Archive

January 15th, 2017

The Trump and Pony Show

    As a professional skeptic, I’m going to remain doubtful that Donald Trump has been a willing Russian tool, masterfully serving the needs of a dangerous American adversary. I’m not going to buy all the sordid details of “that crap,” as the president-elect called intelligence reports of his being compromised by nasty people operating out of the Kremlin.

    I’m going to believe Donald Trump, for now, which is more than he ever did for the graceful president soon to exit. Trump has been a garbage conveyor belt, passing along every bit of half-fermented slop that came his way. “An extremely credible source has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” he tweeted in 2012, to cite one lie among thousands.

    I’m going to believe this same Donald Trump who urged Russia to interfere with an American election, because to believe otherwise, without irrefutable evidence, is a pretty damn horrific thing to imagine. It would mean that in a week, the Russians will have installed a stooge — and done it with the right wing of this country cheering them on.

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The Obamas leave an image that will never fade

    Hold on to one image from President Obama's farewell address: The president using his handkerchief to wipe a tear from his eye as he thanked Michelle Obama for her grace and forbearance.

    The first lady was holding back tears, too, as was her daughter Malia. Politics aside, it was a touching moment in the life of a family we have come to know so well -- one of countless such moments, and images, that have changed this nation forever.

    The White House is really a glass house, and for eight years we have watched the Obamas live their lives in full public view. We've seen a president age, his hair graying and his once-unlined face developing a wrinkle here, a furrow there. We've seen a first lady change hairstyles and model an array of designer gowns. We've seen two little girls grow into young women.

     We've seen it all before -- except that we've never seen an African-American family in these roles. Images of the Obamas performing the duties of the first family are indelible, and I believe they will be one of the administration's most important and lasting legacies.

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Obama's bittersweet farewell

    President Obama's decision to go home to Chicago to deliver his farewell address to the nation was not too surprising, considering he will be leaving a Washington that over the last eight years has brought him as much heartache as satisfaction.

    His televised speech before a packed crowd at the spacious McCormick Place convention center brought him wave after wave of appreciative applause as he predictably recited the major accomplishments of his presidency. They ran from ending the Great Recession at the start of his tenure, cutting the national unemployment rate in half, overseeing a streak of 75 straight months of job growth and providing health insurance for 20 million Americans in the plan that critics named, for better or for worse, after him.

    Chants at one point of "Four more years!" were heard in what was wishful thinking, barred as it is by the two-term constitutional limit. "I can't do that," Obama quipped. Ironically, even as that call was raised, Congress back in Obama's temporary hometown was preparing to carry out his selected successor's pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare as soon as possible after taking over.

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Jeff Sessions's high-wire act

    Back in October, when the release of a recording of Donald Trump boasting of groping women rocked the presidential campaign, Sen. Jeff Sessions minimized the severity of his candidate's comments: "I don't characterize that as sexual assault. I think that's a stretch." He advised the Republican leadership to "take a deep breath."

    Although he almost immediately softened those comments, he tried to put the matter to rest this way: "This thing is overblown. Everybody knows that Trump likes women," Sessions said. "This is not a disqualifying event."

    Trump didn't pay much of a price for the scandal of the "Access Hollywood" tapes, but Sessions may not get off so easy. On Tuesday, at his confirmation hearings to be attorney general, the senator was the one breathing heavily. "Is grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent, is that sexual assault?" Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vermont, asked. "Clearly, it would be," Sessions replied.

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The Trump dossier is silly - except for one thing

    Anyone who reads the unconfirmed report on Russia's purported ties to President-elect Donald Trump has to agree with the media organizations that balked at publishing it - until BuzzFeed decided to let Americans "make up their own minds."

    The document's provenance seems to be a dirt-digging contract issued to an ex-British spy by Trump's political opponents; it's a pastiche of claims from unnamed sources, marred by spelling errors and including a tale about a Russia-Trump conspiracy hatched in a city, Prague, that Trump's purported representative at the purported meeting says he's never visited.

    It culminates in the assertion that Russian intelligence controls Trump via possession of a video showing him disgustingly engaged with prostitutes in Moscow, a classic KGB-style kompromat (blackmail) scenario that seemed a little too vivid even before Trump ridiculed it at a news conference Wednesday.

    There remains, however, one blindingly obvious, utterly true and, so far, insufficiently explained fact: Trump favors Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Putin favors him.

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It's almost impossible to see how James Comey did the right thing with Hillary Clinton's email server

    You can debate whether FBI Director James Comey's late-October announcement that potentially relevant information had been uncovered regarding Hillary Clinton's private email server cost her the presidential election. But with the wisdom of hindsight, it's virtually impossible to defend his decision to make such a show of a discovery that, ultimately, amounted to nothing.

    Comey's actions in the late stages of the 2016 presidential campaign seem likely to be the focus of a just-announced inspector general's investigation of the conduct of the FBI in the run-up to the November election. Writes The Washington Post's Matt Zapotosky:

    "The probe will be wide ranging - encompassing the FBI's various public statements on the matter, whether its deputy director should have been recused and whether Department of Justice or FBI employees leaked non-public information, according to a news release from Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz."

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What the bleep happened at the Trump news conference?

    In case you are just now waking up from a coma, let me tell you what happened Wednesday at Donald Trump's first press conference as president-elect. (Yes, that Donald Trump! He will be the next president!)

    First, he has decided that his official position on the kinds of conflicts of interest that might arise if he kept running his business while president is that If The President Does It, It Is No Conflict. Thus, any steps he takes to take his business out of his hands are from the simple, self-sacrificing kindness of his heart. Why, just the other day, someone offered him $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai! Two billion dollars! And would you believe it: He didn't take it. His point is, we should be grateful. As he repeatedly stressed, he doesn't have to do this! This whole president thing -- it's really a big pain, and he doesn't have to do it at all! (In fact, I wish he wouldn't.)

    He will not release his tax returns, as the results of the election clearly demonstrated that they are of no interest to anyone but reporters. And nuts to reporters, is he right?

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Trump's presser was remarkable. It means we're heading into truly uncharted territory.

    At his presser today, Donald Trump confirmed the very worst fears of ethics experts, announcing a new arrangement for his business holdings that is designed to garner nice headlines but is unlikely to do much to reduce the possibility of conflicts of interest and, possibly, full-blown corruption.

    Trump did nothing to address the central ethical problem he faces: He will not divest himself of his holdings, only transferring control of them to his two sons. The Washingotn Post sums up the arrangement:

    "Trump will shift his assets into a trust managed by his sons and give up management of his private company….

    "The announcement included a pledge from a Trump lawyer that the company would make 'no new foreign deals whatsoever' during Trump's presidency, and that any new domestic deals would undergo vigorous review, including approval by an independent ethics adviser.

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January 14th

Trump, Sex and Lots of Whining

    Finally, Donald Trump held a press conference. I know you want to hear the sex-in-Russia part.

    The world learned this week about memos from a retired British intelligence officer on relations between the Trump campaign and the Russians. They included some speculation about whether there were compromising videos of Trump cavorting in a Russian hotel that might explain his enthusiastic support for Vladimir Putin.

    The report wasn’t prepared by our intelligence agencies — it was opposition research done on contract for some other campaigns. It had been bouncing around Washington for a while. You didn’t hear about it because nobody could confirm any of the allegations.

    But a summary of the memos showed up in the briefing Trump got from the intelligence agencies last week. Wouldn’t you have liked to be there to see the reaction?

    Then a version of the report showed up online, and naturally it came up Wednesday at Trump’s press conference.

    About that press conference. Here are some of the things we learned:

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Obama to Americans: No one's going to defend democracy for you

    There was always a double meaning to "Yes we can," Barack Obama's 2008 catchphrase that reappeared near the end of his Tuesday night farewell address. In this democracy, Americans have the power to succeed, but we bear responsibility if we fail. And, oh boy, do we have some explaining to do.

    More than eight years after it propelled him to the White House, President Obama recapitulated this message, both empowering and demanding, in what may be the last decent thing we will hear from the president of the United States for a while.

    Obama's address was at once an inspiring declaration that change need not be feared; an indictment of the lard and laziness of our political culture, in which partisanship and cynicism are mistaken for virtues and the only pertinent question is who's to blame; and an expression of faith that a rising generation of Americans - one that is "unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic" - would be wiser and more public-spirited than the failed baby-boom generation has been.

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