President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House on Thanksgiving on November 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump had earlier made the traditional call to members of the military stationed abroad through video teleconference.
Presidential historian: Trump should not be happy with this
02:27 - Source: CNN

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In the words of former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who died this week, the outcome of the Manhattan District Attorney’s prosecution of the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer is a “known unknown.”

We know there’s a big question about the case, but we don’t know the answer: Will the prosecution intensify and further tarnish the legacy of the twice-impeached and hugely controversial former President? Or will it be seen as a partisan prosecution, as Donald Trump has labeled it?

“This is a bigger case, and a bigger headache for Trump and his company, than what was first believed,” wrote former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers. “The scheme charged is a 15-year conspiracy to evade taxes, described as involving numerous Trump Organization executives and employees, only one of whom has been charged so far … Thursday’s indictment is very bad news for the former President, with potentially much more bad news to come.

The fact that Trump’s reaction was mostly to accuse prosecutors of trying to take him down for political reasons rather than to focus on defending his company’s business practices suggested to The Atlantic’s David Frum that the former President is “readying his supporters for bad revelations about his company’s taxes and directing them to a fallback line that singling him out as a tax scofflaw is politically unfair.

In the New York Post, Dan McLaughlin wrote that District Attorney Cy Vance had crossed a line. “Trumped-up charges against former leaders are a familiar sight in banana republics,” he observed. “America has thus far avoided that. Making a precedent of this kind of case, based on aggressive readings of the law or its extension to situations rarely prosecuted, is a perilous step.”

If there was any comfort for Trump in C-SPAN’s newly released survey of historians’ views of US presidents, it was that he didn’t rank at the absolute bottom, as some had predicted. But he did come in at number 41, with only three presidents ranking lower in the historians’ view – Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and, last, James Buchanan.

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One of those historians, Thomas Balcerski, noted that he wasn’t surprised by Buchanan’s awful showing. “From unwise meddling into the affairs of the Supreme Court during the Dred Scott case – he allegedly influenced the court’s ruling that Black people are ‘not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution’ – to his role in the struggles that split his own Democratic Party in two, Buchanan blundered badly when the nation needed a steady hand to guide the ship of state.

Trump’s low ranking came, in part, due to scoring “dead last among all presidents in both Moral Authority – perhaps as a result of his two impeachments – and Administrative Skills, equally expected, given his administration’s disastrous handling of the Covid-19 crisis,” noted Balcerski.

Rumsfeld’s career was intimately connected to the fates of three Presidents – Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush. David Gergen, who was a White House adviser to Nixon and Ford, along with two other presidents, wrote, “Though he was one man, it’s hard not to think of him as two distinct political figures: one who helped to save a presidency and was widely seen as a brilliant newcomer, the other whose later misjudgments helped to lose a presidency as well as his own reputation. In both instances, Rumsfeld proved to be one of the most consequential figures in the second half of the 20th century.”

For more:

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Robert C. Gottlieb: Why a gag order against Trump would be a good idea

Norman Eisen, E. Danya Perry and John Cuti: The Manhattan DA could complicate Trump’s future

Julian Zelizer: GOP stands in the way of finding the truth about January 6

Nicole Hemmer: The House takes a revealing vote on Confederate statues

Dean Obeidallah: AOC’s master class in crushing Trumpian lies

Michael D’Antonio: Trump’s followers do take him literally

Search amid the ruins

Myriam and Arnie Notkin

“The hardest thing is not knowing,” Joe Biden told the stricken relatives of those who lived in Champlain Towers South on Thursday. “Not knowing whether or not the person you adore, the person you love, the person … is gone. The President reached into his deep store of personal grief and renewal when he added, “I’m sure you’d trade places with whoever you lost or are worried about having lost. You’d trade places with them in a minute.”

More than a week after the Surfside, Florida, apartment building partially collapsed into a mound of debris, rescue workers risked their lives trying to look for survivors and recover human remains. There were individual stories of those still unaccounted for – like the one Fortuna Smukler told about her friends Myriam and Arnie Notkin. “For many years he was a PE coach at one of the elementary schools and has had a deep connection to the Miami Beach community,” Smukler wrote of Arnie. She went to school with Myriam’s children.

“Just like my family, Myriam and her family were among the Jewish Cuban immigrants that came to South Florida in the ’60s and ‘70s … Myriam and her husband raised three talented and special girls. She was a widow who later on in life met and married Arnie.”

“Pre-pandemic, I would see them both at the movie theater for premieres often. We were always in line together – and those waits were sometimes over an hour. In line, Myriam would tell me how wonderful my mother was. She would then proceed to tell the person standing next to us in line, the same. My mother passed away 40 years ago, and Myriam was one of the few people who not only remembered her but wanted to talk to me and share stories about her.”

How could a building that stood for 40 years simply collapse? That was the question structural engineer Hanif Kara asked. It’s far too early to know the cause of this particular disaster, he wrote. But there are some general things we know about structures that fail.

Don’t look for a simple answer. “Speaking generally, a single reason for structural failure is uncommon,” Kara wrote. Natural forces like storms can bring down buildings, but there are other causes: “Unsuitable ground conditions below the structure, for instance, can pose a threat to the integrity of a building. All structures are supported by soils or rock of different capacity and strengths …”

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    “Poor workmanship and badly constructed buildings, or the use of deleterious materials that do not comply with what was specified in the design, can also be a cause of failure … In the last several decades we have also seen the impact of chemical changes in materials that can cause local failure initially and then large-scale failures that, over time, render buildings unsafe. Rusting steel expands six or seven times its original shape and when embedded in concrete it can expand and weaken the structure of a building.”

    Frida Ghitis noted that “collapsing buildings used to be the heart-breaking reality of poor countries. Not anymore.” She observed that “the timing of the Miami tragedy highlights the next item on President Joe Biden’s agenda, just behind his top priority, taming the pandemic.”

    We didn’t need any more reminders that the US is in dire need of major investment. Americans can see it in the bone rattling roads they travel every day, and they’ve been watching it in the news. When a bridge collapsed in Washington last month, we found out it had been rated in ‘poor condition.’ A bridge that collapsed earlier in Miami had been ‘screaming that there was something definitely wrong.’ A meaningful upgrading of infrastructure is one of those things only government can do, and if it doesn’t, the price is paid by everyone …”

    Bill Cosby released

    Bill Cosby was released from prison Wednesday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out his sexual assault conviction. The decision sent an alarming message, wrote Kara Alaimo.

    “Recall that Cosby has been accused of misconduct by 60 different women,” Alaimo wrote. The case involved one woman who accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her in 2004, but five other accusers were permitted to testify against him at the trial. “It might be tempting to think that things have changed since 16 years ago,” Alaimo observed. “Since then, we’ve seen lots of women come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment, assault and violence as part of the #MeToo movement.” But Alaimo argued that “the world has become less safe for women” as a result of the internet, where sexual violence “is regularly enabled online in new and ever more dangerous ways.”

    Legal analyst Areva Martin wrote, “Though the arguments are complex, the decision is ultimately a clear case of the court getting it wrong.” She rejected a Cosby spokesman’s branding of the ruling as “justice for Black America.” It “could have a chilling effect on the prosecution of sexual assault cases,” Martin observed. “It may compound victims’ valid fears around confronting the rich and powerful.”

    Northwest heat wave

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    In Spokane, Washington, where temperatures reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, Kari Nixon and her daughter fried eggs in a pan on their driveway.

    Nixon froze apples and carrots in blocks of ice, which she dragged over to a stable where 23 horses, including one of her own, live. “These horses have never needed to know what ice cubes were. Yet, like me, something in them knows that cooling is necessary, and by the time I’m done handing out all the ice blocks, most of the horses are munching happily on the treats now freed from their melted casings of ice.”

    She says she is “not a climate alarmist,” but she is concerned. “I picture a future where we burn inside cars as well as out of them, where we all always cover our bodies from head to toe with swaths of protective fabrics. I picture buckled, broken roads littered with tires, impassable. This is a much less glamorous version of Mad Max-style apocalypse – less swagger and more heat stroke.

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    Bill Barr’s about-face

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    Former US Attorney General William Barr’s “image rehabilitation tour has begun,” wrote Elie Honig. “Don’t buy it.”

    In an opinion piece adapted from his forthcoming book, “Hatchet Man,” Honig, a former prosecutor and CNN senior legal analyst, noted Barr’s interview with Jonathan Karl in The Atlantic. Barr argued that he had disputed the Big Lie about the 2020 election and “stood up to Trump, invoking Trump’s wrath during the frantic post-election weeks when Trump tried desperately to overturn the election’s results,” Honig wrote.

    “But Barr conveniently omits the crucial fact that, for months before his endgame turnabout, he had been relentlessly parroting and amplifying Trump’s most dangerous lies about election fraud throughout the runup to the November 2020 election … Barr’s public assertions about voter fraud were, first and foremost, just plain wrong.” Honig added that Barr “debased himself, and the Justice Department as an institution, in service of a false and politically motivated agenda that ultimately resulted in one of the darkest days in our nation’s history.”

    Voting rights … and wrongs

    Voting rights advocates were already on edge as several red states began moving ahead with new voting restrictions. Their concern deepened with the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to uphold two Arizona laws and to set a new standard that will make it much more difficult to “protect against racial discrimination,” according to law professor Joshua A. Douglas.

    The Court’s decision is a stark reminder that it is no fan of voting rights. The thumb is firmly on the side of the states to regulate their elections as they wish, which in many places is bad news for American democracy,” Douglas wrote.

    In the midst of a national controversy over election rules and integrity, the last thing America needed was a botched vote count. But New York City’s Board of Elections released, and then retracted, a count in the Democratic mayoral primary that mistakenly included more than 100,000 test ballots.

    “What happened on Tuesday…could provide the runners-up with legitimate reasons to doubt the veracity of the official outcome,” wrote Arick Wierson and Bradley Honan. “And with such a complex and cumbersome counting process – who can blame them?” The city is using ranked choice voting for the first time and the final results of the June 22 primary may not be known until the middle of this month.

    The other side of Rick Steves

    01b Rick Steves

    Generations of American travelers have been introduced to Europe through the books, videos and TV shows of an eager bespectacled guide who saunters through the farms of Tuscany, the ruins of ancient Greece and the streets of Paris. But there’s another side to Rick Steves, who this year was elected chairman of the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

    “I’m a hard-working, kid-raising, churchgoing, tax-paying American,” Steves wrote. “And if I work hard all day and want to go home, smoke a joint and stare at my fireplace for three hours, that’s my civil liberty. This is my basic, principled message on marijuana legalization, a cause I’ve promoted for many years.”

    He argued in a CNN Opinion piece that the US has suffered for 50 years from President Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs,” which lumped marijuana in with heroin as among the most dangerous illegal substances.

    “In the decades since, millions of Americans have been arrested and imprisoned on marijuana charges. It has long been obvious that our nation’s marijuana laws seem to be built on lies and racism and are an affront to civil liberties. As a travel writer and television host, I’ve seen how other nations – such as the Netherlands and Portugal – have tackled the complicated issue of marijuana in ways that are arguably more effective than ours, and at far less cost, both in money and the toll on human lives.

    For more:

    Amy Bass: How to do the right thing for Sha’Carri Richardson

    Hubble’s glitch

    hubble 30th anniversary image

    The Hubble telescope, which has opened our eyes to countless amazing features of the universe for more than 30 years, suddenly stopped working on June 13. As Don Lincoln noted, all efforts so far have failed to fix the problem, raising the possibility that Hubble could be at the end of its useful life.

    “An inoperable Hubble would be a devastating loss,” Lincoln wrote. “However, there is good news on the horizon. A replacement for the Hubble has long been in the works.” The James Webb Space Telescope, a more powerful instrument, is due to be launched late this year.

    “Any reports of the demise of the Hubble are still premature, but the recent glitch causes the stomach of astronomy buffs like me to lurch a little. I would miss the constant stream of gorgeous astronomical photos.”

    Don’t miss:

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    SE Cupp: Democrats need to be realistic about this

    Peniel E. Joseph: The legacy of the man Barack Obama called ‘a madman or a saint’

    Rana Mitter: The CCP at 100: How to think about China’s ruling party

    Sarah Damaske: How the ‘guilt gap’ is hurting American women

    Raul A. Reyes: What bigoted acts like throwing tortillas at a basketball game reveal

    Rory Green, Tracy Lerman and Tiffany Lerman: The greatest lesson we learned from our mother, Jackie Collins

    Kent Sepkowitz: US Covid-19 response faces doozy of a challenge: vaccinating kids

    Sonia Pruitt: Congress only having a ‘framework’ for police reform is unacceptable

    David A. Andelman: UK-Russia naval flap shows Putin’s on edge


    The Fourth

    21 statue of liberty

    This July Fourth is the USA’s 245th birthday, a time of celebration for those emerging from the pandemic and for reflection by many. Themes of democracy, patriotism and history seem especially resonant this year.

    In The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum took note of the controversy surrounding Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s inflammatory criticism of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who defended the military’s willingness to reckon with racism in US history.

    “You can be inspired by the Declaration of Independence, horrified by the expulsions of Native Americans, amazed by the energy of immigrants and frontier settlers,” Applebaum wrote. “You can understand that the United States is a great and unique country whose values are worth defending – and realize simultaneously that this same country has made terrible mistakes and carried out horrific crimes. Is it so difficult to hold all of these disparate ideas in your head at the same time?”

    Republicans expressed outrage that US hammer thrower Gwen Barry turned away from the flag while the national anthem played at the Olympic trials in Oregon last weekend. “The plain fact is, her actions are protected under the very constitution that conservative ‘patriots’ claim to revere, and it would be wildly inappropriate and frankly un-American to remove her from the Olympic team for exercising her rights to free expression and peaceful protest,” wrote Jill Filipovic.

    Poet and novelist Jay Parini summed up the state of the nation acutely: “In a year marked by anxiety and division, it’s important to remember this July 4th that we’re one nation. We believe in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and while there are many fierce points of disagreement, we remain a country founded by Enlightenment thinkers who understood that reason is itself the source of all political authority…We can all, I think, agree that all men and women are created equal. Now let’s make that dream a reality.

    Happy Fourth!