May 24 2017

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.

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Joshua Matz: Donald Trump’s panoply of abuses demand more than a special counsel

Last week, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, named the former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump”. Mueller may also examine “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”. He is empowered to “prosecute federal cries arising from the investigation of these matters”.

This is a very big deal, as you surely know if you have recently glanced in the general direction of any newspaper. Defenders of the rule of law had spent months calling for a special counsel. Finally, they got their wish: an special counsel focused on Trump and Russia. Trump responded by fuming and cowering in the White House. [..]

That said, Mueller is no silver bullet. To the contrary, he is limited in ways that will prevent him from answering important questions in an open, timely, and transparent manner. Accordingly, while some have urged that congressional investigations (and calls for impeachment) take a back seat while Mueller works, that is the wrong conclusion. If anything, the appointment of a special counsel confirms the need for a vigorous, bipartisan congressional review of attacks on America’s political order.

Steven W. Thrasher: The terror of lynching haunts black Americans again

Lynching is back in America’s headlines. On Saturday, an African American student, Richard Collins III, was stabbed and killed on the campus of the University of Maryland in what was widely – and rightly – called a lynching. That same day, the Mississippi state representative Karl Oliver wrote on Facebook that people who supported the removal of Confederate memorials to be “should be LYNCHED”.

Both cases are grotesque, obscene, and very reflective of our present racist crisis embodied by the Trump era.

The man who reportedly killed Collins was a white student named Seth Ubanski, who is said to have been involved with a Facebook group called Alt-Reich: Nation.

A lynching is a spectacular murder that serves as a warning to a whole group, as did Jim Crow-era hangings and 2015’s murders at Emanuel AME Church. The Collins killing reinforces the fear in African Americans that there is no space or activity – not buying Skittles in a suburb, buying a toy in a store, or going to a party – which is safe for us.

State representative Oliver’s call to lynch those standing up to Confederate hagiography is a warning to people fighting anti-blackness that we’re in danger. Regardless of intent, Collins’ lynching assaulted African Americans everywhere, as did Oliver’s threat.

Those presenting these kinds of sentiments are being emboldened by the Trump era, in which lynching history and culture are a part of what it means to “make America great again”.

Emma Ashford: The Trump administration’s Iran policy is dangerous and flawed

Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia was a huge success. The Saudis wisely pandered to the new president’s foibles, rolling out the red carpet for a lavish celebration. Even Trump’s speech on Islam, a potential minefield, was generally well-received by his hosts.

Yet while Trump’s speech – and his strong criticism of Iran – may have been pleasing to his Gulf States’ hosts, it should worry Americans. Pushing back on Tehran allows Trump to symbolically break with Barack Obama’s policies and is popular among congressional Republicans, but it is also dangerous, with the potential to undermine the nuclear deal, slow the fight against Isis, and embroil the United States more deeply in parochial regional struggles.

Indeed, though Congress and the White House are at odds on issues from healthcare to Russia, they generally share a determination to ratchet up pressure on Iran, whether via sanctions, regional military support or arms sales. This pushback is often attributed to Iran’s ballistic missile testing: though the nuclear deal does not in fact obligate Iran to stop testing, policymakers have pushed for a US response, arguing that the tests violate the spirit of the agreement.

Harrison Rudolph: Will the next FBI director be a J Edgar Hoover-like figure?

The country is still reeling after the bombshell report that Donald Trump asked the former FBI director James Comey to shut down the bureau’s investigation into Michael Flynn. Did the president fire Comey to slow down the FBI Russia investigation? Did Trump obstruct justice?

These questions are getting the attention that they deserve. But the focus on Comey’s firing is obscuring the issue of who Trump will hire to replace him – and the threat that this appointment poses to Americans’ civil liberties and civil rights. [..]

Comey had serious flaws. But he understood the past misdeeds of the FBI. He kept a copy of the original order to wiretap King on his desk and required new FBI agents and analysts to visit King’s memorial on the National Mall. As Comey put it in 2015, he tried to “to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them”.

Trump, on the other hand, seems anxious to return to the Hoover era. Trump has pledged to spy on “certain mosques”. He endorsed a Muslim registry. He gave us an attorney general who seems to think the NAACP is “un-American”. Trump taunted Comey, suggesting he had recorded their private conversations. And he may have told the director he wanted to see journalists imprisoned for reporting on government leaks.

Lucia Graves: vanka Trump’s family leave plan is a fig leaf for her father’s worst policies

Ivanka’s paid family leave program in Trump’s 2018 budget is the perfect metaphor for her role in the administration: it serves as a fig leaf for his most oppressive policies.

She’s made women’s empowerment her signature issue, saying as far back as the Republican National Convention: “Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm.”

But to say the priorities signaled in her father’s blueprint for fiscal spending in 2018 undercut those priorities is an understatement. As Dawn Laguens of Planned Parenthood put it Monday: “This is the worst budget for women and women’s health in a generation.”

Ivanka has positioned herself as her father’s better angel and would have us draw a bright line between Trump’s views and her own. But any line there is illusory. We saw this earlier this year, when she published a book expounding on women’s empowerment in the workplace as her father vocally defended alleged sexual predator Bill O’Reilly and quietly rolled back Obama-era protections for women workers. Now, the unveiling of Tuesday’s budget offers more of the same.