Republicans Are Coming for Your Benefits Paul Krugman ~ NYT

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Senator Orrin Hatch wants steep tax cuts that will benefit corporations and the wealthy. But he says the Children’s Health Insurance Program is in trouble because “we don’t have money anymore.”Credit J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

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Oh, they’ll find euphemisms to describe what they’re doing, talking solemnly about the need for “entitlement reform” as an act of fiscal responsibility — while their huge budget-busting tax cut for the rich gets shoved down the memory hole. But whatever words they use to cloak the reality of the situation, Republicans have given their donors what they wanted — and now they’re coming for your benefits.

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Republicans don’t care about budget deficits, and never did. They only pretend to care about deficits when one of two things is true: a Democrat is in the White House, and deficit rhetoric can be used to block his agenda, or they see an opportunity to slash social programs that help needy Americans, and can invoke deficits as an excuse. All of this has been obvious for years to anyone paying attention.

So it’s not at all surprising that they were willing to enact a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy even though all independent estimates said this would add more than $1 trillion to the national debt. And it was also predictable that they would return to deficit posturing as soon as the deed was done, citing the red ink they themselves produced as a reason to cut social spending.

Yet even the most cynical among us are startled both by how quickly the bait-and-switch is proceeding and by the contempt Republicans are showing for the public’s intelligence.

In fact, the switch began even before the marks swallowed the bait.

FINISH THE PIECE

Trump To Take Aim At Utah’s National Monuments, Reversing Predecessors’ Legacies

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Broken Bow Arch rises from Willow Canyon in the Escalante Canyons region of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Howard Berkes/NPR

President Trump is expected to announce his administration will dramatically shrink the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments when he travels to Utah on Monday.

The visit caps months of speculation and a controversial review of the boundaries of large national monuments that protect more than 100,000 acres of U.S. public land. The review, conducted by Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, originally looked at more than two dozen national monuments designated by presidential decree since the 1990s.

But Utah, with its new 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears monument and the 1.8 million-acre Grand Staircase National Monument, has always been at the center of the debate, and largely what spurred the review.

On Monday, during a ceremony at the Utah state Capitol, Trump is reportedly expected to announce plans to shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears by up to 85 percent. His predecessor, President Barack Obama, created the monument shortly before leaving office. The Grand Staircase monument, which stems from the Clinton administration, could be cut in half.

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Tribune Editorial: Why are you shrinking our monuments, Mr. President?

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Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune The view from Rock Springs Point along the west edge of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Saturday

 

Dear Mr. President,

 

Welcome to Utah.

 

We hope you will enjoy your brief visit to our state Monday, meeting with our elected officials and, we have been led to understand, making those officeholders very happy by announcing that large swaths of Utah’s unique and beautiful public lands will be removed from their current status as national monuments.

Here is what we want to know about that: Why?

 

What possible reason could there be for cutting the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in half and reducing the new Bears Ears National Monument to two small slivers of the land preserved just last year by your predecessor?

 

The land is owned by the federal government and held in trust for, legally, all the people of the United States and, morally, all the people of the world. Much of it is possessed of remarkable natural beauty and, especially in the case of Bears Ears, is held sacred by the Navajo and other Native American nations. Taking back the prize that those native peoples worked on, so long and so hard, will of course be seen as nothing more than a gratuitous slap in their face.

 

In the 20 years of its existence, meanwhile, Grand Staircase has inspired the growth of numerous small businesses that have have come to thrive by serving the many tourists who journey there from around the globe. Changing the status quo that those livelihoods have been based on serves no purpose.

 

We know what you have been told about these monuments and their history. Some of it is true.

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SNL’s Trump gets spooked by Michael Flynn, and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future

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It was another busy news week full of headlines about powerful men accused of sexual misconduct. But “Saturday Night Live” tackled that later in the show, and instead kicked off by making fun of President Trump with a Dickens-inspired sketch.

Trump’s Russian winter grows colder with Flynn plea deal ~ By Brent Budowsky, Opinion ~ The Hill ~ 12/01/17

 

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As former national security adviser, Michael Flynn takes center stage in the Russia investigation with his plea bargain agreement with Robert Mueller and his special counsel team, the plot thickens and the noose tightens.

With Flynn pleading guilty to lying to FBI investigators, a relatively modest offense, the odds are high that he has provided, or will soon provide, powerful evidence against others.

 

Attention will now turn to other suspects and alleged crimes, especially obstruction of justice.

Now we learn that President Trump, who once told the Russian foreign minister that he lowered the pressure he was facing in the Russia investigation by firing former FBI Director James Comey, had conducted a high-pressure campaign with key Senate Republicans to end the Russia investigations being conducted by key committees.

The most striking fact in the New York Times story about presidential pressure to derail Senate investigations of Russia was that Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), an honorable man and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was so troubled by Trump’s pressure that he decided to speak publicly about it.

While Trump’s pressure on Senate Republicans probably does not itself constitute an obstruction of justice, it will constitute additional powerful evidence if special counsel Robert Mueller ultimately persuades a grand jury to indict Trump or any of his associates on wider counts of obstruction of justice.

There are multiple publicly known facts that could support an obstruction of justice charge. These facts have strong evidentiary value that would be presented in court, with a galaxy of prominent witnesses to these facts who would be called to testify at trial if and when obstruction charges are brought.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and other Senate Republicans Trump contacted in his pressure campaign to derail the congressional investigation, could well be called as witnesses for the prosecution at any potential obstruction of justice trial. If this occurs, the prosecution could cite this pressure on Senate Republicans as evidence of intent, motive and action to obstruct justice by seeking to derailing multiple investigations of the Russian attack against America that continues today.

Many nationally respected legal analysts believe that Mueller and his special counsel team are actively investigating whether or not the president or his associates engaged in obstruction of justice. Mueller’s final judgment on this matter, and whether he will ultimately decide to press charges for this, remains unknown at this time.

The president has a major obstruction of justice problem that will not be solved by attacks against his political opponents, or any of the daily diversions the president provides on his Twitter account, some of which may make his legal situation even more precarious.

The potential culpability of the president and others involving obstruction of justice will be decided by evidence, facts and law as viewed by the special counsel and the grand jury considering the matter.

It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for the president to fire former New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara while he was investigating the Russia scandal.

It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for the president to fire former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates when she warned the White House that Russians could have material to blackmail his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for the president to fire former FBI Director James Comey while he was investigating the Russia scandal, after asking Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn. It was a terrible mistake by Trump, and has evidentiary value, for Trump to admit the reason he fired Comey was to lower pressure on himself brought by the investigation that Comey was then leading.

It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for the president to humiliate and threaten Attorney General Jeff Sessions through intense public criticism and letting it be known he might fire Sessions. It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for Sessions to refuse to tell the House Intelligence Committee whether Trump has pressured him to end or limit the Russia investigation, which he will be asked about by the special counsel and may have to testify about in court.

It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and then take actions that impeded the Russia investigation he had recused himself from, such as supporting the firing of Comey.

In this context it was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for Trump to pressure Senate Republicans to cut short their investigations of the Russia scandal.

It is wrong, and has evidentiary value, that Trump stands virtually alone among high-level officials in refusing to unequivocally state that the Russians have attacked our country, and continue to attack our country, which intelligence and law enforcement agencies warn about today.

Stay tuned for the next blockbuster event in the Russian scandal, which is probably imminent after the Flynn plea bargain. Sealed indictments or other plea bargains may have already been reached but not yet disclosed. If not, they will probably happen soon. There are multiple issues involving multiple Trump associates now under investigation, including failure to disclose foreign contacts as required by law.

The potential for an obstruction of justice charge is real and growing. The Flynn plea will set off a chain reaction with more evidence, revelations, indictments and plea bargains that will continue to make Trump’s cold Russian winter colder by the day, until the investigation is concluded and the fate of the Trump presidency is decided one way or the other, once and for all. 

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics. 

The Self-Destruction of American Democracy ~ Thomas B. Edsall ~ NYT

 

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President Trump has single-handedly done more to undermine the basic tenets of American democracy than any foreign agent or foreign propaganda campaign could.

“Trump is a political weapon of mass self-destruction for American democracy — for its norms, for its morality, for sheer human decency,” Henry Aaron, a senior fellow at Brookings, wrote by email:

So if Putin backed him, and if he did it to damage the United States, then he dropped one extremely smart bomb in the middle of Washington.

For the moment, let’s put aside the conclusion of “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” the F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A. joint report that was released in January, which said that:

The Kremlin sought to advance its longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, the promotion of which Putin and other senior Russian leaders view as a threat to Russia and Putin’s regime.

This determination, disputed by Trump and others, pales in comparison to the ruinous record of Trump’s 10 months in office.

First and foremost, Trump has gravely damaged the premises and procedures that undergird American democracy.

Partisan polarization, which helped give rise to Trump in the first place, is getting worse as discord intensifies with every slur and insult Trump hurls.

On Oct. 5, the Pew Research Center reported that partisan conflict on fundamental political values

reached record levels during Barack Obama’s presidency. In Donald Trump’s first year as president, these gaps have grown even larger. And the magnitude of these differences dwarfs other divisions in society, along such lines as gender, race and ethnicity, religious observance or education.

In the introduction to their forthcoming book, “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, political scientists at Harvard, write:

Over the past two years, we have watched politicians say and do things that are unprecedented in the United States — but that we recognize as having been the precursors of democratic crisis in other places. We feel dread, as do so many other Americans, even as we try to reassure ourselves that things can’t really be that bad here.

Their attempt at reassurance is not comforting:

American politicians now treat their rivals as enemies, intimidate the free press, and threaten to reject the results of elections. They try to weaken the institutional buffers of our democracy, including the courts, intelligence services, and ethics offices. American states, which were once praised by the great jurist Louis Brandeis as ‘laboratories of democracy,’ are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies, and even rescind voting rights to ensure that they do not lose. And in 2016, for the first time in U.S. history, a man with no experience in public office, little observable commitment to constitutional rights, and clear authoritarian tendencies was elected president.

In an email, Levitsky argued that “it is important that we understand that the U.S. has largely been doing these things to itself,” before adding, “obviously we should investigate Russian meddling to the fullest, but to blame Putin for the mess we are in today would be ridiculous. We Americans created this mess.”

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Lyndon Johnson’s War Propaganda

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General William Westmoreland presented an optimistic view of the Vietnam War in November 1967Credit Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

In 1967, the expensive and bloody war in Vietnam was not obviously producing an American victory. Journalists and politicians began to speak of a stalemate. President Lyndon Johnson, and the men leading the American effort in Vietnam, found this intolerable. They felt that maintaining public support for the war required persuading the press and the public that the war was being won. And so, that fall, they undertook what has sometimes been called the “Optimism Campaign.”

Walt Rostow, the national security adviser, coordinated efforts in Washington through an office called the Vietnam Information Group. Once a week, representatives of several relevant agencies met, with Rostow as chairman, to consider how American successes in Vietnam could be publicized. George Allen, who sometimes represented the C.I.A., later commented that in the group’s efforts “to manipulate public opinion,” there was “no consideration of objective truth, honesty or integrity” and “surprisingly little concern about credibility.” (George Carver, the regular representative from the C.I.A., sometimes managed to introduce some realism, but he had a difficult task.)

The core of the Optimism Campaign was the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, which ran the war effort in South Vietnam. Headed by Gen. William Westmoreland, it used its voluminous battlefield data to persuade the media that the Communist forces were declining in strength. The MACV leadership put heavy pressure on intelligence officers at MACV to make even their classified estimates of enemy strength conform to the optimistic picture that their superiors were presenting to the media. On Aug. 15, Brig. Gen. Phillip Davidson, chief of intelligence for MACV, issued a directive: “The figure of combat strength and particularly of guerrillas must take a steady and significant downward trend as I am convinced this reflects true enemy status.”

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The Women Who Covered Vietnam

This year Australia put the journalist Kate Webb on a stamp to commemorate the country’s Veterans Day. It is a reproduction of a famous photo of Kate wearing a safari shirt, holding open her notebook while looking intently at the subject of an interview.

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Kate Webb earned a reputation as a fearless reporter during the Vietnam War. Credit  Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

By recognizing Kate, who covered the Vietnam War for United Press International, as a “woman in war,” the stamp quietly acknowledges what has been glossed over in the annals of the conflict. Female reporters covered that war, rewriting the rules so that the phrase “woman war correspondent” would never again be an oxymoron.

Reporters like Kate and me didn’t go to Vietnam because of enlightened decisions by newsrooms; in the 1960s, news organizations weren’t sending women to cover the most important story of our generation. Instead, we had to find our own way to the battle zone. Kate quit her newspaper job and flew to Saigon from Sydney; U.P.I. hired her only later. Jurate Kazickas went on the quiz show “Password” to win the $500 she needed for her ticket to Saigon. The French photojournalist Catherine Leroy, inspired by photos of the war she had seen in Paris Match, arrived in Vietnam as a freelancer. I used money from a fellowship grant to buy a one-way ticket from Seattle to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It seemed almost natural, since the women’s movement was helping us imagine we could have the same opportunities as men.

Once we got to Indochina, we had to seek out news organizations so desperate for reporters on the spot that they would employ a woman. Then again, it’s not as if we were better off at home; if we had stayed in America or Europe or Australia, we would have been confined to covering society, food, fashion and the home.

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How Media Obsession With Body Counts Could Actually Motivate the Next Mass Shooter

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The day after the gun massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, filmmaker Michael Moore—whose 2002 documentary “Bowling for Columbine” tackled that watershed mass shooting—took note of a particular fact. “As of yesterday,” he told his millions of Twitter followers, “Columbine is no longer one of the 10 worst mass shootings in US history.”

CNN had already published the full scorecard: “2 of the 5 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history happened in the last 35 days,” announced the headline. The CNN list of “the 10 deadliest single-day mass shootings in modern US history” was subdivided by tallies of the dead.

The Texas attack came just a month after the one at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip—widely declared “the worst mass shooting in modern US history,”which was true, by an order of magnitude, in terms of the overall number of people wounded and killed. An NBC News report on the church massacre opened by noting that it was “the worst mass murder in Texas history.” Other outlets observed that the crime committed by a former airman with a record of violent domestic abuse had finally outdone the infamous clock tower mass shooting at the University of Texas-Austin in 1966.

But it’s time to stop emphasizing body counts. It adds nothing significant to the coverage—and it may actually exacerbate the problem.

I say this as a journalist who built the first open-source database of mass shootingsand who has studied and reported in-depth on this phenomenon for the past five years. Along the way I’ve learned a lot about the problem—including what can help inspire potentially dangerous people to conceive, plan, and then carry out these heinous acts. One key factor is a fascination with high-profile mass shootings, and an explicit desire to top their death tolls. It’s part of a broader goal seen among many perpetrators: the desire for lasting infamy.

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