulitzer Prize In Music For ‘Damn’
4.15 James Comey on ABC: on impeaching Trump: “I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they’re duty bound to do directly. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values.” On Charlottesville: “A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds. On Trump’s intelligence: “I don’t buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who’s tracking conversations and knows what’s going on.” On the most salacious allegations in the Steele dossier: “I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It’s possible, but I don’t know.” On Trump’s reluctance to criticize Vladimir Putin: “I can understand the arguments why the president of the United States might not want to criticize the leader of another country…But you would think that in private– talking to the F.B.I. director, whose job it is to thwart Russian attacks, you might acknowledge that this enemy of ours is an enemy of ours. But I never saw. And so I don’t know the reason.”
4.15 Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff on 60 Minutes: “CEOs with one button on one computer can pay every man and every woman equally. We have the data.”i
4.13 Trump bombs chem weapons stronghold in Syria. Trump tweet: “A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!” Trump speech: Assad‘s “evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead.” Perhaps his most consequential line: “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.” Mattis: strikes are a “one-time shot”: “Right now, we have no additional attacks planned.”
4.13 Albany


4.13 William Nack dies at 77. “Oh, I knew all the stories, knew them well, had crushed and rolled them in my hand until their quaint musk lay in the saddle of my palm. Knew them as I knew the stories of my children. Knew them as I knew the stories of my own life. Told them at dinner parties, swapped them with horseplayers as if they were trading cards, argued over them with old men and blind fools who had seen the show but missed the message. Dreamed them and turned them over like pillows in my rubbery sleep. Woke up with them, brushed my aging teeth with them, grinned at them in the mirror.”
4.13 Michael Steel, a former senior aide to John Boehner: “Speaker Ryan is an embodiment of a particular kind of optimistic, pro-growth, pro-free market inclusive conservatism, and that is a very different feel and tone of where the party is going under President Trump.”
4.12 James Comey in A Higher Loyalty: “This president is unethical, and untethered to the truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven, and about personal loyalty.” In a discussion of a White House meeting with Trump and then chief of staff Reince Priebus in February 2017, Comey says that “because he never stops talking”, Trump “pulls all those present into a silent circle of assent”. “The encounter left me shaken,” he writes. “I had never seen anything like it in the Oval Office. As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and the truth.” Of Trump’s now famous demand over dinner at the White House in January 2017, “I need loyalty”, Comey writes: “To my mind, the demand was like Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony – with Trump in the role of the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man’.”
4.11 Yankees, Red Sox brawl
4.11 Paul Krugman tweets: Ryan failed at both his pretended goals and his real goals. He pretended to be a champion of fiscal responsibility, convincing naive centrists that he really meant it; but his legacy is one of bigger deficits. That’s not a surprise, because anyone who actually looked at his plans realized that the alleged deficit reduction was all magic asterisks; take those out and his plans were actually deficit-increasing, because of tax cuts. His real goal was to eviscerate the social safety net, under the pretense of doing it in the name of fiscal responsibility. In particular, his signature proposal was to voucherize, privatize, and defund Medicare. But that’s not happening. Meanwhile, as Speaker, his main achievement, if you can call it that, has been as enabler of corruption and contempt for rule of law. It’s unclear whether the end game will be Democratic takeover of the House or autocracy, American style. But either way, what a legacy
4.11 The Washington Post: “The lesson of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s (R-Wis.) retirement announcement Wednesday, after less than three years in the position and at the relatively young age of 48, is that no such party exists. Today’s Republican Party is in thrall to President Trump and the 40 percent of the electorate that supports him — and for whose favor candidates in Republican primaries are now competing. That is to say, Republicans are decreasingly conservative and increasingly reactionary.”
4.11 Paul Waldman in the Post: Paul Ryan was always a fraud. He pretended to be a wonk’s wonk, but his budget and policy plans were full of sleight-of-hand and magic asterisks that fell apart on the most superficial examination. He pretended to be terribly worried about the deficit, but he happily jacked it up when he got the chance. He pretended to care deeply about the poor, but would have made their lives impossibly more miserable had doing so been politically tenable. And he pretended to be scandalized by Trump’s repugnant words and actions but, after a few regretful words and a furrowing of his brow, would always go right back to supporting the president. So while he will surely be remembered as one of the least effective speakers we’ve ever had, you can’t say Ryan didn’t faithfully represent his party.


4.10 “Why don’t I just fire Mueller?”
4.10 Speaker Paul Ryan announced he will not seek reelection. “I intend to full my serve term,” he announced.
4.9 Trump: “I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys — a good man. And it’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time. I’ve wanted to keep it down. We’ve given, I believe, over a million pages worth of documents to the Special Counsel. They continue to just go forward. And here we are talking about Syria and we’re talking about a lot of serious things. We’re the greatest fighting force ever. And I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now — and actually, much more than that. You could say it was right after I won the nomination, it started. And it’s a disgrace. It’s, frankly, a real disgrace. It’s an attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”
4.9 According to Doug Cruetz, the managing director and senior research analyst covering media and entertainment for the financial services company Cowen, “Grand Theft Auto 5” has made more money than any film, book or game ever.
4.9 The Washington Post: “Let us not understate how extraordinary a development this is. The standard of proof required to raid any attorney’s office is exceptionally high. To authorize a raid on the president’s lawyer’s office, a federal judge or magistrate must have seen highly credible evidence of serious crimes and/or evidence Cohen was hiding or destroying evidence, according to legal experts. “The FBI raid was the result of an ongoing criminal investigation *not* by Mueller but by the interim US Attorney personally interviewed and selected by Trump himself, pursuant to a warrant issued under strict standards by a federal judge, subject to approval by the head of the Criminal Division,” said constitutional scholar Larry Tribe. He warns that “firing Sessions or Rosenstein (or reining in Mueller) would trigger a crisis for the Constitution and our national security but wouldn’t even extricate Trump from criminal investigation of his innermost circle.” In short, Tribe concludes, “This is every bit as shattering as many have surmised.”
4.7 Great Lectures near Bryant Park. Prof. Charles Dewof Williams was only OK; gave a nice talk about “Making of a Racist,” but didn’t speak to his assigned topic; Prof. James Oakes of CUNY was better on subject “Did Lincoln Really Want to Free the Slaves?”
4.4 The high school I attended wasn’t segregated, strictly speaking–there were about dozen African-American boys among the 1200 students. And there was also a black man on the faculty–a French teacher named Paul Robertson. He was tall and lean and young, surely under 25. This may have been his first job. He was my teacher for first year French, and we got along well. And, may I say, he taught me well. La plume de ma tante est STILL sur la table, if you know what I mean. In April 1968, Dr. King‘s assassination was hugely disturbing. Not only the murder, but the riots that followed, where I lived in Baltimore, but all around the country. In the first class after the assassination, Mr. Robertson did an unusual thing. Instead of conjugating verbs, he led us in a discussion about King, and race. It was the first time I had ever talked to a black person about race, and if one my classmates had more experience, he wasn’t showing it. I wish I remembered what any of us said; part of me fears that the whole effort petered out, and we returned to lessons. But over the years, I became more aware of the courage that Mr. Robertson’s effort entailed, of his sense of responsibility in trying to engage the adolescent half-apes in his charge. That took great commitment. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur, wherever you are.
4.4 David Brooks in the New York Times: “Putin has established himself as one pole in the great global debate of the era, the debate between authoritarianism and democracy. All over the world political regimes are adjusting, becoming either a little more authoritarian or a little more democratic. [T]he momentum is clearly in the authoritarian direction. [W]hen you pause to ask who is the global leader of the liberal democratic camp, you come up with no name at all.”
4.3 DiDi Gregorius‘ 2 HRs, 8 RBIs lead Yanks over Rays in home opener
4.3 Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention: “Conservative Christians must be careful to remember the ways in which our cultural anthropology perverted our soteriology and ecclesiology. It is to our shame that we ignored our own doctrines to advance something as clearly demonic as racial pride. So, regardless of our backgrounds, it is appropriate that we pause and consider not only Dr. King’s life and legacy, but also our own past and future. As we do so, we are reminding ourselves of how far we have to go as Americans to see the promise of racial justice realized.”
4.3 The study from Ohio State University finds that fake news probably played a significant role in depressing Hillary Clinton‘s support on Election Day. The study, which has not been peer-reviewed but which may be the first look at how fake news affected voter choices, suggests that about 4 percent of President Barack Obama‘s 2012 supporters were dissuaded from voting for Clinton in 2016 by belief in fake news stories.
4.3 Bloomberg: “Elon Musk, in a testy Twitter exchange, said he is ‘back to sleeping at the factory’ while trying to fix production delays with the Model 3 electric car.”
4.2 Villanova beats Michigan for the men’s NCAA basketball title


4.1 Ginny and Molly spend a few days in New Orleans
4.1 Notre Dame wins the women’s NCAA basketball title.

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