Our greatest danger is not from the grossly wicked around us, but from the unreflecting multitude who are borne along as a stream by foreign impulse, and bear us along with them.
- William Ellery Channing, "Self Culture" (1838)
This week's featured posts are "What is impeachment for?" where I try to keep myself honest by going back to first principles rather than just tailoring a case against Trump, and "Step Around the Benghazi Trap", which urges Democrats not to make the same kind of cognitive errors Republicans have made.
This week everybody was talking about Special Counsel Robert Mueller
We now have a special counsel to investigate Trump and Russia. I didn't see that coming. Of course, I haven't predicted much of what has happened these last two weeks.
Interesting and very positive article about Mueller in Politico. It describes him as "America’s straightest arrow".
“His gift is that he’s decisive without being impulsive,” Comey told me several years back, recalling his years working alongside Mueller. “He’ll sit, listen, ask questions and make a decision. I didn’t realize at the time how rare that is in Washington.”
The question everyone has been asking after Mueller's appointment is: How independent can he be? The answer is in a column Neal Katyal wrote in The Washington Post. Katyal was involved in writing the rules for special counsels back in 1999.
The short version is that Trump could still fire Mueller or impede his investigation in various ways, but every interference with the special counsel's investigation would have to be reported to leaders of both parties in Congress, who could make that information public.
The regulations provide that Mueller can “be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General” (again, Rosenstein here, because Sessions is recused) and only for “good cause.” The president, therefore, would have to direct Rosenstein to fire Mueller — or, somewhat more extravagantly, Trump could order the special-counsel regulations repealed and then fire Mueller himself. Either of those actions was unthinkable to us back in 1999, for we understood that President Richard Nixon’s attempt in this regard ultimately led to his downfall. At the same time, after Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey this month, many things once thought beyond the realm of possibility look less so now.
Ultimately, every democracy lives or dies by the same principle: The public has to have expectations of integrity, and has to punish leaders who are visibly dishonest. If the people become so cynical that they believe all politicians are dishonest, so we might as well tolerate this particular slimeball doing these particular slimy things, then democracy slides away.
For those of you who think a special counsel should be completely immune to outside interference, I have two words: Spanish Inquisition.
There's no totally satisfactory answer to the question of a government investigating itself. If an investigative body has total independence, it effectively becomes a fourth branch of government that isn't checked or balanced by the other three.
I keep reading that Trump is about to appoint U.S. attorneys to replace the ones he fired over two months ago, and there are rumors about who is or isn't in the running for certain districts. But I haven't found any actual appointments. (Try googling "new u.s. attorney appointed".) To me, this suggests that the point was to get rid of the old USAs, not to make room for people Trump wanted to appoint.
The persistent rumor is that axing all the U.S. attorneys was just cover for getting rid of one troublesome one: Preet Bharara in New York, who was zeroing in on the insider trading of HHS Secretary Tom Price.
A new administration typically replaces the U.S. attorneys appointed by the previous administration, but usually they stay on until their replacements are confirmed. The exception was President Clinton, who also asked for a mass resignation when he took office in 1993 -- and was also rumored to be doing it to shut down one investigation, that of powerful Democratic Congressman Dan Rostenkowski. But didn't work out that way: Clinton appointee Eric Holder indicted Rostenkowski in 1994. He went to jail.
Sleep well, Secretary Price.
Trump's approval rating (as aggregated by Nate Silver) shows gradual erosion rather than sudden collapse.
and the Russia leak
I have a theory that would make a great movie: Some coven of feminist witches has cursed Trump to live out all the negative scenarios he conjured up for Hillary.
Seth Meyers played this clip from Trump's campaign:
If Hillary Clinton were elected, she would be under protracted criminal investigation likely followed by the trial of a sitting president. The investigation will last for years, nothing will get done, government will grind to a halt and our country will continue to suffer.
and commented: "It’s amazing ― the only thing he got wrong was the president’s name."
So now Trump leaks highly classified information directly to the Russian ambassador -- royally pissing off the Israelis, who gathered the information and don't want the Iranians to guess how they got it -- and we have to remember what he said about Clinton and classified information:
This is not just extreme carelessness with classified material, which is still totally disqualifying. This is calculated, deliberate, premeditated misconduct.
and Trump's tour of the world capitals of monotheism
We cannot let this evil continue. Nor can we let the hateful ideology of radical Islam … be allowed to reside or spread within our country. Just can’t do it. We will not defeat it with closed eyes or silent voices. Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country.
But now he's the one who can't say that name: "radical Islamic terrorism". Instead his speech talks about "Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires". The difference between Islamic and Islamist is like the difference between real and realistic: If terrorism is Islamic, then it is a true representation of the faith of Muhammad, but if it is only Islamist, then it has been constructed to resemble Islam, but may not actually be Islam.
During the campaign, he said "Islam hates us." But now he says:
This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.
Honestly, that part sounds a lot like Obama.
Two things are different from Obama: (1) He's taking the Sunni side in the Sunni/Shia struggle to dominate the Muslim world. His speech to the Sunni Saudis included an all-out rhetorical attack on Shiite Iran. Obama was trying to stay out of that.
(2) He signed a huge arms deal with the Saudis that Obama had balked on.
Back in September, the Obama administration approved a more than $115 billion arms deal with the Saudis. But as the death toll and reports of human rights violations in the Saudi-led war on Yemen began to rise dramatically, the Obama administration nixed the sale of the precision-guided munitions it had originally agreed to put in the deal to try to coerce the Saudis into curbing those atrocities.
Now those munitions are back in the Trump arms package — which speaks volumes about this administration.
In fact, the entire deal paints a vivid picture of the Trump administration — an administration that is willing to bend over backwards to make deals with important friends, that doesn’t let human rights concerns get in the way of doing business, and where personal relationships with those closest to the president can prove highly lucrative.
This fits with the rhetoric he's using. If we and the Saudis are united in "a battle between Good and Evil", then our side is Good by definition. So we don't have to prove our goodness by, say, avoiding war crimes. That weakling Obama thought America's goodness was open to judgment, and so wasn't always willing to stick by our friends when they did horrible things. Trump will.
I oppose allowing Trump to re-enter the country until Congress "can figure out what the hell is going on" with him.
and you might also be interested in ...
A James Fallows tweetstorm explains why CNN is wrong to feature knee-jerk Trump loyalists like Jeffrey Lord:
Genuine, serious, ongoing, borderline-Fox-like harm to journalism/public life for CNN to keep featuring Lord & the Trumpkins. Why? Since they are guaranteed *never* to criticize anything Trump says or does, and *always* to say HRC/Obama/Dems were worse, and in fact are cast in that role, sit-com style, they embody the idea that politics is ONLY about tribal loyalty.
You pick your team; you stay with it thick or thin, as you would in a real war or a Game of Thrones war or a Mafia war. You wage this combat as if there is no such thing as “reasonable criticism” of your side, or “in fairness, we must credit” for the other. While of course democratic politics *depends* on people recognizing, and changing minds, based on actual ideas, arguments, interests.
CNN should have more actual *conservatives* on air, with actual progressives, but fewer tribal loyalists, who embody idea that all political differences are tribal and THEREFORE INSOLUBLE.
In a fabulous stunt, someone projected messages above the entrance to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Trump is currently facing a lawsuit filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that alleges he is violating the clause by accepting payments from foreign states through his hotel.
Sometimes words like fascist get thrown around too lightly. And then you run into Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, who seems to have been appointed as Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security (which does not require Senate confirmation).
During a December 2015 segment of his show, The People's Sheriff, on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze radio network, Clarke suggested that any person who posts pro-terrorist sentiments on social media be arrested, deprived of the constitutional protection against unlawful imprisonment (known as habeas corpus), and sent to Guantanamo Bay indefinitely. He estimated the number of people who could be imprisoned under his proposal could reach 1 million.
Clarke is popular on the Right primarily because, being black, he gives cover to white racists to quote the stuff he says about Black Lives Matter. (You know: "I'm just repeating what that black guy said.")
Clarke’s understanding of domestic terrorism runs far beyond radical jihadists. He has predicted that Black Lives Matter will “join forces with ISIS,” and on multiple occasions described the group as a terror organization. The protesters do not “care about black lives. They care about their own radical ideology of terrorism: anarchy.” Clarke insists Black Lives Matter “needs to be crushed.”
BLM is illegitimate, in his view, because the police are doing just fine. Especially his police.
Clarke’s ironfisted beliefs about criminal justice can be explained in part by his own career. He oversees a prison that is notoriously brutal. Four people have died of mistreatment and torture in his custody. One newborn baby died while its mother was shackled during childbirth; another prisoner died of dehydration, after the water in his cell was shut off for seven days. In 2013, one of his deputies ran a traffic light and T-boned the car of a civilian driver, who was badly injured. Clarke’s department charged the driver, who was actually sober, with drunk driving in order to cover up its own culpability.
Roger Ailes died. As the Nixon political operative who created Fox News, Ailes is a central figure in the transformation of the American news landscape into what it is today. He's an interesting example if you want to debate the Great Man theory of history. Maybe the world would be vastly different (and better) if he had never lived. Or maybe the changes he wrought were inevitable; conservative talk radio already existed before Fox News, and somehow that mindset would have arrived on TV anyway.
I'll give Joy Reid the last word on this:
Ailes built an empire by creating a fantasy world for white, conservative men, where women are agreeable sex objects and [people of color] are predators.
Speaking of sexual harassers, Bill O'Reilly might be back on TV sooner than anybody thought. Several conservative media groups see themselves as the next Fox News, and hiring O'Reilly might be just what it takes to launch them into the big time.
Of course, the protest groups behind the advertising boycott that prompted Fox News to oust Mr. O’Reilly would certainly have something to say about any move to bring him back to television. As the National Organization for Women president, Terry O’Neill, said to me, “Any network that hires him, what they’re doing is sending a message to women: ‘We don’t care about sexual harassment.’”
But there's a flip side: They'd also be saying to men "We don't care about sexual harassment." And the men who would respond positively to that might be just the audience they're looking for.
The Onion trolls Republican hypocrisy on Trump:
“Frankly, we need an independent counsel to look into why I continue to do absolutely nothing in the face of mounting evidence against this reckless, unethical, and potentially compromised White House,” said McCain, passionately arguing that his disturbing pattern of inaction in regards to the Trump administration raises “deeply troubling questions” about his own motivations. “Without a thorough inquiry empowered to go wherever the facts may lead, I’m afraid we’ll never get to the bottom of why my opposition to this madness amounts to little more than the mildest of criticisms on Meet The Press. The fact that I essentially rubber-stamp this president’s agenda despite a reputation for integrity and independence simply doesn’t add up, and the time has come to find out once and for all what’s really going on with me.”
For reasons that escape me, Joe Lieberman is rumored to be the front-runner for FBI director.
and let's close with something mysterious
I love the expression on King Salman's face. Caption contest: What is he about to say?
The scene turns out to look even stranger in the uncropped photo.