Nick Thompson / Flickr You x27 re fired...
Nick Thompson / Flickr

I am personally convinced that Pr*sident Trump has an organizational chart attached to his refrigerator door with magnetized names of his top appointees that he shuffles around every night placing them in different departments, and cackling as he ponders what special kind of disruption can be created by shuffling not just the magnets but the real people. How much disruption, destruction, and corruption can this create, cackle, cackle. 

Some shuffling is now in the works, so it is reported, which means some more shuffling out the door. And that means there will be what soldiers call “incoming!”— new appointees. More wackos. More crackpots. More people you wouldn’t trust any more than Karen Pence trusts Mike to ever be in the presence of another woman alone.

Picking right-wing crackpots to fill important jobs is something every Republican president since at least Eisenhower has done. But Mister Trump has proved by his choices that he actually is the a tremendous master of one thing—lousy hiring. Of course, that’s me speaking as someone who wants competent people in charge who have some sense of what it is they are overseeing or advising on, or at least to know enough to educate themselves. 

Now, of course, Trump’s appointees are perfectly competent to wreck the departments and agencies which they’ve been picked to lead. And since their silent job description is to do as much damage as possible to what they oversee, it can be argued that incompetence is a plus to meet their obligation to the boss. Bad choices only if you want government improved, not wrecked.

Larry Kudlow as chief economic adviser makes almost all the bad appointments by past presidents and several of Trump’s own look positively brilliant by comparison. He’s a numbskull. But, like many grifting numbskulls he’s made a personal fortune by counting on the marks to do what marks do: get suckered. A guy who has given terrible financial advice, was a climate science denier the last time he was asked, and who, eight months into what came to be known as the Great Recession, still said there was no recession coming. ~MB
Dana Milbank at The Washington Post writes—Larry Kudlow may have been more wrong about the economy than anyone alive:

It was the eve of the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression. Many on Wall Street worried that a recession loomed and that the housing bubble was bursting.

And then there was Larry Kudlow, the man President Trump just tapped to be his top economic adviser.

“Despite all the doom and gloom from the economic pessimistas, the resilient U.S. economy continues moving ahead,” Kudlow wrote on Dec. 7, 2007, in National Review, predicting that gloomy forecasters would “wind up with egg on their faces.” Kudlow, who previously derided as “bubbleheads” those who warned about a housing bubble, now wrote that “very positive” news in housing should “cushion” falling home sales and prices.

“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen,” wrote Kudlow. “ . . . The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come. Yes, it’s still the greatest story never told.”

If that was the greatest story, this should be a close runner-up: Trump has just put the country’s economic fate in the hands of the man who has arguably been more publicly and consistently wrong about the economy than any person alive.

Noah Smith at Bloomberg writes—Kudlow Is a Sign Republicans Are Out of Economic Ideas:

Why did President Donald Trump choose Larry Kudlow, a man who disagrees strongly with the president’s tariff policy, to be the new head of his National Economic Council? Kudlow will replace Gary Cohn, who walked off the job after failing to prevent Trump from embracing protectionism. Why would Trump replace one dissenter with another?

Perhaps it’s because Kudlow is a cable-news commentator, and Trump watches a lot of cable news. But more fundamentally, it’s because the Republican brain trust’s bench is getting thin. Kudlow isn’t an economist, and his record of economic predictions is extremely poor. But it also seems like there are just so few credible economic thinkers willing to stand up and sign their name to the Trump economic agenda.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer. He served 23 months in prison for his attempts to expose the George W. Bush administration’s torture program. At TruthDig, he writes—‘Bloody Gina’ Should Not Lead the CIA:

President Trump’s nomination of CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to be the new director returns the country to the bad old days of torture and secret prisons. Trump couldn’t be any clearer that he has come down on the side of the architects of the George W. Bush-era torture policy. Haspel was a protégé of Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s notorious former deputy director for operations and former director of the Counterterrorism Center (CTC), known as the godfather of the torture program. Haspel served as Rodriguez’s chief of staff at CTC.

Haspel has been at the CIA for 33 years. She’s been described in the media as a “seasoned intelligence veteran,” with an “uncanny ability to get things done” and as someone who “inspires those around her.” I’m sure that’s true for some. But many of the rest of us who knew and worked with Gina Haspel at the CIA called her “Bloody Gina.”

The CIA will not permit me to talk about Haspel’s time overseas. Suffice it to say that others already have, and her career has been well documented in the media. Most importantly, it was Haspel whom Rodriguez ordered to destroy videotaped evidence of the torture of Abu Zubaydah, who many of us believed, incorrectly, to be the third-ranking person in al-Qaida. And that was after the White House counsel told her to preserve everything. She never apologized or even attempted to explain herself. Rodriguez called her a patriot. I would say that she committed “obstruction of justice,” a felony.

Michael H. Fuchs at The Guardian writes—Rex Tillerson was disastrous for the US. Mike Pompeo may be worse:

Rex Tillerson will go down as one of the worst secretaries of state in US history. And yet, with his departure and replacement by CIA director Mike Pompeo, things could get a whole lot worse for US national security.

Donald Trump made clear his disdain for diplomacy from day one of his presidency, and that he views foreign policy as an endeavor for the military, not the state department. He proposed enormous increases in the military budget while attempting to slash the state department budget by roughly a third. Trump appointed generals to be secretary of defense, national security advisor (twice) and White House chief of staff, while appointing as secretary of state someone with no diplomatic experience.

If Trump’s contempt for diplomacy somehow wasn’t clear, he did his best to actively undermine his secretary of state, criticizing him in public on a number of occassions. In the fall of 2017, as Tillerson attempted to open a diplomatic process with North Korea, Trump tweeted to the world, “I told Rex Tillerson … he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” When a Middle East dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar broke out in 2017, as Tillerson scrambled to calm the situation and mediate, Trump undercut him by publicly siding with Saudi Arabia.

So it should come as no surprise that Tillerson would find out he was fired when his boss tweeted the news to the world.

Despite this poor treatment, it is hard to shed a tear for Tillerson. He has been a good soldier in enabling a military-first foreign policy, in which the state department is relegated to an afterthought.

Don De Luce and Keith Johnson at Foreign Policy write—Tillerson’s Exit Could Doom the Iran Nuclear Deal

President Donald Trump’s sacking of his top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, signals America’s likely withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, and raises the risk of a possible military confrontation with the regime in Tehran.

The future of the Iran deal was already in serious doubt after Trump issued an ultimatum in January, warning he would pull the United States out of the accord unless European allies or Congress managed to “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws.”

But by picking CIA Director Mike Pompeo, an avowed Iran hawk, to succeed Tillerson as secretary of state, Trump sent a clear message that Washington was hardening its stance as a May 12 deadline approaches for the possible reimposition of U.S. sanctions.

Talking to reporters Tuesday about his decision, Trump cited his disagreement with Tillerson over the Iran nuclear agreement as an example of how the outgoing secretary of state had “a different mindset” than his own.

“When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it was okay…. So we were not really thinking the same,” Trump said before departing for California.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at The Washington Post writes—Message to Trump: California isn’t in the deportation business:

[…] Just ahead of visiting California for the first time as president Tuesday, President Trump tweeted misleading claims about California’s public-safety policies, suggesting that our state laws put people at risk. In fact, our laws are in place to protect our families and strengthen public safety.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a lawsuit against the state of California, challenging three of our state laws under the pretense that these laws interfere with federal immigration authorities and harm public safety. This action reflects a misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution, our state laws and the American ethos on a fundamental level.

California laws and policies do not provide “sanctuary” for criminals. We aggressively go after criminals, regardless of their immigration status. And we work regularly in tandem with our federal partners to assist in, for example, combating gangs, human trafficking and the peddling of drugs.

What we do not do, though, is the job of federal immigration agents. We’re in the business of public safety, not deportation.

Jessica Valenti at The Guardian writes—Under Trump, the lies of abstinence-only sex education are back:

There is something perfect about the irony of Donald Trump – a man who bragged about the size of his penis during a debate and who is currently being sued by a porn actress – advocating for abstinence-only education. But here we are, in the upside down.

Politico reports that Valerie Huber, a longtime abstinence-only activist turned Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) staffer, will be making decisions about federal family planning funds. Huber, who was suspended from her position at the Ohio Department of Health after a state ethics investigation in 2006, is founder of the National Abstinence Educators Association, which later became Ascend. (The name change was part of a broader move by the abstinence-only movement to seem more credible.)

This comes on the heels of a leaked White House memo and HHS guidelines showing the administration plans to teach teenagers “fertility awareness methods” – otherwise known as the rhythm method – in lieu of birth control. Teens can barely get their homework in on time but somehow we’re expected to believe that they’re going to prevent pregnancy by tracking their periods.

While there is no lack of outrageous acts generated by the Trump administration these days, the idea that abstinence-only education is making a comeback cannot get lost in the muck.

Nearly a decade ago, I wrote a book about abstinence-only education. The lies told by federally funded “educators” to students across the country ranged from inaccurate to astounding.

Paul Brandus at USA TODAY writes—Donald Trump hired and fired Rex Tillerson for all the wrong reasons

A secretary of State is fourth in the line of succession to the presidency itself — a hugely important job. Yet Trump, who is famously superficial, doesn’t read and gets bored quickly, spent next to no time with Tillerson. The Exxon CEO from Texas reportedly got the job because Trump was impressed by his “strength” and “swagger.” Trump brags about winging it, and here’s a good example of the damage that kind of low-energy laziness can do.

Tillerson’s tenure, less than 14 months, was the shortest of any secretary of State in three-quarters of a century (and that’s only because Harry Truman, who became president after the sudden death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, wanted his own man). And the manner in which Tillerson learned of his dismissal — via Twitter — is beyond tacky.[…]

He said this morning that CIA chief Mike Pompeo, his choice for Foggy Bottom, will, if confirmed, “continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world.” For a leader who manufactures fake news day in and day out, this is one of Trump’s more breathtaking lies. A survey of 37 nations by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center shows that with Trump at the helm, America’s global reputation and image have sunk faster than the Titanic.

Robert Wright at The New Republic writes—The Case for Cautious Optimism About the Trump-Kim Summit:

Kim Jong Un isn’t crazy. 

Remember: Russia and China have long had the power to, respectively, destroy and decimate America. One among several reasons they haven’t done so is that their leaders aren’t crazy; they would prefer not to die in a retaliatory nationwide immolation. Well, there’s never been any good evidence that Kim is any less rational or self-interested than leaders of Russia and China (notwithstanding the occasional hysterical headline).

Even Kim’s seemingly reckless behavior—testing nukes and ballistic missiles after Trump (recklessly) warns of grave consequences—isn’t all that reckless. Kim knows that America knows that any sustained attack on North Korea would produce, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dead South Koreans and U.S. soldiers—not via nuclear assault, but via conventional artillery barrage. He has very good reason to think Trump is bluffing.

And, there’s more evidence of Kim’s rationality. All those “reckless” missile and nuke tests have gotten him what he wants: recognition of his stature in the form of a summit with a U.S. president.

So, though a world without nukes would be nice, we don’t really need North Korea to denuclearize in order to keep the chances of nuclear war roughly where they’ve been for decades. Deterrence can work with North Korea, as it has worked with China and Russia.

Sarah Jones at The New Republic writes—How Public Schools Became a Battleground in the Trump Era:

Education, Betsy DeVos once said, is an “industry.” “It’s a battle of Industrial Age versus the Digital Age. It’s the Model T versus the Tesla. It’s old factory model versus the new internet model. It’s the Luddites versus the future,” she told a SXSWEdu audience in 2015. Three years later, she’s the secretary of education, and the so-called industry she presides over is undergoing a period of mass activism. Teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona are threatening to emulate their West Virginia peers, who staged a historic strike earlier in March. Students, too, have grievances: On March 14, students in over 2,500 high schools and colleges, most of them public, will walk out of class to call for gun regulation.

DeVos’ belief—that education is an industry, improved by competition—is shared by other school choice advocates. But it also pits her against the very idea of public education, one of the bedrock principles of the American project to provide equality to all. The Constitution may not recognize a right to an education, but some states do, and each state constitution includes language requiring the creation of a public school system. That language can vary widely, but there are commonalities; the words “free,” “common,” and “efficient” frequently appear.

Free, common, and efficient. These words tell us that public schools should be accessible and ubiquitous, and that they should function. The teachers’ strikes may be clouded in the language of fiscal austerity, and current student walkouts may react to the different threat of gun violence, but they both stand against those who would undermine the pillars of the public school system. If there is a unifying theory linking student walkouts to teacher strikes, it’s this: Public schools are some of the most democratic institutions in America. At a time when public welfare, another democratic principle, looks shakier than ever, it’s nearly a miracle that entry is still free, and that schools are, theoretically at least, open to all.

James Carden at The Nation writes—Why Was a Call for US-Russia Strategic Dialogue Met With Silence?

In a media landscape positively saturated with news of both the real and “fake” variety concerning the United States and its increasingly troubled relationship with Russia, it is curious that one of the few sensible ideas to come out of Capitol Hill regarding Russia policy in recent years—that of a new call for a US-Russia Strategic dialogue by Senators Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, Diane Feinstein, and Edward Markey—has been met with a virtual media blackout.

The senators, who have been outspoken in their criticism of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Putin’s annexation of Crimea, support for rebel fighters in eastern Ukraine, and purported violations of the landmark INF Treaty, clearly recognize, as few of their colleagues do, that while the United States and Russia are and likely will remain at loggerheads over these and other issues, the need for a strategic dialogue over nuclear weapons is as urgent as ever.

In a letter to then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week, the senators noted that “There is no guarantee that we can make progress with Russia on these issues.”

“However, even at the height of Cold War tensions,” they wrote, “the United States and the Soviet Union were able to engage on matters of strategic stability. Leaders from both countries believed, as we should today, that the incredible destructive force of nuclear weapons is reason enough to make any and all efforts to lessen the chance that they can never be used again. “

D.D. Guttenplan at The Nation writes—Two Cheers—but Not Three—for Conor Lamb Yes, he ran as a centrist. But he also ran as a local candidate on local issues:

Though some progressives may be tempted to skip the celebrations, Democrat Conor Lamb’s victory over Republican Rick Saccone in the special election for the 18th Congressional District in Pennsylvania is worth saluting. This was a district Donald Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016—a district so deeply red that Democrats didn’t even bother to put up a candidate against incumbent Tim Murphy in the past two election cycles. But the anti-abortion Republican had to resign in October after he was caught urging his lover to have an abortion, creating an open special election.

In nominating Saccone to replace him, the GOP picked a candidate who not only boasted “I was Trump before Trump was Trump” but actually worked as an interrogator at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. Saccone has written numerous articles defending waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques. In keeping him out of Congress, Lamb has done the country a service. […]

But while Lamb, a 33-year-old former federal prosecutor who served as a captain in the Marine Corps, has impeccable Democratic credentials—his grandfather, Thomas Lamb, was the majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate; his uncle Michael is the current Pittsburgh comptroller—he never pretended to run as anything other than a centrist. In favor of coal and fracking, not in favor of single-payer health care, Lamb said he thought a $15 minimum wage “sounds high based on what I’ve been told by many small business owners in our area.” On abortion Lamb, a devout Catholic, said that while he personally believes “life begins at conception. I’ve always believed that and I believe it in all cases,” he also “would not outlaw a woman’s right to choose.”

That was good enough for the United Steelworkers and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, who both held rallies for Lamb. It was more than good enough for the United Mine Workers, whose president Cecil Roberts described Lamb as “a God-fearing, union-supporting, gun-owning, job-protecting, pension-defending, Social Security-believing, health care-greeting and sending-drug-dealers-to-jail Democrat!” Facing an opponent who supports “right-to-work” laws, opposes the Davis-Bacon Act guaranteeing that workers on federal contracts be paid the prevailing wage, and didn’t even bother to fill out the state AFL-CIO’s candidate questionnaire, Lamb’s positions made labor’s endorsement a no-brainer.

But should it be good enough for progressives? Unless you’re a “the worse, the better” Leninist, the question of where to draw the line is always going to be complicated.

Dan Friedman at Mother Jones writes—How the House’s Russia Investigation Was Designed to Fail:

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee announced Tuesday that they are ending the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after finding “no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”

A Democratic report on the investigation, published Tuesday night, shows why Republicans found nothing: They didn’t try.

Republicans ended the probe without interviewing more than 30 witnesses.

The report lays out facts that the GOP does not dispute: Republicans running the committee refused to investigate broad subjects, such as Trump’s financial ties with Russia, or Russian ties to the National Rifle Association. The Republican majority choose to end the probe without interviewing more than 30 witnesses who blew off the committee’s requests, or who Democrats wanted to contact. Nor did the full committee seek information from more than 20 companies and other entities, including a pro-Russia Parisian think tank that paid Donald Trump Jr. at least $50,000 to deliver a speech during the 2016 campaign. Democrats say the result was a circumscribed probe that was designed to avoid finding malfeasance.

The Democrats’ report details the many leads that weren’t pursued, documents that weren’t obtained, and witnesses that weren’t interviewed. Without this information, the report suggests it may be impossible to “determine whether the Russians have leverage over the President of the United States.”

Mike Lofgren at The Washington Monthly writes—The 1 Percent’s Contempt for Democracy:

When Donald Trump remarked that Chinese president Xi Jinping’s bid to consolidate power and become “president for life” was a move that he should perhaps emulate, it didn’t take more than half a news cycle for the agitation to come and go amid the current insanity of American politics.

During the brief half-life of concern, the commentariat stated the obvious: CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote that it might have been the scariest thing Trump has said as president. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said that Republicans are “fools” if they think the president was joking. This type of punditry follows past reportingof Trump’s recurrent praise of dictators and human-rights violators.

Although it received perfunctory mention, a notable feature of the incident went unanalyzed—the audience Trump was addressing when he made the comment. The event was a fundraiser (at Mar-a-Lago, of course) with tickets starting at $2700, so we can assume the attendees were a different species of “deplorables” than the ones wearing MAGA hats at campaign rallies.

If you listen to the recording of Trump’s comment about Xi that was obtained by CNN, you can hear that it was followed by fairly prolonged applause and appreciative laughter. In the wake of all that the president has said and done in the last year to express his contempt for the Constitution and democratic norms, the remark suggested that he wasn’t really kidding. You would think that might have caused at least some agitation in the crowd.

But no. These are the rich, who, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “are different from you and me.” In their presence, incumbents and aspirants to high office seem to change their personalities. It is the habit of politicians, whatever their public man-of-the-people posturing, to sound distinctly different when speaking to wealthy donors in ostensibly private surroundings.

Leonard Mlodinow at The New York Times writes—Stephen Hawking, Force of Nature:

Since Stephen couldn’t speak, he communicated through his computer. Composing a sentence was like playing a video game — the cursor would move on the screen, and he would have to capture the letter or word he wanted by pressing on a mouse with his thumb, or, in his later years, moving his cheek to activate a motion sensor in his glasses. When he was done, he would click an icon and his famous computer voice would read what he had typed out.

Stephen could compose his sentences at a rate of only about six words a minute. At first I would sit impatiently, daydreaming on and off as I waited for him to finish his composition. But then one day I was looking over his shoulder at his computer screen, where the sentence he was constructing was visible, and I started thinking about his evolving reply. By the time he had completed it, I had had several minutes to ponder the ideas he was expressing.

This was a great help. It allowed me to more profoundly consider his remarks, and it enabled my own ideas, and my reactions to his, to percolate as they never could have in an ordinary conversation.

When I argued a point of physics with Stephen, I always lost. I would scribble equations on a pad or a whiteboard, trying to sway him, but when I was done, I would find that the answer was the one he had already worked out in his head.

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