Tuesday, September 25, 2018
By Robert Kagan
Mr. Kagan is the author of “The Jungle Grows Back; America and Our Imperiled World.”
“We have a U.S. president who doesn’t value the rules-based international order,” a former top aide to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. observed in this paper not long ago. She was right, of course. But is the American public any different?
President Trump may not enjoy majority support these days, but there’s good reason to believe that his “America First” approach to the world does. There has been no popular outcry against Mr. Trump’s trade battles with Canada, Mexico and the European allies. Experts suggest we are in for a long international trade war, no matter who the next president may be. After all, even Hillary Clinton had to disown her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the last election. The old free-trade consensus is gone.
Mr. Trump’s immigration policies may be more popular with Republicans than with Democrats, but few Democratic politicians are running on a promise to bring more immigrants into the country. And just as in the 1920s, isolationism joins anti-immigration sentiment and protectionism as a pillar of America Firstism.
The old consensus about America’s role as upholder of global security has collapsed in both parties. Russia may have committed territorial aggression against Ukraine. But Republican voters follow Mr. Trump in seeking better ties, accepting Moscow’s forcible annexation of Crimea and expanding influence in the Middle East (even if some of the president’s subordinates do not). They applaud Mr. Trump for seeking a dubious deal with North Korea just as they once condemned Democratic presidents for doing the same thing. They favor a trade war with China but have not consistently favored military spending increases to deter a real war.
Democrats might seem to be rallying behind the liberal order, but much of this is just opposition to Mr. Trump’s denigration of it. Are today’s rank-and-file Democrats really more committed to defending allies and deterring challengers to the liberal world order? Most Democratic politicians railing against Mr. Trump’s “appeasement” of Moscow hailed Obama’s “reset” a few years ago and chastised Republicans for seeking a new Cold War. Most Democratic voters want lower military spending and a much smaller United States military presence overseas, which hardly comports with getting tougher on Russia, Korea or China — except on trade.
Most Americans in both parties also agree with Mr. Trump that America’s old allies need to look out for themselves and stop relying on the United States to protect them. Few really disagreed with the president’s stated reluctance to commit American lives to the defense of Montenegro. Britons in the 1930s did not want to “die for Danzig,” and Americans today don’t want to die for Taipei or Riga, never mind Kiev or Tbilisi. President Obama was less hostile to the allies than Mr. Trump, but even he complained about “free riders.”
In retrospect it’s pretty clear that Mr. Obama was too internationalist for his party base. He expanded NATO, intervened in Libya, imposed sanctions on Russia and presided over the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Democrats may miss Mr. Obama for many reasons, but there’s little evidence that the rank-and-file miss those policies. Mr. Trump’s narrower, more unilateralist and nationalist approach to the world is probably closer to where the general public is than Mr. Obama’s more cosmopolitan sensibility.
It would be comforting to blame America’s current posture on Mr. Trump. But while he may be a special kind of president, even he can’t create a public mood out of nothing. Now as always, presidents reflect public opinion at least as much as they shape it. Between the two world wars, and especially from 1921 through 1936, an American public disillusioned by World War I was averse to further overseas involvement, and it didn’t matter whether the presidents were supposed “isolationists” like Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge or supposed “internationalists” like Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. It took a lot more than fireside chats to turn public opinion around. It took Hitler’s conquest of Europe, near-conquest of Britain and, finally, Pearl Harbor to convince a majority of Americans that America First was a mistake.
In our own time, the trend toward an America First approach has been growing since the end of the Cold War. George H.W. Bush, the hero of the Gulf War, had to play down foreign policy in 1992 and lost to a candidate promising to focus on domestic issues. George W. Bush won in 2000 promising to reduce United States global involvement, defeating an opponent, Al Gore, who was still talking about America’s indispensability. In 2008, Mr. Obama won while promising to get out of foreign conflicts for good. In 2016, Republican internationalists like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were trounced in the primaries. Hillary Clinton struggled to hold off Bernie Sanders, a progressive isolationist, and it was certainly not because of her foreign policy views."
Opinion | ‘America First’ Has Won - The New York Times
"WASHINGTON — Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, facing new allegations of sexual impropriety and growing doubts over his confirmation to the Supreme Court, mounted an aggressive defense of himself on Monday, vowing to fight the “smears” and declaring that he will not withdraw his nomination.
With President Trump publicly backing him, and senior Senate Republicans closing ranks around him, Judge Kavanaugh — joined by his wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh — gave an extraordinary interview to Fox News that aired Monday evening. He pledged to “defend my integrity, my lifelong record,” and told his interviewer, Martha MacCallum, that he “did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.”
He also directly addressed the accusation from Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist in Northern California, that he had assaulted her when they were teenagers, more than 30 years ago, at a high school gathering in suburban Washington.
“The truth is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise,” Judge Kavanaugh said. “I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone at some place, but what I know is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone.”
Monday, September 24, 2018
"Everyone wants to curry favor with the boss. If she golfs, you hit the driving range. If he’s a movie buff, you haunt the multiplex. So when the president of the United States continually makes clear that he is a huge fan of “alternative facts,” what’s an eager-to-please administration official to do?
Take Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As Hurricane Florence buffeted the Carolinas last weekend, Mr. Long went on the Sunday news shows to discuss the government’s response efforts. But he soon found himself fielding questions about President Trump’s claim that, contrary to Puerto Rico’s official estimate, “3,000 people did not die” as a result of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island last year. That death toll, according to the president, was manufactured by Democrats desperate to make him “look as bad as possible.”
Mr. Trump’s denial of this mass tragedy prompted dismayed pushback, even among Republican officials. But Mr. Long, like a good soldier, rushed right in to shore up his boss’s wild theory on how the data had been cooked. “You might see more deaths indirectly occur as time goes on because people have heart attacks due to stress, they fall off their house trying to fix their roof, they die in car crashes because they went through an intersection where the stoplights weren’t working,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding: “Spousal abuse goes through the roof. You can’t blame spousal abuse, you know, after a disaster on anybody.”
Determining which deaths should be included in the official count (2,975 people) is indeed tricky business, which is why the Puerto Rican government commissioned independent researchers at George Washington University to conduct the analysis on which the death toll was based. Mr. Long was dismissing their methodology in his quest to support Mr. Trump’s tale of political victimhood.
It has been noted that Mr. Long was going through a professional rough patch that might have made him extra keen to stay in the president’s good graces. The FEMA chief has been under investigation by the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security for possibly misusing government resources, including personnel and vehicles, while commuting between Washington and his home in North Carolina. On Monday, the news broke that the case had been referred to federal prosecutors, even as the House oversight committeeannounced that it, too, would be looking into the matter. But on Friday night it was announced that Mr. Long could keep his job if he reimbursed the government for use of the vehicles, and that he might not face criminal charges.
However Mr. Long’s ethical troubles factor into the equation, Mr. Trump has made clear that he considers it the duty of all administration officials to peddle his version of reality to protect his interests, be it on matters of policy, politics or the embarrassing Russia investigation. Failure to do so is the quickest path to the presidential doghouse. (Right, Mr. Attorney General?)
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been accused of ethical shiftiness in his past business dealings that would get someone in his position booted from any normal administration, or at least swallowed up in a major scandal. Former associates say he cheated them out of more than $120 million.
So it was no surprise this week when compelling evidence emerged that the secretary may have committed perjury in his zealous pursuit of the president’s agenda. Mr. Ross has been under fire for months for his department’s push to add a question about citizenship status to the census form. Critics see the move as part of the administration’s effort to depress voting among certain demographic groups. The attorney general of New York, Barbara Underwood, has filed suit on behalf of 18 states to block the question.
In March, Mr. Ross testified before Congress that the question had been “initiated” in a request last December from the Department of Justice, as a way to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Various documents have since come to light that appear to contradict his testimony, detailing Mr. Ross’s early enthusiasm for the question. On Monday, Ms. Underwood released an unredacted Commerce Department memo showing that in fact, the Justice Department initially resisted pressure from Mr. Ross’s department to request such a question. On Friday, a federal judge ruled that Mr. Ross can be questioned under oath, and called “the credibility of Secretary Ross squarely at issue.”
Then, of course, there’s Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, who this past spring was reportedly on thin ice with Mr. Trump for her failure to shut down migrant crossings at the border. By early summer, Ms. Nielsen found herself insisting that the administration did not have a policy of splitting apart migrant families even as she was aggressively enforcing and publicly defending that policy.
On other issues, Ms. Nielsen has seemed more conflicted about toeing the president’s line, such as on the question of whether Russia meddled in the 2016 elections specifically with an eye toward helping Mr. Trump win. The federal government’s intelligence community says it did. Mr. Trump says it didn’t. Ms. Nielsen has gone back and forth. In late May, she said she’d seen no reason to believe that Russia had favored Mr. Trump. Hours later, her office walked back those remarks. But come July, Ms. Nielsen restated her original position — after which she and her office promptly issued statements that made her view incomprehensible.
Over at the Interior Department last year, the secretary, Ryan Zinke, and top aides, in their crusade to downsize various national monuments, withheld data pointing to the benefits, both economic and archaeological, of keeping protections in place while they played up the benefits of removing the protections. The deception was discovered in July when the department accidentally released a nonredacted version of the study in question — only to quickly recall it and send out the version tailored to make their case.
And let us not forget Mr. Trump’s most committed and creative defender, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. She is regularly dispatched by her boss to mislead the American people on issues ranging from whether the president paid hush money to Stormy Daniels, the former porn star who claims to have had an affair with Mr. Trump, to whether he dictated a false statement about the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russians. She has also taken it upon herself to tell whoppers about less salacious matters, including the trend in black unemployment and how diversity visas are issued.
While scandalous, this kind of behavior is also depressingly predictable. When the president repeatedly sends the signal that he regards honesty as a handicap, he can quickly drag the whole executive branch down to his level."
I had met Clarence Thomas at a speaking engagement at the Harvard Club in NYC in 1979 and had engaged in a lively question and answer bantering episode. I left knowing what kind of person he was and I had no problem believing Anita Hill.
Sunday, September 23, 2018
Senate Democrats Investigate a New Allegation of Sexual Misconduct, from the Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s College Years
Trump Administration Aims to Sharply Restrict New Green Cards for Those on Public Aid - The New York Times
"WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials announced Saturday that immigrants who legally use public benefits like food assistance and Section 8 housing vouchers could be denied green cards under new rules aimed at keeping out people the administration deems a drain on the country.
The move could force millions of poor immigrants who rely on public assistance for food and shelter to make a difficult choice between accepting financial help and seeking a green card to live and work legally in the United States.
Older immigrants, many of whom get low-cost prescription drugs through the Medicare Part D program, could also be forced to stop participating in the popular benefits program or risk being deemed a ‘public charge’ who is ineligible for legal resident status.
The move is not intended to affect most immigrants who have already been granted green cards, but advocates have said they fear that those with legal resident status will stop using public benefits to protect their status. The regulation, which the administration said would affect about 382,000 people a year, is the latest in a series of aggressive crackdowns by President Trump and his hard-line aides on legal and illegal immigration. "
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Friday, September 21, 2018
"WASHINGTON — The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit.
Mr. Rosenstein made these suggestions in the spring of 2017 when Mr. Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director plunged the White House into turmoil. Over the ensuing days, the president divulged classified intelligence to Russians in the Oval Office, and revelations emerged that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Comey to pledge loyalty and end an investigation into a senior aide.
Mr. Rosenstein was just two weeks into his job. He had begun overseeing the Russia investigation and played a key role in the president’s dismissal of Mr. Comey by writing a memo critical of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Mr. Rosenstein was caught off guard when Mr. Trump cited the memo in the firing, and he began telling people that he feared he had been used.
Mr. Rosenstein made the remarks about secretly recording Mr. Trump and about the 25th Amendment in meetings and conversations with other Justice Department and F.B.I. officials. Several people described the episodes, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments..."
Rod Rosenstein Suggested Secretly Recording Trump and Discussed 25th Amendment - The New York Times
Thursday, September 20, 2018
"...Meanwhile, the FBI never told Trump or anyone at the White House it doesn’t want to be involved in investigating the allegations against Kavanaugh, and it could investigate the matter if directed to do so by the White House, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Trump claimed on Tuesday that the bureau isn’t interested in investigating the allegations.
The FBI in 1991 investigated Anita Hill’s claims as part of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation that he had sexually harassed her repeatedly..."
FBI Flexes Independence From Trump Over Kavanaugh, Russia Fights - Bloomberg
'No accident' Brett Kavanaugh's female law clerks 'looked like models', Yale professor told students | US news | The Guardian
I really disliked Amy Chua's book. She is a shallow person.
"A top professor at Yale Law School who strongly endorsed supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a “mentor to women” privately told a group of law students last year that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks all “looked like models” and would provide advice to students about their physical appearance if they wanted to work for him, the Guardian has learned.
Amy Chua, a Yale professor who wrote a bestselling book on parenting called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was known for instructing female law students who were preparing for interviews with Kavanaugh on ways they could dress to exude a “model-like” femininity to help them win a post in Kavanaugh’s chambers, according to sources."
'No accident' Brett Kavanaugh's female law clerks 'looked like models', Yale professor told students | US news | The Guardian
"As soon as Christine Blasey Ford came forward as the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when both were in high school, it felt like we were hurtling toward something women in this country have wanted for decades: a chance to fix what had gone so horribly wrong during the disastrous Anita Hill hearings of 1991. Statements from Senate Republicans—among them Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham—forced Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley to grant Ford a public hearing. Grassley sent invitations to both parties involved, and we waited.
Kavanaugh almost immediately expressed his willingness to participate, while also categorically denying that the event in question had ever happened. On Tuesday night, Ford’s lawyers released the letter they sent back to Grassley. It is neither a definitive acceptance or rejection of his invitation. Rather, it states that their client requests that, before she agrees to testify, her claims be investigated by the FBI. (This, as it happens, is the same move Sen. Dianne Feinstein requested last week before Ford stepped forward.) Republicans see this as nothing more than a stalling tactic. Graham tweeted on Wednesday that “an FBI investigation of a 36 year old allegation (without specific references to time or location) before Professor Ford will appear before the Judiciary Committee is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections.” Grassley has essentially affirmed that view, giving Ford a take-it-or-leave-it deadline of 10 a.m. on Friday to decide if she wants to participate in the hearing...."
Christine Blasey Ford’s request for an FBI investigation makes perfect sense.
"Twice in less than a year, the federal government has lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children after placing them in the homes of sponsors across the country, federal officials have acknowledged.
The Health and Human Services Department recently told Senate staffers that case managers could not find 1,488 children after they made follow-up calls to check on their safety from April through June. That number represents about 13 percent of all unaccompanied children the administration moved out of shelters and foster homes during that time.
The agency first disclosed that it had lost track of 1,475 children late last year, as it came under fire at a Senate hearing in April. Lawmakers had asked HHS officials how they had strengthened child protection policies since it came to light that the agency previously had rolled back safeguards meant to keep Central American children from ending up in the hands of human traffickers.
“The fact that HHS, which placed these unaccompanied minors with sponsors, doesn’t know the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 of them is very troubling,” Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the panel’s chair, said Wednesday. “Many of these kids are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse, and to not take responsibility for their safety is unacceptable.”
HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley disputed the notion that the children were “lost.”
“Their sponsors, who are usually parents or family members and in all cases have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them, simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made,” she said in a statement.
Since October 2014, the federal government has placed more than 150,000 unaccompanied minors with parents or other adult sponsors who are expected to care for the children and help them attend school while they seek legal status in immigration court.
On Tuesday, members of a Senate subcommittee introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at requiring the agency to take responsibility for the care of migrant children, even when they are no longer in its custody.
An Associated Press investigation found in 2016 that more than two dozen unaccompanied children had been sent to homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work for little or no pay. At the time, many adult sponsors didn’t undergo thorough background checks, government officials rarely visited homes and in some cases had no idea that sponsors had taken in several unrelated children, a possible sign of human trafficking..."
Federal agency says it lost track of 1,488 migrant children
"In 1991, at the direction of President George H.W. Bush, the F.B.I. looked into Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, who had gone through his confirmation hearings weeks earlier. The investigation took three days. The resulting report was provided to the White House, which said it showed that Ms. Hill’s allegations were “unfounded.” The Judiciary Committee reconvened a few weeks later, and heard from nearly two dozen witnesses, including Ms. Hill and Justice Thomas. Does Mr. Grassley now want to set an even lower standard for taking a woman’s claims seriously than the committee did when Ms. Hill appeared before it?
In an Op-Ed published by The Times on Tuesday, Ms. Hill called for a thorough investigation by a neutral body with experience in sexual-violence cases, and said it should not be rushed. “A week’s preparation is not enough time for meaningful inquiry into very serious charges,” she wrote.
Yet Mr. Grassley has rejected calls to involve the F.B.I. and offered to hear only from Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh themselves, even though there are numerous people who might be able to shed light on what may have happened on the night in question. First among these is Judge Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge, who Dr. Blasey said was in the room where she said the assault occurred, and who has given shifting answers about his recollections.
Speaking of unreliable memories, it’s laughable for Republicans to complain, as some do, that Dr. Blasey’s claim is too old to be considered. The Senate Judiciary Committee is not a court of law; it’s an arena of politics. Remember that less than a decade ago, Republican senators were happy to grill Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s first pick for the court, about positions taken 30 years earlier by a legal-defense fund whose board she had once sat on.
Certainly there’s no statute of limitations preventing the committee from weighing allegations of attempted rape against a nominee to a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land. Besides, since Judge Kavanaugh has flatly denied the accusation, his honesty now — not as a teenager — is at issue.
The committee should ask probing questions of all parties. Just as Mr. Judge has given inconsistent statements to the press, there are discrepancies in the accounts of how Dr. Blasey has described the alleged events. It’s possible that she is misremembering events or even making them up, although it’s hard to see how people could imagine themselves benefiting from doing that. In the few days since Dr. Blasey’s name became public, she has already suffered, as she knew she would. She’s been forced into hiding with her family after receiving death threats.
But so far, Senate Republicans seem more concerned with getting Judge Kavanaugh confirmed than in getting to the truth of the accusation against him. Republicans know that their Senate majority is at risk on Nov. 6, and they want to seize their chance to give the court a solid right-wing majority for years to come.
“This has been a drive-by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh,” Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters on Tuesday, giving the cynical game away in one compact statement. “I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.”
Opinion | Everyone Deserves Better Than This Senate Spectacle - The New York Times
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
'No one comes to help us': Florence cleanup highlights Wilmington's stark social divide | World news | The Guardian
Life in America. "In the largely black neighborhood of Northside, the power is out and resources are scarce. In wealthier Monkey Junction, it’s a different story."
'No one comes to help us': Florence cleanup highlights Wilmington's stark social divide | World news | The Guardian