Archive | October, 2017

Trump’s Unforced Error

By David A. Graham

The question to President Trump on Monday sounded relatively innocuous: “Why haven’t we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers that were killed in Niger? And what do you have to say about that?” It’s certainly not the kind of question that seemed likely to set off several days of heated controversy.

But the hubbub that has ensued, centering on Trump’s response to the deaths of four soldiers in Niger and, more broadly, the way he deals with grieving military families, is yet another example of how this president inflicts crises on himself. This pattern has happened several times since Trump entered office, with the tussle over the size of his crowd on Inauguration Day and his claim that Barack Obama “wiretapped him.” In each case, Trump’s bluster and his seeming obsession with Obama have led him to commit serious unforced errors.

As is now well known, Trump took that question as an opportunity to unfavorably compare previous presidents’ method of consoling Gold Star families to his own, suggesting his predecessors had done little or none, while he tried to call the family of every fallen soldier. That answer was off-key not only because of the unsolicited slur of other presidents but also because Trump so quickly made the story about himself. While the gap between the October 4 deaths and the October 16 comment remains unexplained, Trump could easily have offered an anodyne statement praising the men’s valor and the importance of U.S. troops to fighting violent extremism.

In fact, Politico reports that the National Security Council staff drafted exactly such a statement for release on October 5, the day …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Schrödinger’s Endorsement

By Elaine Godfrey

Today in 5 Lines

President Trump criticized a new bipartisan deal aimed at stabilizing Obamacare exchanges, a day after he publicly praised the proposal. Trump disputed an account that he was insensitive during a phone call with the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, one of four U.S. servicemen killed in Niger on October 4. But Johnson’s mother said Trump “did disrespect” her son. The White House reportedly drafted a sympathy statement for Trump to make after the servicemen were killed, but he never released it. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey and said he had not been questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Today on The Atlantic

  • Drama in the Scouting World: The Boy Scouts’ decision to admit girls into its Cub Scouts program is a major reversal that could offer more opportunities for young girls—while ultimately hurting the Girl Scouts. (Elaine Godfrey)

  • Real Consequences: Last week, President Trump ended cost-sharing reductions, a move health-policy experts argue caused instability in the individual-insurance market. Here’s what that means for people relying on Obamacare. (Olga Khazan)

  • The Devastation to Come: The extent of the damage left behind by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has yet to be realized. “All of this is just the beginning,” said one environmental activist. “This is catastrophic.” (Vann R. Newkirk II)

Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.


Protesters gather outside the White House for a “NoMuslimBanEver” rally against what they say are discriminatory policies that unlawfully target American Muslim and immigrant communities. Yuri Gripas / Reuters

What We’re Reading

What Trump Promised: President Trump reportedly offered the father of a fallen U.S. soldier $25,000. But he never followed through. (Dan Lamothe, Lindsey Bever, Eli …read more

Via:: <a href= class="colorbox" title="The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Schrödinger’s Endorsement” rel=nofollow>The Atlantic



Puerto Rico’s Environmental Catastrophe

By Vann R. Newkirk II

ARECIBO, P.R.—“There’s no way there were just 45 deaths,” said Myrna Conty, an environmental activist whose work takes her regularly across the most remote parts of the island. She scoffed at the radio reports of the official death toll, a common refrain among Puerto Ricans whose personal stories—a cousin who died needing dialysis here, a neighbor who simply hasn’t been heard from there—when multiplied 3.5 million-fold make the official estimate seem impossible.

We’d followed the path that Hurricane Maria’s eye had taken along the highway to the west of San Juan. Three weeks after the storm, the tropical green was just starting to come back, sprouting over the brown wounds of mud and giant trees pulled up from their roots. Here in Arecibo, a small municipality about 40 minutes from San Juan on a good day, high-water marks from the flood stood out on building walls, seven or eight feet high. Obliterated houses marked the deserted hamlets along the road. Smokestacks had been snapped in half and wires lay slack where giant power pylons had fallen. The Río Grande de Arecibo that cuts through the municipality remained an swollen brown expanse, still threatening to drown bridges and homes. Arecibo was a ghost town.

But Conty’s dismay was also about the destruction that couldn’t be seen. For Conty, an old-guard environmental warrior in the countryside, Arecibo had been one of the key battlegrounds in her groups’ fights to contain poisons that affect much of Puerto Rico. But all of the signs around us showed that the battle had been—at least for now—lost. Across the island, residents already beset by water and food shortages are also facing real threats of contamination that have already spread illness and worse. “All of this is just the beginning,” Conty said. “This is catastrophic.”

Maria blew through the island …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



The Federal Jail Blocking Some Inmates’ Kids From Visiting

By Maura Ewing

PHILADELPHIA—During the 15 months that Allen Woods has been held, awaiting trial, at a federal detention center downtown, he has only seen his six-year-old son once. This has been hard on them both, as they used to spend time together almost every day. Woods would pick his son up from school, take him to T-ball practice—all the things that an involved parent does.

“A child that was raised with both parents and one is suddenly taken away—he is going to be confused,” the boy’s mother, Chamira Williams, told me. “He has been depressed, confrontational, not understanding why he can’t see his father. It’s hard.”

The detention center is the federal version of the local county jail; most inmates there haven’t been convicted of a crime, while a small minority is serving short sentences. The center’s rules, which appear to be the most restrictive in the country, prohibit any inmate awaiting trial from having a visitor who is not an immediate family member; only a parent, step-parent, foster parent, sibling, child, or legal spouse qualifies. That means that Williams, Woods’s ex-girlfriend, is barred. And without relatives willing or able to accompany her son on a visit, the restrictions effectively block him, too. “I should have the option to take him to see his father,” Williams said.   

In theory, the impact of this policy would be minimal, as it applies only to the pretrial period. But in reality it can take months or years for a case to make its way through the court system—delays brought on and exacerbated by public-defender shortages and case backlogs. Woods faces charges of possession of large amounts of marijuana with the intent to distribute. Ironically, when he is finally sentenced—and no matter the verdict—he will have a much easier time seeing his son.

Woods is one of …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



Donald Trump’s Obamacare Whiplash

By Russell Berman

On Wednesday morning, another leading Republican senator suffered an injury that has struck lawmakers throughout the Capitol in the last nine months: presidential policy whiplash.

President Trump can’t seem to decide whether he wants Congress to pass a bipartisan deal to shore up the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday afternoon, the president praised and appeared to endorse an agreement that aimed to stabilize the law’s faltering exchanges by restoring crucial insurer payments that Trump had cancelled last week. Hours later, however, Trump was telling a conservative crowd that he opposed “providing bailouts to insurance companies.” And by Wednesday morning, the president had formalized his criticism in a tweet.


“Lamar” is Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the Republican health committee chairman who negotiated the bipartisan accord with Senator Patty Murray of Washington State, the panel’s top Democrat. In the you’ve-got-to-give-something-to-get-something style of congressional dealmaking, the Alexander-Murray legislation would restore what are known as “cost-sharing reduction” payments to insurance companies for two years—a Democratic demand—while also making it easier for states to opt out of some of Obamacare’s regulations, which Republicans insisted on. The goal of the bill is to shore up the law in the short term and head off premium increases resulting from Trump’s refusal to reimburse insurers for subsidies they are required to pay out to lower-income consumers.

Unveiling the compromise on Tuesday, Alexander made sure to emphasize that Trump had encouraged his dealmaking, and the president himself had boasted—inaccurately—that his decision to cancel the insurer payments last week had brought both parties to the negotiating table. The …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



‘President Trump Did Disrespect My Son’

By David A. Graham

Thirteen days after Sergeant La David Johnson was killed in Niger, and a day after Donald Trump boasted about his actions to console grieving families in contrast to his predecessors, the president called Johnson’s family Tuesday night.

It didn’t go well.

Representative Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat, was with widow Myeshia Johnson when Trump called. “She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part,” Wilson told MSNBC.

“He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’—something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”

Trump disputed that account in a morning tweet, claiming he had proof that Wilson was not telling the truth:


Trump did not say what his proof was; on several occasions, he has promised to produce recordings of conversations, only to fail to do so or admit he had none.

But Johnson’s mother Cowanda Jones-Johnson, who was also in the car, told The Washington Post, “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.” She declined to elaborate but told …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



The Populist Right Tears Down a Press It Can’t Replace

By Conor Friedersdorf

Last week, the New York Times and The New Yorker published multiple allegations of abhorrent sexual misconduct against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, drawing on years of costly investigative reporting; risking legal retaliation that could cost millions to litigate; and forcing its subject from his powerful perch in Hollywood, where his ability to lure aspiring film starts into hotel rooms is all but gone.  

The episode was a credit to the reporters, editors, and publishers who broke the story; an example of why it is vital to support an independent press that probes wrongdoing; and a spur to examine all the factors that delayed the truth outing for so long, including apparent failures by some journalists and news-gathering organizations.

Still, it was surreal to see pundits employed by populist news organizations that didn’t break the story characterizing it as a dark moment for the liberal mainstream media.

Take Sean Hannity, who works at the Fox News, which didn’t break the story, and beneath Rupert Murdoch, who owns all sorts of media properties that didn’t break the story. “Everybody in Hollywood knew. This wasn’t a secret,” Hannity declared. “Everybody knew apparently in the news media too, and everybody in the political world.”

Did Brit Hume know? Did Bret Baier? Did Chris Wallace?

His guest, RNC spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany, called out NBC, which employed Ronan Farrow before he took his reporting to The New Yorker. “I just have to say Sean, this is sick,” she said. “This is the media elite covering for the Hollywood elite.” But she wouldn’t know the story save for liberal media elites in L.A. and New York City!

Nevertheless, the segment ended with this surreal exchange:

Hannity: Journalism is dead, Kayleigh, I’ve been telling people forever. Is this now the final nail in the coffin?

McEnany: It should be!

Tucker Carlson, another Fox …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



How Will the Boy Scouts’ Decision Affect the Girl Scouts?

By Elaine Godfrey

Last week, the Boy Scouts of America announced it would reverse its century-old policy of no girls allowed—and the Girl Scouts aren’t happy.

“Why not ask us how we could help them serve the 90 percent of the boys they’re choosing not to serve instead of pursuing serving girls?” asked Lisa Margosian, the Girl Scouts’ Chief Customer Officer, in an interview.

On October 11, the Boy Scouts said it will begin accepting girls into its Cub Scouts program, as well as establish a program for older girls to earn their Eagle Scout Award. The reaction from many, including some former Boy Scouts, was one of outrage: Why should girls join a boys’ organization when there’s already one specifically designed for girls? The Girl Scouts felt the same way. In a blog post on October 11, the organization called itself the “girl leadership expert,” and stressed the power of the “single-gender environment.”

The Boy Scouts’ decision is a major reversal from an organization that has always been staunchly committed to single-sex programming, and has, in its early history, bristled at the idea of girls getting involved in scouting. While the change does offer another choice for young girls, it also introduces a new competitor into the field of girls programming, which could ultimately hurt the Girl Scouts and undermine their mission to cultivate leadership skills and self confidence in young girls. (For full disclosure, I was a Girl Scout throughout elementary and high school, although I’m no longer directly involved with the organization.)

Starting next year, the Cub Scouts, which is an introductory Boy Scout program made up of boys in first through fifth grades, can opt to create girls-only packs or co-ed packs with girls-only dens. (In Cub Scouting, packs are comprised of dens, which are smaller groups …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



Is Obama’s Foreign-Policy Legacy Disappearing?

By Uri Friedman

When Donald Trump last week opted to decertify the nuclear agreement that Barack Obama forged with Iran, it appeared to fit a pattern in the president’s emerging foreign policy. In withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Paris climate-change accord, in announcing that he was “canceling” the U.S. opening to Cuba, Trump seemed similarly determined to dismantle Obama’s achievements in international affairs. “The organizing principle for how he approaches foreign policy appears to be, in part, trying to look like he’s doing the opposite of his predecessor,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former deputy national-security adviser, told me.

But to the extent that Obama’s foreign-policy legacy is under threat, it’s not only Trump that’s doing the threatening. Some accomplishments are fraying for reasons that have nothing to do with the 45th president’s apparent contempt for the 44th. Obama’s legacy partially depends on his bets that certain countries—Cuba, Iran, Burma—would, with time, respond positively to diplomacy, which the former president once described to The Atlantic as “the element of American power that the rest of the world appreciates unambiguously.”

Yet in the admittedly short time since Obama left office, those bets haven’t paid off unambiguously. The Obama administration’s efforts to encourage Burma’s transition to democracy and to create favorable conditions for Iranian leaders to moderate, for instance, are now in jeopardy in large measure because of actions taken by those governments. These shortcomings raise questions about whether Obama, who considers himself a realist, was overly optimistic about the possibilities of engagement.

Conversely, Trump has quietly continued some of his predecessor’s  initiatives. In substance though obviously not in style, Trump has retained certain features of Obama’s campaigns against ISIS and North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. The focus on Obama’s record also obscures the broader challenge Trump poses to U.S. foreign-policy traditions that stretch back …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



Steve Bannon's Armageddon

Former adviser to Donald Trump and executive chairman of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, speaks at a campaign event for Republican candidate for the US Senate in Alabama Roy Moore on September 25, 2017, in Fairhope, Alabama. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)
Former adviser to Donald Trump and executive chairman of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, speaks at a campaign event for Republican candidate for the US Senate in Alabama Roy Moore on September 25, 2017, in Fairhope, Alabama. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

The Yellowstone caldera has a lot of people on edge this week, apparently for good reason. For those not in the know, a caldera is the depression left in the ground after a supervolcano erupts. Yellowstone did so about 630,000 years ago, and the violence of that mighty explosion — the likes of which have never been seen by human eyes — made that gorgeous national park what it is today.

If Yellowstone decides to erupt, well, buy canned goods. An eruption won’t be the continent-obliterating event depicted in the disaster flick 2012 (I’m sure Woody Harrelson will be fine), but it would be quite completely bad. Every crop within 500 miles in all directions at least will be buried in ash, and the sky will be last-book-in-the-Bible black until a good, stiff breeze picks up the ejecta cloud and drags it out over the Atlantic.

The good folks at the United States Geological Survey tell us not to worry, but people are worried anyway. An eruption at the Yellowstone caldera would be preceded by one if not several earthquakes, and there have been something like 800 earthquakes around the caldera in the last couple of weeks. Lots of smart people are saying no big deal, but if you hear a loud thud from the upper …read more

Via:: Truthout