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Sep 20 2019

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: Trump Declares War on California

It’s a liberal state, so it must be punished.

I’m on a number of right-wing mailing lists, and I try to at least skim what they’re going on about in any given week; this often gives me advance warning about the next wave of manufactured outrage. Lately I’ve been seeing dire warnings that if Democrats win next year they’ll try to turn America into (cue scary background music) California, which the writers portray as a socialist hellhole.

Sure enough, this week Donald Trump effectively declared war on California on two fronts. He’s trying to take away the Golden State’s ability to regulate pollution generated by its 15 million cars, and, more bizarrely, he’s seeking to have the Environmental Protection Agency declare that California’s homeless population constitutes an environmental threat. [..]

The attempt to kill the state’s emissions rules makes a kind of twisted sense given Trump’s policy priorities. His administration is clearly dedicated to the cause of making America polluted again, and in particular to ensuring that the planet cooks as quickly as possible. California is such a big player that it can effectively block part of that agenda, as shown by the willingness of automakers to abide by its emissions rules. Hence the attempt to strip away that power, never mind past rhetoric about states’ rights.

Declaring the homeless an environmental threat, however, aside from being almost surreal coming from an administration that in general loves pollution, is pure nonsense. It can be understood only as an attempt both to punish an anti-Trump state and to blacken its reputation.

What should you take away from Trump’s war on California?

New York Times Editorial Board: ‘Urgent Concern’ About the President

A whistle-blower’s report has alarmed the intelligence agencies’ watchdog. Why won’t the administration share it with Congress?

It’s not every day that a whistle-blower in the intelligence community files a complaint about the president of the United States. But it seems to have happened last month, when an unidentified intelligence employee alerted the inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, to multiple acts by President Trump, including a promise he is said to have made to a foreign leader during a phone call.

The complaint alarmed Mr. Atkinson enough that he considered it a matter of “urgent concern” and alerted the acting director of national intelligence, or D.N.I., Joseph Maguire.

Under federal law, the D.N.I. “shall” deliver an inspector general’s report about an “urgent concern” to Congress within a week of receiving it. But Mr. Maguire has so far refused to. Taking his marching orders from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, he has claimed that the whistle-blower’s complaint did not involve an “intelligence activity,” and that it contained “potentially privileged matters.” [..]

The No. 1 task of America’s intelligence and law-enforcement communities is to identify and deal with threats to national security. The problem, as explained by Jack Goldsmith, who led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush, is that Mr. Trump’s behavior has repeatedly revealed “the extent to which our constitutional system assumes and relies on a president with a modicum of national fidelity, and decent judgment and reasonableness.”

In other words, the system isn’t designed to deal with a situation in which a hazard may come from the president himself.

Michelle Goldberg: Roy Cohn Is How We Got Trump

From McCarthyism to the mob to Trump, Cohn enabled evil. Why did elites embrace him?

Near the beginning of “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” the new documentary about the lawyer and power broker who mentored Donald Trump, an interviewee says, “Roy Cohn’s contempt for people, his contempt for the law, was so evident on his face that if you were in his presence, you knew you were in the presence of evil.” He wasn’t being hyperbolic.

The film, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, will likely be of wide interest because of how Cohn helps explain Trump. In the attorney’s life, you can see the strange ease with which a sybaritic con man fit in with crusading social reactionaries. You see the glee Cohn derived from being an exception to the rules he enforced on weaker people. From him, Trump learned how, when he was in trouble, to change the subject by acting outrageously, to never apologize and always stay on the offense. When the Justice Department claimed that apartment buildings owned by the Trump family were discriminating against black renters, it was Cohn’s idea to countersue the Justice Department for $100 million.

Michael H. Fuchs: Trump is a walking, talking national security liability

A toddler leads the most powerful country in the world. And when he fixates on a national security problem, you can be sure it will get worse

As the Trump administration cycles through officials and policies at a whiplash-inducing speed, the one constant is Donald Trump and his unique talent for exacerbating national security threats.

While the list of this administration’s national security catastrophes is long – from announcing the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement to eroding America’s alliances – the events of recent weeks bring into stark relief the danger of Trump’s national security agenda. [..]

The reasons for these disastrous policies are manifold. But the thread connecting them all is Trump’s need to filter everything through his own ego. Trump met with Kim because no sitting president had done it before, and now Trump can’t admit that it’s not working. Trump ended the talks with the Taliban because his idea of a summit at Camp David didn’t work out – and so if he couldn’t personally bring peace to Afghanistan, he wasn’t going to let anyone else do it. Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal because it was a crowning achievement of Barack Obama, and Trump’s rise to prominence rested on Trump’s promotion of the fiction that everything Obama did was awful. And on Russia, the Trump campaign’s collusion to win the 2016 election places Trump squarely in Putin’s pocket, and therefore Trump cannot change course.

If all this wasn’t concerning enough, a whistleblower in the intelligence community was reportedly so concerned by a promise Trump made to a foreign leader that it was reported to the intelligence community’s inspector general. Trump literally cannot even be trusted to have a normal conversation with a foreign leader without potentially compromising national security.

Michael Morell and David Kris: How the DNI-Congress feud puts intelligence and democracy in danger

Though many of the details about the growing dispute between Congress and the acting director of national intelligence still remain secret, the implications are already disturbing.

This summer, a whistleblower complained to the inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community of an alleged “violation” of law, “abuse” of authority or similar problem. The inspector general, in turn, advised the acting DNI, and later the House Intelligence Committee, that the complaint was both credible and “urgent,” meaning it involved something “serious or flagrant” or otherwise significant.

Under a law enacted in 2010, such matters must be reported to Congress. But acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire did not report it, causing the House Intelligence Committee to issue a subpoena and two public letters demanding the information be provided to Congress. [..]

The risks associated with this are profound. As one of us (David) wrote at Lawfare, intelligence oversight in this country “has evolved from essentially nothing (1947-1976), to secret proxy oversight through elite members of Congress (1976-2013), to something closer to ordinary political accountability (2013 to present).” That evolution converges with an equally radical change in our politics, as many partisan actors today seek advantage by rejecting bedrock institutions and norms while a significant portion of the electorate responds with nihilistic glee. As applied to the oversight of intelligence, this convergence is very dangerous, because those institutions and norms are a major part of what keeps the intelligence community properly in check.

Congressional oversight of executive branch activities is a vitally important constitutional tool in maintaining our democracy. It is particularly important for intelligence activities because the intelligence community consists of secret organizations operating in a democracy. The actions of acting director Maguire risk weakening that oversight, the perceptions of the intelligence community on the part of the public, and the intelligence community itself.

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