This is where you can read our posts, listed chronologically. We hope you find them thought-provoking, informative and/or in some other way worthwhile reading.
This is where you can read our posts, listed chronologically. We hope you find them thought-provoking, informative and/or in some other way worthwhile reading.
Critics of President Donald Trump cheered Wednesday’s news that prosecutors in New York have filed state charges against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Significantly, if a jury convicts Manafort of any of the 16 counts, Trump could not pardon him for the offenses.
A possible pardon of Manafort has been something of an obsession for progressives since the former campaign boss first came into the crosshairs of independent counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump has given no indication that he intends to pardon Manafort of the federal tax evasion and bank fraud charges of which he has been convicted. On Wednesday, he told reporters that he feels badly for Manafort, who received additional punishment and now will serve 7½ years in prison. But Trump added that he has not thought about a pardon.
The perplexing part about the notion of a pardon is what Trump would have to gain from such an action. The downside is obvious. It would trigger a new round of negative publicity and allegations that the pardon was an attempt to shortchange the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election – perhaps even obstruction of justice.
Indeed, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Wednesday issued a warning on Twitter.
“Any attempt to pardon him would be a gross abuse of power requiring immediate action by Congress,” he wrote.
And the upside?
It’s hard to figure out. If Trump’s intention were to somehow thwart Mueller’s investigation, the time to issue a pardon would have been shortly after Mueller filed the charges. By now, whatever information about collusion Mueller may have been able to obtain from Manafort has been obtained already.
A pardon now cannot undo whatever Mueller has learned.
Even an early pardon likely would not have slowed Mueller down. In fact, it might have backfired; had Manafort been pardoned, he would have had no grounds to assert his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. That means he would have had no legal reason to avoid testifying before Mueller’s grand jury if he were trying to hide some scheme between the campaign and Russian agents to fix the 2016 election.
Throughout his career, Trump has revealed himself to be transactional. That is, he rarely acts out of purely altruistic motives. Many who have been close to him describe his concept of loyalty as a one-way street.
If this picture is accurate, it suggests all the more that he would not grant a pardon with nothing to gain.
Reportedly, Trump rebuffed pleas for help from Michael Cohen, his onetime personal lawyer. And Cohen’s relationship with Trump ran far deeper than Manafort’s. The president apparently did not know Manafort before the campaign, turning to him when aides suggested his experience in Republican politics could be helpful if Trump failed to gain enough delegates to win the nomination at the GOP convention without a fight.
Unlike Trump’s pardon of say, former Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is extremely popular with immigration hawks and others who admire the former sheriff’s tough-on-crime stances, Manafort has no constituency in the Republican Party.
Pardoning the former campaign boss would not help Trump politically, even with a narrow segment of the party. It would not stop Mueller. It would not stop multiple congressional investigations.
It would, however, create new headaches.
So why do it?
An indictment accusing some of America’s richest and most famous citizens of bribing and scheming to fraudulently get their unqualified kids into elite colleges exploded like a bomb Tuesday, drawing bipartisan outrage.
The allegations are shocking. Parents paying to have stand-ins take standardized tests for their kids, or to have their kids’ scores changed. College coaches taking bribes to designate the children of the bribers as recruits – even though they had never played the sport.
And on and on.
Some parents stand accused of paying seven-figure bribes.
It’s hard to imagine a story more tailor-made to make the case of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his fellow travelers who contend that America is rigged by and for the wealthy.
Patrick Deneen, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame, rendered a harsh judgment during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.
“It’s a meritocracy that has taken on all of the features of an aristocracy,” he said. “In other words, it’s able to perpetuate itself from one generation to the next, which is at least, in theory, what the meritocracy came into being to get rid of. And so, what we have now is a new version of the old aristocracy.”
But perhaps the scandal – and it is a scandal, to be sure – ought to in a weird way increase confidence in the meritocracy of the U.S. college system.
Nothing in the indictment made public Tuesday implicates the colleges as institutions. Administrators at the targeted universities told reporters that they do not believe admissions officers were aware of the schemes.
If true, that actually refutes the widely held belief that people with wealth and connections easily can get their children in the right colleges. Many people assume that children of those kinds of parents do not have to worry about grades and test scores because elite universities will welcome their families with open arms.
If that were true, however, parents would not have to resort to breaking the law. Why risk prison time manipulating test scores or bribing rogue employees if all you have to do is call up a college president or admissions officer and let them know who you are?
The sordid affair also highlights a grotesque and sad desperation among many parents to get their kids into the “right” schools.
It underpins an entire industry geared toward helping kids gain an edge – everything from advice on writing essays to help preparing for standardized tests.
Parents ought to relax. There is plenty of research suggesting that it does not make much difference for most people where they go to college. A smart, motivated student who graduates from her local state university will do fine, even if she had to settle when Harvard University sent a rejection letter.
The budget formally unveiled by President Donald Trump on Monday contains implausible assumptions and outright gimmicks – and still foresees trillions of dollars in new debt.
Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, succinctly captured the essence of American government nearly two decades into the 21st century.
“Washington has a spending problem, and it endangers the future prosperity of our nation for generations to come,” he told reporters.
To fix that spending problem, though, Trump seeks to wring almost all of the spending cuts out of one small sliver of the overall budget – discretionary, domestic spending. That includes education, energy, environmental protection and all of the other programs Congress must vote on every year.
The budget increases spending on national defense and barely touches Social Security, Medicare and the other giant entitlement programs that are on auto pilot.
“Medicare spending will go up every single year by healthy margins, and there are no structural changes for Medicare beneficiaries,” Vought said.
The government will run a trillion-dollar deficit this year. Without significant cuts or new revenue, then just the interest on the borrowed money – staggeringly – will exceed the entire budget by 2024.
Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, tweeted that the budget includes promising reforms in Medicare that would save money while protecting beneficiaries. But she added “aggressive growth numbers, unpaid for tax cut extensions, insufficient deficit reduction [are] so frustrating.”
The think tank projects the spending blueprint would add $10.5 trillion to the debt over a decade.
Vought claims the budget trims $2.8 trillion over a decade – the most cuts in history. Noting that the economy grew at a 3.1 percent clip the last four quarters, he also defended the administration’s budget projections. He pointed out that the administration hit its growth projections two years in a row, which is the first time in history that has happened.
Even under the administration’s own long-term forecast, though, the budget would not balance for 15 years. That is five years longer than the projections in the president’s first budget.
Predicting anything with certainty 15 years away is almost absurd. It anticipates no war, no recession, no major disaster. OMB projects a $35 trillion gross domestic product in 2019, roughly $4 trillion higher than the forecast by the Congressional Budget Office.
Plus, even if the country could avoid those ordinary downturns, achieving the kinds of cuts Trump is calling for appears politically unlikely.
There are proposals that likely would gain widespread support. For instance, the administration calls for eliminating 85 different cultural programs for international college students in which less than 1 percent of the foreign students studying in the United States participate . Savings: $600 million.
The budget also calls for saving hundreds of millions of dollars more by eliminating Job Corps, a program criticized as costly and ineffective.
But those are chump change in the context of the overall budget. Many big-ticket items on Trump’s hit list simply are going to be non-starters in a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. The budget, for instance, anticipates $660 billion in savings from the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans could not even manage to repeal Obamacare when they controlled both houses of Congress. Needless to say, the odds are much longer now.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget also blasts an outright gimmick – the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations fund in 2020 and 2021; it ostensibly is for war spending and is not subject to normal spending caps.
The budget think tank asserts that if the administration’s rosy economic growth assumptions fail to materialize, debt likely will reach 85 percent to 90 percent of GDP.
The organization calls for the president to demonstrate leadership on the debt.
“But leadership means putting all parts of the budget and tax code on the table to find savings and new revenue, not papering over the problem with gimmicks, gains, and fantasy growth,” the group states in an analysis of the budget.
Alabama’s junior senator, Democrat Doug Jones, accused Republicans on Sunday of suppressing the black vote. Then he doubled down on that position this week.
“Well, you know I think if you look at – carefully you have to look at the state legislatures, governors and members of Congress that are Republicans. For whatever reason, they do not want African-Americans and other minorities to vote. I assume rather than trying to get those votes, they seem to want to restrict those votes,” he said on “Face the Nation.”
This week, he told Huntsville radio host Jeff Poor that Republicans “have passed these very, very stringent voter ID laws, some of which have been struck down by the courts. They have gerrymandered a number of districts to concentrate white voting power among a few districts. Voting rolls are being purged across the country.”
Jones hardly is the first Democrat to accuse Republicans of voter suppression, conjuring images of Southern officials from the Jim Crow era using poll taxes and rigged literacy tests to keep black people off of the voter rolls and out of the voting booths.
Claims by Jones of modern-day suppression run headlong into a series of inconvenient facts, however. The first is that there is scant evidence that laws requiring voters to show a photo ID before voting knock blacks – or anyone else – out of elections.
Take the senator’s home state, Alabama. The voter ID law has not stopped the state from registering more than 1.2 million new voters since January 2015. As Secretary of State John Merrill points out, a record number of nearly 3.5 million voters currently are registered. He estimated that 96 percent of all eligible African-Americans are registered.
If for some reason a voter does not have a driver’s license or another acceptable form of photo ID – which is rare – he or she can obtain a photo voter ID from the state for free. And if all else fails, a voter without an ID can cast a provisional ballot that counts as long as the voter later proves he or she is a valid voter.
U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler sided with Alabama when activists challenged the law. He wrote that there is “no person who is qualified to register to vote who cannot also get a photo ID.”
Actual voting data also belies the notion that black residents disproportionately are deterred from voting. A Census Bureau report demonstrates that 60.8 percent of black adult citizens cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election in Alabama. That exceeds the 57 percent turnout rate among non-Hispanic whites.
For the nation as a whole, meanwhile, adult white turnout exceeded black turnout by 5.9 points.
Or compare turnout data to California, the quintessential progressive state, which never would dream of suppressing minority votes. It has no voter ID law. The results? In 2016, 67.1 percent of non-Hispanic, adult, white citizens voted, while just 48.4 percent of black citizens did.
Black turnout also exceeded white turnout in Alabama in the 2012 election, the first election after the state passed its stricter photo ID law. But America’s first black president was on the ballot. Significantly, black turnout remained higher than white turnout even in an election when there was not a black candidate running for president.
Jones also misleads when he complains about the purging of voter registration rolls. It suggests Republican elections officials are arbitrarily deleting minority voters for partisan advantage.
In fact, the Supreme Court considered this very issue last year in a case involving Ohio. The state removed voters who had moved or failed to respond to mailings after having not voted in multiple elections. The high court determined that Ohio scrubbed its rolls in precisely the manner prescribed by the motor-voter law, signed by then-President Bill Clinton.
Jones also complains about gerrymandering, the practice of drawing political boundaries in ways that favor the party in power. The senator accuses Republicans of maneuvering to “concentrate white voting power among a few districts.”
He has it backward. Republicans in states with large black populations have gerrymandered districts to concentrate black voters into a few districts. That makes surrounding districts whiter and, as a result, more Republican.
Jones is right that Republicans have used the device to maximize their wins in legislative races. But he leaves out some important history. The practice results from the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which the George H.W. Bush administration argued in court requires states to create as many black supermajority districts as possible.
The Justice Department at the time had an odd-bedfellows alliance with civil rights leaders, who supported the administration’s position. At the time, white Democrats held sway in the South, and civil rights activists saw the Voting Rights Act as a tool to create more opportunities for African-American candidates – at the expense of white Democrats.
The Justice Department came up with a goal of making districts with at least 65 percent minority voters whenever possible. And it was not just in the South. A redistricting plan in Illinois following the 1990 census expanded the number of majority-minority state legislative districts to 17.
Voting rights activist Bruce Crosby cheered.
“Republicans should be applauded, and 17 is what the black community should get,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1992.
In the ensuing two decades, two things happened. Democrats discovered that the arrangement was helping to elect more Republicans. And racially polarized voting patterns began to break down. It no longer requires nearly as many black citizens in a district to ensure the election of an African-American candidate.
It is understandable why Democrats now want to change the rules. But it seems disingenuous for Jones to insist that following those rules amounts to Republicans not wanting black people to vote.
A new study by the Cato Institute examining crime offers fodder for both sides of the immigration debate.
Consider the following narratives:
The Cato report supports both conclusions. It all depends on the framing.
The libertarian-leaning think tank used data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to estimate the incarceration rate for immigrants ages 18 to 54. The authors then used other data to estimate which immigrants entered lawfully and which are illegal immigrants.
Crunching all the numbers, Cato estimated that the 2017 incarceration rate for native-born Americans was 1,471 per 100,000. That is almost twice as high as the estimated rate of 756 per 100,000 immigrants living illegally in the United States.
That finding, similar to Cato’s previous research, offers potent ammunition to those who contend President Donald Trump’s focus on immigration as a public safety issue is misplaced demagoguery.
“Most of what the president’s doing is failing. It’s not going through. It’s not going to become law,” report co-author Alex Nowrastah said on a podcast produced by the think tank. “And the fact that his policies, his preferred policies, are not being put into effect will not have a deleterious effect on American crime.”
On the other hand, the illegal immigrant crime rate of 756 per 100,000 compares with just 364 per 100,000 among legal immigrants. Even after subtracting about 13,000 illegal immigrants convicted of immigration-related offenses and another 38,000 held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, illegal immigrants still have an incarceration rate 9 percent higher than legal immigrants.
Cato’s own data support the notion that America should prioritize and encourage foreigners who jump through the legal immigration hoops over those who skip the line.
And that does not even take into consideration the fact that crime is only one concern associated with illegal immigration. Arguably more important are the reasons why America adopted its immigration limits in the first place – to reduce the strain on government services and competition with American-born workers in low-skill jobs.
As with native-born Americans, Cato found a correlation based on education. Better-educated immigrants are far less likely to be incarcerated than those with less education. For instance, 55.3 percent of all incarcerated illegal immigrants ages 18 to 54 in 2017 did not graduate from high school. Just 1.7 percent of imprisoned illegal immigrants had postgraduate degrees.
Among imprisoned natives in that age range in 2017, just a half-percent had postgraduate degrees, and 29.2 percent were high school dropouts.
Age and time in the United States also play a role. The incarceration rate was higher for immigrants younger than 35. For legal and illegal immigrants, incarceration rates were higher for recent arrivals – those who had been in the United States less than five years – than for those in the United States longer than that.
In addition, immigrants who come at a young age are far more likely to commit crimes than those who come when they are older. Legal immigrants who came before the age of 18 were 231 percent more likely to be imprisoned than legal immigrants who came as adults. Illegal immigrants who came as children were 286 percent more likely to be incarcerated than those who came at age 18 or older.
The Cato report posits two possible explanations. Perhaps, immigrant children are more quickly assimilated into America’s “high-crime culture.” Or, the authors suggest, maybe adults who make the decision to come to America possess qualities that make them less likely to commit crimes than those who were too young to make the decision for themselves.
Either way, the figures suggest that the surge in unaccompanied minors and children traveling with adults across the border are worse for America from a crime perspective than single adults who come legally or illegally.
Finally, it’s worth noting that not all researchers agree with Cato’s conclusions. A study last month by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors reduced immigration, found that illegal immigrants commit crimes at higher rates than citizens.
The think tank based its findings on an analysis of data from the federal government’s State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP, which reimburses state and local governments for the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants who have been convicted of felonies or multiple misdemeanors.
Based on SCAAP data from the 10 states with the most illegal immigrants, FAIR determined that illegal immigrants are about three times as likely as citizens or legal immigrants to be incarcerated.
U.S. officials apprehended 76,103 illegal immigrants trying to sneak into the country or deemed inadmissible at the ports of entry along the southwest border last month, according to the latest data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
That is the highest number of any month dating to fiscal year 2014. It represents a staggering 382 percent increase since illegal border crossings hit a low mark of 15,798. That was in April 2017, during President Donald Trump’s first few months in office. His tough rhetoric on border security had an effect; illegal crossings began dropping immediately after he took the oath of office.
But after the U.S. government failed to back up Trump’s words with meaningful policy changes, illegal crossings started climbing again.
Still, Democrats and media critics continued to chastise Trump for manufacturing a “fake” crisis at the border.
Exactly what constitutes a “crisis” or an “emergency” is subjective. But what is indisputable is that the United States is on track for an annual illegal immigration total not seen in years. Don’t take the word of the Trump-friendly right-wing media. Here is Nick Miroff, The Washington Post’s national security reporter:
“The claim that border crossings are near historic lows is simply no longer true,” he tweeted. “Feb stats will show another huge increase in families, with some days topping 3,000 detentions. We are at levels of unauthorized migration not seen since the GW Bush admin.”
As they have for months now, it was adults and children traveling together who drove much of the increase in February. The migrants, dubbed “family units” by the government, accounted for 36,174 of the illegal immigrants apprehended along the border.
That is a nearly 50 percent increase over January and is nearly as many as the total number of illegal immigrants apprehended at and between border crossing stations in February 2018.
Brian Hastings, chief of operations for the U.S. Border Patrol, told reporters historically, 70 percent to 90 percent of illegal immigrants caught at the border were Mexicans. They easily can be sent back to their neighboring homeland.
Today, Hastings noted, some 70 percent of illegal immigrants caught at the border come from Central America. And they increasingly are traveling with children. He said family units in October exceeded single adults for the first time. Last month, family units and unaccompanied children accounted for 65 percent of illegal border crossers.
And since April 2018, about 2,400 of the family units have been fraudulent – either adults claiming to be children, or adults falsely claiming to be the parents of the children traveling with them.
Since those border crossers are not from Mexico, they cannot easily be returned. And court rulings have banned the long-term detention of illegal immigrant children.
“Without being able to deliver a consequence to those individuals for illegally crossing our border, the Border Patrol has no reason to believe that trend will decrease,” Hastings said. “In fact, we believe it will increase.”
In addition to failing to address the court rulings, Congress has not expanded detention space and has refused to devote more than token resources to constructing new fences between Mexico and the United States.
The result should have been predictable.
“Catch-and-release is in full swing,” tweeted the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank that advocates limiting immigration.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington-based think tank, predicted the numbers will continue to grow.
“This is going to keep getting worse until the Dems agree to plug the legal loopholes driving it,” he tweeted.
America is like a socially awkward guy at a party, talking up an uncomfortable girl, oblivious to her body language.
Americans, according to a survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center, think things are going swimmingly with the girl – who in this case, is Germany. Germans, meanwhile, are just not that into us.
The Pew survey shows that 70 percent of Americans describe the relationship between the two countries as good, up from 68 percent in 2017. (Those describing it as bad also increased slightly, from 22 percent to 25 percent).
Some 73 percent of Germans, meanwhile, describe the bilateral relationship as bad. That is up from 56 percent in 2017. Those describing the relationship as good dropped from 42 percent to 24 percent.
The assessments come amid rising tensions between the two countries over trade and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and between President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The funny thing about the rift is that Americans and Germans share a similar worldview.
Germans and Americans also express similar concerns about threats facing their respective nations. Cyberattacks and the Islamic State rated as a top concern for both countries, with Americans expressing more concern about cyberattacks and Germans more fearful of ISIS.
Germans also are more concerned about global climate change, with 71 percent rating it as a “major threat” to their country, compared with just 59 percent of Americans.
Americans were more concerned about North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as the power and influence of China and Russia. (At 49 percent, more Germans expressed alarm at America’s power and influence than they did about either China (33 percent) or Russia (30 percent).
The gap between Germans and Americans over Russia appears to be a product of the 2016 U.S. election and Russian meddling. Since 2007, public opinion of Russia has ebbed and flowed in the United States and Germany, with both countries hewing very closely together.
But opinion in the two nations diverged sharply between 2017 and 2018, with favorable views of Russia jumping from 27 percent to 35 percent among Germans and declining from 29 percent to 21 percent in the United States.
Immigration has been a big issue in both nations. Germans want fewer migrants, the option chosen by 58 percent of citizens of that country. Among Americans, the most popular choice was taking in the same number of immigrants.
Some 44 percent of Americans picked that option, compared with 29 percent who said fewer and 24 percent who said more. (It should be noted that in surveys when Americans are asked to put a specific number on the ideal level of immigration, the average answer frequently is far lower than the 1 million immigrants admitted each year).
While issues like trade, global warming and the NATO alliance have been divisive during the last couple of years, pure politics might explain much of the trending negativity coming from Germans, who tend to view America more favorably when a Democrat is president.
Confidence in George W. Bush and America steadily plummeted in Germany, reaching a low of 14 percent for Bush and 31 percent with a favorable view of America just before he left office. Opinion in Germany rebounded sharply when Barack Obama succeeded him.
The share of Germans with a favorable view of America regularly topped 85 percent during the Obama years. And Obama, himself, regularly enjoyed a higher approval rating in Germany than he had in his own country.
When Trump took office, opinions of both the president and the country tanked again. In 2018, only 30 percent of Germans had a favorable view of the United States, while Trump’s approval rating stood at just 10 percent.
So whatever ails the U.S.-German relationship may be cured simply with a change in the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Quoting a U.N. climate official, the Associated Press reported dire warnings of what’s in store for planet Earth if humans do not reverse the trend on carbon emissions in 10 years.
Possible consequences include 1930s-style Dust Bowl conditions in U.S. and Canadian wheat fields, the disappearance of entire countries by rising sea levels and millions of “eco-refugees” triggered by crop failures and coastal flooding.
A fifth of Egypt’s arable land might be flooded; a sixth of Bangladesh might be underwater, displacing 22.5 million people.
“The most conservative scientific estimate [is] that the Earth’s temperature will rise 1 to 7 degrees in the next 30 years,” the story states.
If those warnings sound familiar, it’s because Americans hear them on a regular basis. It underpins the ambitious – some say unrealistically ambitious – Green New Deal proposal that aims to transform the way the country powers its homes and industries in 10 years.
What gives the AP article perspective, however, is the date it was published – June 29, 1989.
Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program, told the wire service that the world had until 2000 to reverse course. If not, the dire consequences would come to pass in about 30 years.
Meaning this year.
This is not an exercise in “climate denial.” The AP story from 1989 does not prove that climate change is a “hoax” or anything of the sort. It merely is a cautionary tale about the limitations of using complicated computer models to forecast global climate patterns with precision.
In fact, according to data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet has warmed since 1989 – just not by as much as Brown predicted. The average global surface temperature last year was 0.8 degrees Celsius higher than the yearly average since 1880. In 1989, the average surface temperature was 0.3 degrees Celsius above average.
Bangladesh remains poor and has faced stress from coastal erosion. Residents have been displaced, but not by the magnitude of a quarter of the nation’s population that the United Nations predicted in 1989. In fact, Bangladesh has accepted hundreds of thousands of foreign refugees – Rohingya Muslims fleeing not climate catastrophe, but religious persecution in Myanmar.
In the U.S. heartland, meanwhile, overall wheat yields have declined since 1989. But the yield per acre actually has increased. The Dust Bowl has not come.
The Maldives, too, have battled erosion. But the islands off the coast of India are not buried underwater entirely, as the 1989 AP article suggested might be the case by now.
The overwhelming majority of climate researchers believe that the Earth is warming and that it is caused partly or wholly by human activity. But the consensus breaks down when researchers venture specific forecasts and time horizons. Perhaps we have passed a tipping point. Maybe, we’re within 10 years or so of that threshold.
Or, maybe the horizon stretches decades into the future.
Humans had better hope for the latter. Because if saving life on Earth depends on eliminating or dramatically reducing carbon emissions in a decade, as this New York Times interactive model demonstrates, we are most likely doomed.
President Donald Trump failed this week to defang North Korea, and his critics on all sides pounced.
From the right, NeverTrump conservative and Council on Foreign Relations fellow Max Boot tweeted: “It turns out that Trump’s entire outreach to North Korea has been built on a mountain of misconceptions. The intelligence community was right and Trump was wrong: North Korea has no intention of denuclearizing.”
Liberals barely contained their glee. Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, called Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a “diplomatic fiasco.”
Rep. Mike Levi (D-Calif.) expressed his disgust that Trump said the United States and North Korea had a “special relationship.”
Even “The Daily Show” got into the act, chortling on Twitter that, “Trump's North Korea denuclearization talks were Kim Jong-unsuccessful.”
And others argued that Trump elevated Kim by meeting with him and gave the North Koreans a public relations victory.
There is some dispute over the details surrounding the breakdown of the summit. The White House contends North Korea demanded a full lifting of sanctions in exchange for shutting down a nuclear facility. The North Koreans maintain that it only asked for a partial lifting of sanctions.
Either way, most experts believe relieving the pressure on the North Korean regime would be a terrible mistake.
“You have to be prepared to walk, and this just wouldn’t have been good for our country,” Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News.
The fact is, North Korea presents only bad options. It has nuclear weapons and is rapidly moving toward the capability of delivering them to the U.S. mainland. Developing those weapons has been a goal of the government for decades. It sees this both as a ticket to national greatness and an insurance policy for its own survival.
Administration after administration in the United States has attempted to alter North Korean behavior. All have failed.
Bill Clinton’s administration tried negotiations and aid. North Korea signed an agreement and then promptly violated it.
Subsequent presidents tried sanctions, multi-lateral talks and U.N. resolutions, all to no avail.
Trump gambled that direct leader-to-leader talks might produce a breakthrough. So far, it has not. It’s hard to see what might work. Each of the alternatives is unappealing. They include:
The strategy Trump has chosen is to keep talking, give Kim the international prestige he craves and keep up the “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions.
That is a far cry from ideal. Except when compared with two years ago, when North Korea was issuing frequent bellicose statements and conducting long-range missile tests. For that matter, Trump was returning rhetorical bombs, threatening “fire and fury.”
Some of the same people now blasting the president for giving Kim a P.R. win were freaking out over the prospect that he would stumble into a nuclear war.
The current situation is probably the best-case scenario absent a dramatic change in the North Korean regime or full cooperation from China, whose help allows North Korea to evade the full impact of international sanctions.
Time will tell if Michael Cohen was telling the truth Wednesday during his more explosive allegations against President Donald Trump, but his testimony about his motives go far beyond the normal bounds of credibility.
The president’s former lawyer and “fixer,” as the media love to call him, had a tricky challenge as he addressed the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee – how to explain why he continued to do the bidding of a man he described in the harshest terms.
At one point, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) wanted to know when Cohen – who has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress – saw the light.
“What was the breaking point at which you decided to start telling the truth?” he asked.
Cohen could not pinpoint a single turning point.
“There’s several factors,” he said. “Helsinki. Charlottesville. Watching the daily destruction of our civility to one another.”
Helsinki was a reference to Trump’s much-maligned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital. And Charlottesville was the Virginia city where white supremacist protesters clashed with counter-demonstrators during a rally in support of Confederate monuments. Trump came in for heavy criticism for his insistence that there were good and bad people on “both sides” of the issue.
Cohen pointed to a poster that one of the Republican representatives had displayed showing the words, “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” over Cohen’s face.
“Putting up silly things like this. Really unbecoming of Congress,” he said. “It’s that sort of behavior that I’m responsible for. I’m responsible for your silliness.”
Added Cohen: “This destruction of our civility to one another is just out of control.”
It is hard to believe Cohen was moved by a sense of disgust over the “destruction of our civility.” Cohen, after all, participated in it.
Shortly after Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015, Cohen threatened Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak when the journalist asked about allegations that Trump had raped his first wife.
“Mark my words for it, I will make sure that you and I meet one day over in the courthouse and I will take you for every penny you still don't have, and I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said in a recording of his call with Mak. “Do not even think about going where I know you’re planning on going.”
Cohen warned Mak not to write a story with the word “rape” in it.
“For as long as you're on this frickin’ planet … you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you'll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he said.
Talking about a protester who got into a scuffle with Trump supporters at a campaign rally, Cohen once said that if someone goes to an event looking to be an agitator, “you know what, that’s between the individual who wants to be an agitator and the people that are there to listen to Mr. Trump.”
As early as 2011, he explained to ABC News the role he played for Trump.
“If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished,” he said.
Beyond the Mr. Civility routine, let’s examine the two specific events that purportedly prompted Cohen to re-evaluate his relationship with the president – the Trump-Putin summit and the Charlottesville violence.
The “Unite the Right” rally occurred in August 2017. Cohen did not start speaking out against Trump publicly until the following summer. In the time in between, he gave little indication that Trump’s response to the incident caused him much consternation.
A few weeks after the rally, Cohen told Vanity Fair that he did not understand why Trump gave the news conference and that he did not agree with everything the president has said or tweeted. But he added that he wanted to do more to help his former boss.
“At times I wish I were there in D.C. more, sitting with him in the Oval Office like we used to at Trump Tower, to protect him,” he said. “I feel guilty that he's in there right now almost alone.”
As to the Helsinki summit, which drew vociferous criticism over Trump’s failure to confront Putin over Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election, that occurred in July 2018. That was after Cohen gave an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that marked the change of his public posture toward Trump.
He said he would not be a “punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy.”
At the time, legal pressures were mounting on Cohen over his own shady business dealings. FBI agents in April had raided his home, hotel room and office. And Trump was distancing himself from Cohen. Later that month, the president downplayed Cohen’s role, telling reporters that the lawyer had performed only a “tiny, tiny fraction” of his legal work.
Cohen glossed over that history, however. Instead, he would have Congress and the country believe that after 10 years of working closely with a man he describes as a racist, liar and con man, he got fed up after watching Trump’s handling of his summit with Putin and the Charlottesville violence.
It’s not something that ever would result in a perjury charge, but that testimony is not believable.