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May 14 2018

Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from> around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Pondering the Pundits”.

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Paul Krugman: Let Them Eat Trump Steaks

In general, Donald Trump is notoriously uninterested in policy details. It has long been obvious, for example, that he never bothered to find out what his one major legislative victory, the 2017 tax cut, actually did. Similarly, it’s pretty clear that he had no idea what was actually in the Iran agreement he just repudiated.

In each case, it was about ego rather than substance: scoring a “win,” undoing his predecessor’s achievement.

But there are some policy issues he really does care about. By all accounts, he really hates the idea of people receiving “welfare,” by which he means any government program that helps people with low income, and he wants to eliminate such programs wherever possible. [..]

But however petty Trump’s motives, this is a big deal from the other side. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that new work requirements plus other restrictions proposed by House Republicans would end up denying or reducing nutritional aid to around two million people, mostly in families with children.

Why would anyone want to do that? The thing is, it’s not just Trump: Conservative hatred for food stamps is pervasive. What’s behind it?

Paul Waldman: Under Trump, the U.S. has abandoned the last shred of balance on Israel

Today marks the moment when the policy of the United States government toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lost all complexity, all ambiguity, and all nuance.

Today we’re confronted with two sets of pictures. On one side, thousands of Palestinians gathering at the Gaza border to protest are being shot down by Israeli snipers. As I write, 43 people have been killed and over 2,000 wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry; those numbers will undoubtedly rise.

On the other side, representatives of the Trump administration, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, some GOP donors, and a couple of evangelical megachurch pastors who have said vile, bigoted things about Islam and Muslims, are celebrating the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. [..]

Throughout, the United States has presented itself as not only a necessary partner in negotiations to end the conflict but at the very least a semi-neutral arbiter, one concerned about the future of both parties despite its closeness to Israel. It has remained committed to the goal of a two-state solution, in which Israel has the security it craves, the occupation of Palestinian lands ends, and the Palestinians are granted the right of self-determination.

Until now.

Jill Abramson: Trump’s team snooped on Obama officials. That’s gutter politics

The history of presidents who obsess and dig up dirt on the administrations that preceded them isn’t pretty. Think Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. These two former presidents, who unleashed the FBI and others to dig up dirt on the Kennedys, fulminated to the end about their perceived enemies.

Trump has actually exceeded them in paranoia and low political tactics. The Observer’s scoop about Trump aides practicing the black art of opposition research against the Obama administration officials who led the negotiations on the Iran deal reveals an outrage of immense scope. The Trump team hired a notorious Israeli spy outfit, Black Cube, to snoop into the personal lives of two former Obama officials, Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl, hoping to dig up evidence that they had revealed classified information to reporters, among other things.

When contacted, Rhodes properly observed that this was a “chillingly authoritarian thing to do”. Indeed, it recalls the worst of Nixonian tactics, including treating principled political adversaries as dangerous enemies to be destroyed. Nixon had his famous Enemies List, filled with the names of some of the most revered journalists Washington ever produced, including the late columnist and Pulitzer prize winner Mary McGrory. Nixon was also behind the attempt to steal the psychiatric files of Daniel Ellsberg, who served in Johnson’s Pentagon and leaked the Pentagon Papers. Black Cube is the worthy inheritor of these kinds of heinous reputational hit jobs.

Richard Wolffe: Michael Cohen is ‘in business’. But just what sort of business is he in?

The fixer is in a fix.

Michael Cohen, the most personal of the president’s personal attorneys, has cut an extraordinary figure in this totally abnormal administration.

You might be forgiven for thinking his fixing was confined to mysterious payments to porn actors and Playboy models, in exchange for their silence. These are mind-grabbing, if not body-grabbing, stories involving actual sex, movies about sex, a president and one of his major donors.

But unlike fixers of yore, Cohen has been unable to fix anything without requiring a good deal of cosmetic after-fixing. [..]

But the real mystery is not about the revenue: there are always suckers out there ready to believe the patter of a supposedly well-connected fixer. No, the unanswered questions are about where the money was going.

Most of the influence-peddlers have to support large teams and offices. They burn cash on glass-tabled conference rooms close to the White House, hugely inflated salaries for former congressmen, and steak dinners on Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s not true for Essential Consultants, whose staff amounted to one Michael Cohen. What was the fixer doing with all that money?

You’d think it was to pay off all those pesky women, right? But you would be wrong, because there are several public statements identifying other sources of cash for the hush money.

E. J. Dionne Jr.: America after Trump

In the imaginations of his hopeful defenders, President Trump was supposed to transcend left and right. He’d break the Republican Party from the shibboleths of the Reagan Era and create a new ideology mindful of the interests of the party’s working-class supporters.

Trump signaled this regularly. He touted a big infrastructure program. He insisted he would never cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. He said his health-care plan would be more comprehensive than Obamacare, at times using the government-oriented systems of Scotland, Canada and Australia as models.

That reinvention project is stillborn because it was never serious. Except on trade, where we still await the fruits of his efforts, his break-with-the-past agenda is dead.

One notable casualty is infrastructure, even if his grand words from his State of the Union address are still on the White House website. “We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our land,” Trump declared. “And we will do it with American heart, and American hands, and American grit.”

Never mind.

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