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72 posts
  • Trump
  • The Witch Hunt
Michael Cohen is listed on President Trump's financial disclosure form as the recipient of a reimbursement for unspecified "expenses."
Michael Cohen is listed on President Trump's financial disclosure form as the recipient of a reimbursement for unspecified "expenses." (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

It fell short of an admission that “I did it, and I’m glad,” but President Trump’s disclosure in a federal ethics filing that he reimbursed lawyer-cum-fixer Michael Cohen for more than $100,000 in “expenses” is a major embarrassment for the president — and maybe worse than that.

A footnote in Trump’s statement to the Office of Government Ethics doesn’t identify the purpose of the payment. But Trump lawyer and media motormouth Rudolph W. Giuliani acknowledged on May 2 in an appearance on Fox News that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for a payment to pornographic film star Stormy Daniels. Daniels, who claims she had sex with Trump 12 years ago, signed a nondisclosure agreement days before the 2016 election.

“They funneled [it] through a law firm and the president repaid it,” Giuliani told Fox’s Sean Hannity.

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  • The Swamp

Why does Scott Pruitt still have a job? I know — silly question. In this administration of fools, liars and petty grifters, he’s “employee of the month” material.

Pruitt, in testimony this morning before a Senate committee, said “I don’t recall” ever asking his security detail to run light and sirens as they drove him to airports and dinners in Washington (details of which first came to light here). Pruitt, echoing a previous Environmental Protection Agency statement, told the committee, “There are policies that the agency follows, the agents follow, and to my knowledge they followed it in all instances.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who was tending the grill at that particular moment, asked Pruitt again if he had asked for the lights-and-sirens treatment.

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  • Rule of Law
  • The Swamp
Protesters fighting to save net neutrality rally outside a Verizon store on Market Street in San Francisco on Dec. 7, 2017.
Protesters fighting to save net neutrality rally outside a Verizon store on Market Street in San Francisco on Dec. 7, 2017. (Karl Mondon/TNS)

The U.S. Senate’s vote Wednesday in favor of restoring the tough net neutrality regulations adopted in 2015 will almost certainly prove to be a mere blip on the political radar screen. There’s no sign the House will even take up the resolution, and given the deregulatory zeal of that body’s Republican majority, it’s quixotic to believe it could pass if it somehow made it to the House floor.

The real point behind the Senate vote was a political one — an exercise in line-drawing. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) put it succinctly: “Which side are you on?” he asked on the Senate floor, noting the overwhelming support for net neutrality rules from internet users. “There is no constituency on the other side of this other than telecommunications companies.”

That’s the problem for the Republicans defending last year’s decision by the Federal Communications Commission’s GOP majority to wipe out the 2015 rules and take a hands-off approach to the net. In this case, their philosophical devotion to small government and less regulation is serving telecom companies that face little or no competition in their local markets.

  • Rule of Law
Debbie Ziegler, holding a photo of daughter Brittany Maynard, speaks in support of the aid-in-dying bill in Sacramento on Sept. 11, 2015.
Debbie Ziegler, holding a photo of daughter Brittany Maynard, speaks in support of the aid-in-dying bill in Sacramento on Sept. 11, 2015. (Los Angeles Times)

Let's be clear: A Riverside County judge’s ruling throwing out the state’s End of Life Option Act isn't about the rightness of the law, because it is the right law. It's about the session in which the measure passed.

That special legislative session in 2015 was about healthcare, and it's hard to imagine a topic more central to healthcare than choices regarding terminal disease. Nevertheless, Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia ruled Tuesday morning that the Legislature shouldn’t have acted on the physician-assisted suicide bill during the special session because, in his overly narrow view, the session was limited to finding more funding for Medi-Cal.

There's a chance for the state to appeal this within five days. It has a strong argument with which to do this. But if the state can't persuade Ottolia otherwise over the next several days, then perhaps a new law would be the quickest and strongest way to go.

People fill a hallway before a Seattle City Council meeting in which the council voted to add a tax on high-grossing corporations.
People fill a hallway before a Seattle City Council meeting in which the council voted to add a tax on high-grossing corporations. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

The Seattle City Council voted Monday night to impose a new tax on big businesses to help pay for homeless housing and services. And the furious reaction from some of the nation’s largest retailers was, well, a bit unseemly. Particularly from Amazon.

Starting next year, for-profit companies that gross at least $20 million per year in Seattle will have to pay $275 per employee per year, according to the Seattle Times. The tax will raise about $47 million annually. A recent study estimated Seattle and surrounding King County need $400 million a year to tackle homelessness.

About 3% of companies operating in the city would have to pay the tax, including Starbucks, the Seattle Times, department store chain Nordstrom, as well as tech giants Apple, Google and Facebook.

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  • Trump
  • We're All Doomed
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, reportedly threatened to cancel a summit with President Trump, citing U.S. military exercises.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, reportedly threatened to cancel a summit with President Trump, citing U.S. military exercises. (Mandel Ngan / AFP)

When South Korea’s news agency reported Tuesday that North Korea abruptly had canceled a high-level meeting with South Korean officials – and might be having second thoughts about a summit meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Trump – a colleague suggested that Kim was playing the part of Lucy in the old “Peanuts” comic strip. Lucy, you’ll remember, held the football for Good Ol’ Charlie Brown to kick, but, in a betrayal repeated again and again, pulled it away before he could connect.

Kim hasn’t yet yanked away the prospect of a summit that Trump has described as “highly anticipated” and which he believes both leaders will try to make “a very special moment for World Peace!”    This may be the first of many stutters in a process that still might lead to a meeting next month in Singapore, perhaps even a productive one.

Still, there is a lesson for Trump in the North’s sudden change of tune, inspired by joint U.S.-South Korean air force exercises. Kim remains an unpredictable figure, and it is way too soon for Trump to boast about his succeeding where his predecessors have failed. And don’t rush to make room in the Oval Office for that Nobel Peace Prize.

An inspector general's letter undercuts Environment Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt's claims that threats led to his security detail.
An inspector general's letter undercuts Environment Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt's claims that threats led to his security detail. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Maybe Scott Pruitt was just prescient.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency infamously has assigned himself a 24/7 security detail because, he and the EPA explained, he received threats after taking over the agency. But the EPA’s inspector general sent a letter Monday to members of Congress stating that the EPA’s senior White House advisor put in the request before Pruitt even started the job.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the advisor, Don Benton, anticipated threats in response to expected actions by Pruitt.

  • Trump
President Trump waves as he arrives for the 37th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service Tuesday in Washington.
President Trump waves as he arrives for the 37th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service Tuesday in Washington. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Tuesday morning, as the news media kept their focus on the protests and the mounting death toll in Gaza, the president tweeted about his public image here in the United States:

Although he might have been referring to private polls by his campaign organization, his comment is supported by the trend lines in public polls. It’s still true that more Americans disapprove of his performance than approve of it, but the gap is narrowing.

Why? You could make the argument that he’s been visibly keeping his campaign promises, such as his pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from (noncontroversial) Tel Aviv to (hotly disputed) Jerusalem and to ease regulation on U.S. businesses. But that’s more likely to appeal to his political base than to the broader American majority.

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  • We're All Doomed

White people, could you stop calling the police every time you see a black person doing something ordinary?

It used to be that white people only called the cops on young black men in hoodies walking down dark streets at night. (Still not a crime, but, in urban America, seemingly closer to a crime.)  Now, we have an alarming rash of police calls on black people doing innocuous and innocent things. Or maybe this was always happening but now people have smartphones to record the incidents.

There was the white Starbucks employee who called the police on two black men sitting at a table waiting for a business associate to arrive for a meeting before they ordered.  The men were arrested but never charged.  (The employee no longer works there.)   

  • Trump
A Palestinian demonstrator throws back a tear gas grenade at the Qalandya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday.
A Palestinian demonstrator throws back a tear gas grenade at the Qalandya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday. (Alaa Badarneh/EPA/Shutterstock)

At least 55 Palestinians dead in the Gaza Strip, 2,700 wounded. Is anyone surprised by this turn of events? If you are, you shouldn’t be.

It was inevitable. The peace process is moribund, and with it the hopes of the approximately 2 million people crammed into this narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean between Israel and Egypt. According to Alexandra Zavis in Monday’s Times, much of the water in Gaza today is undrinkable. Most homes get only a few hours of electricity each day. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Half the population is unemployed. Every few years there’s a new round of violence, usually involving rockets fired by militants into Israel, followed by a devastating Israeli counter-assault.

So what surprise is there that Palestinians in Gaza are without hope, fantasizing about a homeland they’ve never seen, willing to cross the border fence and face down better-armed Israeli soldiers in futile protest?