Poll Shows More Voters Supporting Impeaching Trump; Health Care Puts House In Play

Public Policy Polling’s latest survey shows that only 40 percent of voters approve of the job Donald Trump is doing, which is better than the 36 percent approval in the latest Quinnipiac poll. For the first time PPP shows more voters (48 percent) in favor of impeaching Trump than are opposed (41 percent).

There is also bad news for Republicans as PPP found that health care has put control of the House in play:

Democrats now have a 49-38 lead overall on the generic Congressional ballot, up from 47-41 a month ago. Even more notable though is that among voters who say they’re ‘very excited’ to turn out in the 2018 election, the Democratic lead balloons to 27 points at 61-34. The outcome of lower turnout midterm elections often hinges on which side is more engaged, and Democrats have the clear advantage at this point on that front- 63% of their voters say they’re ‘very excited’ about voting in next year’s election, compared to only 52% of Republicans who say the same.

The American Health Care Act has been a complete disaster politically for Republicans.  Only 25% of voters support it, to 52% who are opposed. Even among Republican voters there’s only 49% support for the measure, while Democrats (76%) are considerably more unified in their opposition to it. Voters say by a 20 point margin that they’re less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported the AHCA- just 27% say they’re more likely to vote for a pro-AHCA candidate, compared to 47% who are less likely to vote for one.

The health care debate has left Congress with a 15% approval rating and 68% of voters disapproving of it. Paul Ryan (25/59 approval) and Mitch McConnell (21/55 approval) are both very unpopular individually as well.

The current health care debate is also stoking new found respect for the Affordable Care Act. By a 53/27 spread, voters say they prefer the current ACA to the new AHCA. And just 29% of voters say they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act at this point, to 64% who would prefer to keep it and make fixes as necessary.

In other topics polled, only 37 percent support Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, with 48 percent opposed.

This came before the latest controversy to affect Trump with stories that he divulged classified intelligence to Russian officials. This is particularly embarrassing for Trump after all of his calls to lock up Hillary Clinton for her mishandling of classified material as Secretary of State.

Quote of the Day: Jimmy Kimmel On Trump’s Low Approval Rating

President Trump’s approval rating has sunk to near-historic lows. According to a new Quinnipiac poll, his approval rating is down to 36 percent. If it gets down to the 20s he might start dating it.–Jimmy Kimmel

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Oxygen; Timeless; Sense8; The Handmaid’s Tale; More Renewals and Cancellations; The Last Man On Earth Season Finale; Artistic Opposition To Donald Trump

Doctor Who began Oxygen with an apparent homage to Star Trek, speaking of the final frontier. Except it led into this week’s episode by saying, “Final because it wants to kill us.” Final frontier might also tie into the return of the Master by referring to the 1973 episode Frontier In Space which was final appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master.

The episode took advantage of the Doctor’s role as professor, and allowed him to use the blackboard again, even if he got off topic in discussing the dangers in space: “What’s this got to do with crop rotation?” This was a combination hard science fiction/space zombie episode, with less of the simple talk between Bill and the Doctor. That does not mean Bill didn’t get a chance to ask pertinent questions such as, “What happens if I throw up in my helmet?”

The best answer of the episode came from the Doctor in response to the question“Who the hell put you in charge?” The response: “I’m here to save lives. Anyone who doesn’t want me to, raise your hand now.”

The episode finally involved Nardole in the story, and got him off earth.

This was one of the more political episodes of the show. It was bad enough to find that the miners were charged for oxygen. They would also pump any excess oxygen out of the station to force the workers to have to purchase the oxygen from them. Making matters even worse, once the algorithms calculated that it was not cost effective to keep the workers alive, they were turned off and the suits took over. They continued to move, looking like space zombies.

A line from the Doctor when he figured out that the next set of people coming were not to rescue the workers, as that would not be cost effective, made this all work: “They’re not your rescuers. They’re your replacements. The end point of capitalism. The bottom line where human life has no value at all. We’re fighting an algorithm, a spreadsheet … like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits!”

Giving the two meanings to “fighting the suits” fit in so well with this episode.

The Doctor went on to explain that soon after humanity resorted things like selling oxygen capitalism came to an end. However, after this, “the human race makes a whole new mistake.”

The solution to the problem was simple but fit into the story. The Doctor began to bluff in saying, “The nice thing about life is however bad it gets, there’s always one option left – dying well.” He had no intention of actually dying, but he made it look like he would make it more expensive for the corporation, causing the suits to all stop.

Unfortunately this did not come without some costs. The sonic screwdriver was destroyed (once again). The Doctor gave Bill his helmet to keep her alive, and as a result became blind. As the Doctor put it,  “I’ve got no TARDIS, no sonic, about 10 minutes of oxygen left and now I’m blind. Can you imagine how unbearable I’m going to be when I pull this off?”

Many episodes this season turn something common into something deadly,  reminiscent of Blink. This week the warning was “don’t panic” as this will lead to breathing faster, using up more oxygen, and death. Next week in Extremis yet another common event, reading a book, might get you killed. The Doctor’s blindness might be what saves him. Is this just a temporary measure for next week’s episode, or is it part of a slow death leading to his regeneration later this season? From the preview, we also see the return of Missy.

There was a lot of news this week regarding final decisions on renewals, largely with shows which were thought to be on the bubble. The announced cancellations included Sleepy Hollow, Timeless, Blacklist: Redemption (with Blacklist renewed), Scandal, PowerlessFrequency, and No Tomorrow. Renewals included New Girl (for one final season), Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, iZombie, American Gods, Thirteen Reasons Why, and A Handmaid’s Tale.

Of the cancelled shows, the only two which I might miss are Sleepy Hollow and Timeless. Sleepy Hollow did recover this season, with its season finale working as either the series finale or as a stepping stone to a new season. Timeless got better as the season went on, and ended with a cliff hanger which did leave me wanting more. Fortunately NBC listened to protests from other fans who felt the same and reversed its decision, giving it ten episodes next spring or summer.

Considering the nature of the show, there is also speculation that time travel was utilized to bring back the show. However, we learned from The Flash that going back in time to change things does have consequences. Reversing the decision at NBC might lead to terrible consequences. Perhaps ER will return for another decade, or worse, Whitney or Sean Saves The World will return to the NBC lineup.

I have no idea how the two new CW shows, Frequency and No Tomorrow, were. I never gave them a chance as there were already more shows on than I had time for, but I know both shows did have their fans. The CW Network has at least released epilogues for both of these shows.

Both Thirteen Reasons Why and The Handmaid’s Tale have been renewed for a second season, adding to the series based upon books which are going on beyond where the book they were based upon ended. The third season of The Leftovers is showing how a series can be better in such a situation. The Handmaid’s Tale has been excellent through the fifth episode, leaving me quite trusting of the producers to continue the story. While based upon the book this season, the show so far is often made stronger when it goes beyond the book. The story feels more realistic and a possible extension of current trends by showing the flashbacks. Mentions of events in Canada and the European Union since I last mentioned the book have further added to this sense of reality.

Now that we have also had additional episodes beyond the first three which were released at once, I further appreciate how good a job they are doing at not only converting a book but presenting episodic television. While it is not necessarily bad, many streaming shows and shows based upon books are more like a multi-hour movie with arbitrary breaks every hour or so. In contrast, each episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, while part of the novel, do tell a separate story.

Sense8, which I have completed since last discussing this, is also stronger in its second season in better handling episodic television while also having a season-long arc. Highlights include a wedding, a shoot out, and a car chase, along with other things I won’t mention to avoid any spoilers.

The Last Man on Earth ended with a change in scenery necessitated by a nearby nuclear power plant being on the verge of a melt down. We also found out that Kristen Wiig’s character, who had appeared in a single episode, has survived. Den of Geek spoke with the writers:

DEN OF GEEK: I sort of like the idea that this finale is all about safety. Did you know that you’d be ending up at this nuclear fallout angle when the season began? There are light references to it throughout the year.

KIRA KALUSH: We were always pretty set on doing a nuclear fallout this season. For a while we thought it could be our mid-season finale. We even toyed around with it being the reason the group leaves Malibu, but ultimately, here it landed, and I think it was the right move.

ANDY BOBROW: When we went in to discuss the season with the network, we pitched this ending, kind of as a “this is something we’re thinking about, not married to it yet.” It certainly scared them financially, since we basically guaranteed we will have to build all new sets next year. So we were mindful of that, what it would cost. And we kept thinking, well, maybe some better idea will come along. As the year progressed, we really couldn’t think of anything stronger. We realize we’re writing ourselves into a corner, but it just seemed so Last Man, I think we had to go for it.

Is that perhaps the direction that the show is moving in?  Where the gang is just trying to avoid nuclear fallout. It’s nice that this material also brings everything back full circle in terms of Pat.

KIRA KALUSH: You can never really say where the show is going until we’re there, but I don’t think the group will be on the run for too long. It’s likely that this is just a way for them to move locations and get out of their element. But who knows? R.I.P. Pat Brown. He was a fantastic misunderstood conspiracy theorist with anger problems, but it was his time to go.

ANDY BOBROW: The thought of doing a whole season on the run is very enticing, but might be cost prohibitive. Just in terms of the production of the show, our model is we build a set and shoot three days on set and two days on location per episode. Location shooting is more expensive, but if there’s a way to do more of it and stay on budget, I’m all for it…

The season seems to end with the only things that are clear being that the gang is on a boat and that Kristen Wiig’s Pamela is along for the ride. Did you ever think of her appearance almost just functioning as like a short film about the end of the world, or was the plan always to circle back to her?

KIRA KALUSH: I actually have a good answer to this one. There was a pitch that always made me laugh, but it’s a giant “fuck you” to the audience. The Wiig episode is so good and so exciting and we knew our fans would be psyched, waiting to see when and how she joins the group. So the pitch was this: In the time jump at Melissa and Todd’s wedding, Tandy is rambling on about everything they’ve been through together as a group. He points to memorials of Phil, Gordon, Lewis, and finally, Pamela — revealing that Pamela met up with the group, lived with them and died, all within those six months. I don’t think we ever would have done it, but it still cracks me up.

ANDY BOBROW: Right right. I mentioned this in the time jump questions, because at one point, rather than Pamela it was going to be Steve Buscemi. Either Steve Buscemi as himself, or just a character Tandy mentions, who is represented by a driver’s license or passport on a tombstone, and you can see it’s Steve Buscemi.

But getting back to Pamela, Will’s initial discussion with Kristen was we’ll take you for as few or as many episodes as you want. So our thought was if we could only have her for one episode, it would be a thing where she interacts with them more, i.e. she shows up at the beginning and leaves them at the end. Since she was game for more than one, we decided this was the way to go. Do a standalone with her, and then have her show up at the end. There were pitches that would have used more of her in the finale, but her availability was limited. She only had a day. As for season four, well once again, we’ll take as much Kristen as we can get.

The first episode of The Last Man on Earth with Kristen Wiig showed the death of the Pence administration, presumably after Trump was gone. While the novel was written in the Reagan era, The Handmaid’s Tale as a television show has been seen as a cautionary tale about Donald Trump.

In another commentary on politics, during the past week we learned that hail-hydra.com redirected to the official White House web site. Bleeding Cool tracked down and interviewed the person responsible for this:

Bleeding Cool: What made you decide to do this? Did you own the domain before you decided to do the redirect or did you buy a while ago? What made you decide to buy it?

Hail-Hydra Owner: I bought the domain in April of 2014. I’d remembered the Senator played by Garry Shandling whispering “Hail Hydra!” in Iron Man 2, then is arrested at the end of Captain America: Winter’s Soldier for being a member of Hydra. His character reminded me of many GOP senators (probably a personal bias there) so I looked to see if I could come up with a good domain to redirect at Republicans. hail-hydra.com was the second I tried. Originally I pointed it at Ted Cruz‘s presidential campaign, then Trump’s campaign and finally (and depressingly) at his White House web page…

Bleeding Cool: What about the current redirect? Was it something you changed recently or was it when he was inaugurated in January? Or was this a reaction to something specific that President Trump did?

Hail-Hydra Owner: I changed it the day of the inauguration. It was the first time I knew I was going to change it and when. All the other times I’d just remembered I owned it and would pick a target based on news at the time, and then tweet a few people to try and get it to go viral. I’m not even sure what set it off this time around.

Bleeding Cool: Finally, how do you want people to react to what you’ve done here? Did you get the type of reaction that you wanted or did you want something more? Less?

Hail-Hydra Owner: Since this seems to be getting some news I’ve kept an eye on twitter reactions, most people are reacting the way I would hope. It’s funny, it’s political satire. Do I think Republicans are literal Nazis? No. Do I think they’re over-authoritarian with a complete disregard for the majority of people in the country that can’t donate a million dollars to them? Yes. Several articles say they contacted the White House for comment, I hope I don’t end up on a terror list in retaliation.

For those who prefer their artistic opposition to Donald Trump to come from music, The Hill reports:

Todd Rundgren, a singer and songwriter, warned fans not to attend his concerts if they are Donald Trump supporters, saying “buyer beware.”

“If I had the power, I’d say: If you’re a Trump supporter, don’t come to my show, because you won’t have a good time,” Rundgren said in a Variety interview released Sunday.

Rundgren collaborated with an array of artists for his new album “White Night,” including Donald Fagen. Together, Fagen and Rundgren produced an anti-Trump song called “Man in the Tin Foil Hat.”

Lyrics include: “He’s coming down the escalator with a girl from east of here, because the man in the tin foil hat is leading like a teenage girl. He put’s the ‘pluto’ in plutocrat, he hasn’t got time for losers, unless they do what he demands.”

Rundgren said his shows will contain many insulting jokes about the Republican president, warning that it could be a turnoff for the president’s supporters

“I guarantee that in this show, if you’re a Trump supporter, you will likely be offended. Let the buyer beware! I mean, if you can’t take a joke, or you can’t admit that you’ve made a mistake, you don’t belong with the rest of us,” he said with a laugh, according to the interview.

Rundgren also said he also questions the values of Trump supporters.

“And also, I don’t understand your frickin’ values. Because I’m not singing about that. If you don’t understand that basic thing, you’re just fooling yourself,” he added.

Dutch Documentary Looks At Donald Trump’s Ties To The Russian Mafia

While we need the results of a full investigation to be certain, I have suspected that investigating Trump and Russia from the perspective of influencing the election results is a simplistic explanation. It is also simplistic to blame Russia for Clinton’s loss and ignore both how weak a candidate she was and how poorly the campaign was run. Certainly Russia meddled in our election, as it has been doing for decades, and we have been doing in other countries, but I suspect that there are other reasons for all the suspicious behavior involving Russia and members of the Trump administration. A Dutch television report on Trump’s ties to Russian mobsters might provide the explanation for such behavior, along with Trump’s unwillingness to release  his tax returns.

The video is available on You Tube:

Alternet provides some background:

Donald Trump’s business partners have included Russian oligarchs and convicted mobsters, which could make the president guilty of criminal racketeering charges.

That’s one of the eyebrow-raising takeaways from a 45-minute Dutch documentary that aired last week, titled The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump, Part 1: The Russians. The first installment of the investigative reporting series, produced by Zembla, does what no American TV network has yet dared to do—take a deep look at the organized crime links and corrupt international business strategies used by Trump and his partners in his properties…

The documentary shows how Trump not only helped hide the identity of his mobster business partner, prompting an ongoing lawsuit accusing Trump of criminal racketeering, but also how Trump used that internal company crisis to demand more money. It goes on to show how Russian oligarchs saw Trump’s properties as a way to get their money out of Russia, and describes the international financial networks that are akin to a pyramid scheme for money laundering. It also notes how the law firm of Trump’s political adviser, former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani, helped set up a money-laundering account in the Netherlands used by Bayrock.

 

The following description is given for the video:

Although still in its early days, Donald Trump’s presidency is coming under fire. The Russians are alleged to be in possession of sensitive information about Trump. And that exposes Trump to blackmail. Fake news, tweets Trump: “I have nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing!” Trump swears he has no ties with the Russians. But is that actually the case?

For months, the FBI have been investigating Russian interference in the American presidential elections. ZEMBLA is investigating another explosive dossier concerning Trump’s involvement with the Russians: Trump’s business and personal ties to oligarchs from the former Soviet Union. Powerful billionaires suspected of money laundering and fraud, and of having contacts in Moscow and with the mafia. What do these relationships say about Trump and why does he deny them? How compromising are these dubious business relationships for the 45th president of the United States? And are there connections with the Netherlands? ZEMBLA meets with one of Trump’s controversial cronies and speaks with a former CIA agent, fraud investigators, attorneys, and an American senator among others.

Trump’s ties to the Russia mob were also verified by PolitiFact last year, but they also noted that “these connections were not atypical in the real estate and casino businesses in the 1980s.”

A Failed Administration: Both President And Attorney General May Have Committed Impeachable Offenses

With Donald Trump facing considerable criticism for the firing of James Comey (along with multiple other faults), we must also keep in mind that there are other terrible people in  his administration. Among them is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Hill reports that Democrats are questioning his role in the firing of Comey:

The top Democrats on two powerful House committees are calling for a report on possible disciplinary actions against Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his role in FBI Director James Comey’s firing.

The Democrats say Sessions may have violated his pledge to recuse himself from any investigations involving Russia’s effort to influence U.S. elections.

In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) pressed the Justice Department to explain Sessions’ role in President Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

“Federal law sets forth as a penalty for recusal violations removal from office, and the Attorney General’s violation in this case appears to be particularly grave,” the letter reads.

This criticism isn’t limited to Democrats. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin has a similar opinion:

Refusing to recuse oneself from a conflict or breaking the promise to recuse from a conflict is a serious breach of legal ethics. “Someone could file a bar complaint, and/or one with DOJ’s office of professional responsibility, if Sessions had a conflict of interest when it came to the firing decision, and  if he did not follow the ethics rules, including those of DOJ by acting when he had a conflict of interest,” legal ethics expert Norman Eisen tells me. “The fact that he broke his recusal commitment, if he did, would be relevant context, and violating an agreement can sometimes in itself be an ethics violation.” In sum, Sessions has risked his law license, whether he realized it or not. He needs to testify immediately under oath; if there is no satisfactory explanation, he must resign. The alternative could be impeachment proceedings.

Yes, impeachment. The Attorney General appears to have committed grounds for impeachment. In addition, Donald Trump firing Jame Comey because he refused to pledge loyalty to him may be worse than firing him to obstruct the Russia investigation. Either way, it is grounds for impeachment, not that we can count on the Republicans to act on this.

But back to Jeff Sessions, he is also showing that he is a problem with regards to policy, seeking to escalate the failed drug war by increasing sentences for violations of current drug laws. Former Attorney General Eric Holder responded by calling Sessions’s policy “dumb on crime.”

“It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”

In the memo, Sessions told federal prosecutors to “pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” that by definition “carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimums.”

Holder also said, “Abandoning this evidence-based progress and turning back the clock to discredited, emotionally motivated, ideological policy also threatens the financial stability of the federal criminal justice system.”

Clinton’s Firing Of FBI Director Was Not Comparable To Trump Firing Comey

I have criticized much in Bill Clinton’s conservative record, and certainly am not defending Clinton out of any partisan loyalty, but the Republican defense of Trump’s firing of James Comey because Bill Clinton fired an FBI director does not hold up. Clinton acted in a bipartisan manner, basing his actions on an investigation which started under George H. W. Bush. He fired William Sessions over financial improprieties, not because the FBI director was investigating his administration. When the FBI director he appointed began to investigate him, perhaps Clinton wished he could fire him, but he did not.

It remains unprecedented for a president to fire an FBI director while his administration was under investigation, violating principles of justice and of the independence of the FBI.

Vox looks at Bill Clinton’s actions in far greater detail. I discussed the firing of James Comey, including several other opinions, here and here.

Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

The firing of James Comey by Donald Trump is yet another example of Donald Trump varying from Democratic norms. It is a disturbing case of a president working to destroy our system of checks and balances, demanding a pledge of loyalty from someone in a position designed to be independent of such political pressure.  I posted several opinions on this act yesterday, often from the perspective of comparing Trump’s actions to Richard Nixon’s acts to obstruct justice during the Watergate investigation.

There are even more ominous parallels which can be drawn. Donald Trump has already expressed a disturbing degree of admiration for dictators.  Vox looked at the firing of James Comey from the perspective of people who have studies the rise of authoritarian leaders. Some excerpts:

“Trump has talked like a would-be authoritarian since day one. … This is the first clear warning sign that he’s attempting to [act like one].”

Those are the words not of a Democratic political operative or a fringe liberal Trump critic, but of Yascha Mounk, a respected scholar of democracy at Harvard, reacting to Preisdent Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey…

To people who study the rise of authoritarian leaders, just those facts alone are terrifying.

“This is very common — in semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes,” Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the University of Denver, tells me. “Purges, summary firings, imprisonment: These are all things that authoritarian leaders do when they attempt to rid themselves of rivals within government.”

Comey’s firing, these political scientists say, fits a pattern that’s very common in democracies that collapse into authoritarianism in the modern era. It’s not that the elected leaders in these countries set out to become an authoritarian, per se. It’s that they care about their own power and security above all else, and do things to protect their own position that have the effect of removing democratic constraints on their power.

One of the first steps in this pattern is weakening independent sources of power that can check the executive’s actions. Like, say, the director of your domestic security service who just happens to be investigating your administration’s foreign ties.

Trump “has what you might think of as autocratic tendencies, which were probably perfectly normal in the business world but are very problematic in the political world,” says Sheri Berman, a professor at Barnard College. “What he would like to do is eliminate all sources of opposition to him — indeed, even sources of criticism of him — and he’s willing to do pretty much anything to do that.”

When most people think about the collapse of democracy, they think about the Nazis, or maybe a military coup. In both cases, a leader comes to power with the explicit goal of taking a democratic system and replacing it with an authoritarian one. They then immediately pass laws banning dissent and use force to shut down all sources of political opposition.

That actually doesn’t happen very much anymore. Outright fascist movements were mostly discredited after World War II, and data on military coups shows a clear decline in their frequency since a peak in the 1960s.

But in the past 20 years or so, we’ve started to see a new kind of creeping authoritarianism emerge in places around the world — something that, in the wake of Trump’s recent actions, now has ominous parallels to the United States.

Leaders in these kinds of countries — Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela — don’t come into power and immediately dissolve the legislature and get rid of elections. What they do is corrupt those institutions, slowly and over time, rendering legislatures powerless and elections not truly competitive.

“It looks the same from the outside — there’s elections, there’s a judiciary, there’s a bureaucracy,” Berman says. “But the sort of power centers within those things, the people who populate them, have changed dramatically, so that … the substance of true democratic competition, true power competition, no longer exists.”

The vital first step toward this kind of “soft authoritarianism” is unified control over every key part of government. That starts with personnel: You can’t corrupt a judiciary staffed with impartial judges, or suborn election officials who are truly committed to running free and fair contests.

Instead, you need to fire people at key pressure points and replace them with cronies, or weaken the institution’s formal abilities to the point where it can’t really provide effective oversight…

There’s a reason FBI directors don’t get fired. The bureau handles, among many other things, criminal investigations involving the executive branch, so its leader needs to be as nonpartisan and clear of influence as possible. That’s why FBI directors have 10-year terms and are generally asked to stay on by new administrations, even if the director was appointed under a president of the opposing party…

“I don’t think we’ve crossed any bright lines distinguishing authoritarian systems from democratic ones,” Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist who studies the rise and fall of democracies, tells me.

The issue, instead, is the precedent that this sets for the Trump administration. If Trump’s firing of the man who’s investigating him successfully neuters the FBI and slows down its investigation of the Trump-Russia ties, that’s one less check on his power going forward. If he gets a clear message that the checks on him when he grabs for power are pliable, how far will he end up pushing the envelope?

The article also points out that Democratic institutions in this country are much stronger than in other countries mentioned which have fallen into authoritarianism, although it is of concern that many Republicans in Congress appear willing to go a long with Trump for partisan gain. The degree of protest over Trump’s actions around the country since his inauguration is also a hopeful sign.

Brian Beutler also addressed this topic:

The firing of James Comey has restarted a conversation about the vulnerability of public institutions in America that had gone largely dormant.

Before Tuesday, one of the most remarkable things about Donald Trump’s presidency was how sturdy it had shown competitor institutions, and the larger system of checks and balances, to be. Courts have beat back his power grabs; media, for all its flaws, has been more skeptical of the claims and actions of the Trump administration than of any administration in recent history. Civil society organizations have flourished, and a vital protest movement has both slowed the GOP legislative agenda, and forced some Republicans in Congress to expect a measure of accountability from the White House.

For those who were relieved by this, Comey’s firing should be a frightful awakening from complacency.

The immediate threat of the Trump presidency wasn’t that he would sap the public of its civic-mindedness, or intimidate judges and reporters into submission with his tweets. It was to the institutions under his control—the ones within the executive branch—and particularly those with meaningful independence from political actors in the White House. Because the path to neutralizing or coopting external institutions runs through corrupting internal ones…

If Trump gets away with firing Comey—if Republicans let him nominate any director he wants; if they resist the pressure to insist on appointing a special prosecutor, or to convene an investigative body; if they squash inquiries into the firing itself—he will read it as permission to run amok. As The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein wrote, Trump’s “appetite for shattering democratic constraints is only likely to grow.”

Absent consequences, Trump will rightly feel liberated to appoint whomever he wants to run the IRS when the current commissioner’s term expires later this year. More alarmingly, he will know that he can get away with ordering a crackdown on voting rights or investigations of his political enemies. And, perversely, these are the reasons he is more likely to prevail. How many Republicans who entered the devil’s bargain with Trump for policy victories wouldn’t expand the terms to encompass electoral ones? Friends of Trump win elections and everyone else is at his mercy. Trump was reportedly upset that Comey did not pledge loyalty to him, and was charging ahead with an investigation that Trump finds threatening. When loyalty and corruption become job qualifications for political appointees, the president will have the power he needs to stifle protest leaders, judges, the free press, and political rivals. He won’t even have to make threats.

In Abusing Executive Powers By Firing Comey, Donald Trump Has Created A Cancer On His Presidency

Donald Trump, in abusing executive powers with the firing of James Comey, has created a cancer on the presidency the likes of which has not been seen since Watergate. While the president can legally fire the FBI Director, firing James Comey in this manner is unprecedented, violating the intent of the law to have an independent director for the FBI. Such independence does not fit in with Donald Trump’s personality. Few, if anyone believe his claim that firing Comey had anything to do with how he handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton. Trump is believed to have been waiting for a reason to fire Comey, between Comey contradicting Trump’s claim that Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on him, and his investigation of the relationship between members of his staff and Russia.

Partisan differences should be put aside in defending the principle of an independent Director of the FBI. It would have been an abuse of powers if Hillary Clinton had been elected and fired Comey, and it is an abuse of powers that Donald Trump has now done so. The obvious comparisons to Richard Nixon firing Archibald Cox , which were previously raised when Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying him on his unconstitutional immigration ban, have been raised again.

Dan Rather, who is very familiar with the abuses of power during Watergate, wrote this about Trump firing James Comey:

Future generations may mark today as one of the truly dark days in American history, a history that may soon take an even more ominous turn.

President Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey is a matter that should deeply concern every American, regardless of party, partisan politics or ideological leanings.

The independence of our law enforcement is at the bedrock of our democracy. That independance, already grievously shaken under the brief tenure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is now shattered by uncertainty.

The firing of an FBI Director is always a very serious matter in normal times. But these times aren’t normal. Far from it. The Bureau is engaged in one of the most important and perilous investigations of this or any other presidency—the investigation of connections between the Trump election campaign and the Russian government.

The questions mount and the shadow grows darker. What were those connections? What did Mr. Trump know about them and when did he know it? How can the President explain the serious allegations against his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn? And what is President Trump hiding in this regard? It’s imperative that the nation—We The People—get answers to those questions. It will take time, but the process must start now.

A politicized FBI is the last thing we need as we struggle through the maze of lies, concealment and ever-deepening mysteries. The last time a President fired prosecutors who were investigating him was Richard Nixon during the widespread criminal conspiracy known for short as “Watergate.” We all know how that turned out. In real ways, this potential scandal and coverup are much graver. We are talking about the very security of the United States and the sanctity of our republic.

Thomas Paine famously wrote in 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. ”

I see this as having the potential for a similar reflection point in our American story. If there is a cover up, if our nation is at the risk that has certainly been more than suggested, it is incumbent upon everyone who claims to love this nation to demand answers.

We need a special prosecutor. We need an independent investigation. There is, obviously, much we don’t know about what has just happened, why it happened and why now. Just as obviously there is much more, so much more that we need know. We need to damn the lies and expose the truth.

I, and many others, felt a special prosecutor was necessary even before yesterday, not trusting the independence of any investigation from the Trump Justice Department. James Comey, regardless of what one thinks of  him, was independent and nonpartisan, and may have been our last shot of a fair investigation. Of course Congress should also continue their investigations, but in a situation such as this we cannot risk political distractions in Congress, and the subpoena power of a Special Prosecutor is necessary.

Others have presented arguments similar to that of Dan Rather. John Cassidy also compared this to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre:

It amounts to a premeditated and terrifying attack on the American system of government. Quite possibly, it will usher in a constitutional crisis. Even if it doesn’t, it represents the most unnerving turn yet in what is a uniquely unnerving Presidency.

Things like this are not supposed to happen in a liberal democracy, especially in one that takes pride, as the United States does, in safeguards put in place against the arbitrary exercise of power. The F.B.I. is meant to be an independent agency, above and beyond partisan politics and personal grudges. (That is why its directors are appointed for ten-year terms.) The President is supposed to respect this independence, especially when it comes to matters in which he has, or could have, a personal interest.

There is little in American history that compares to, or justifies, what Trump has now done. In recent times, the only possible precedent is the Saturday Night Massacre, of October 20, 1973, when Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox. Arguably, Trump’s Tuesday Afternoon Massacre was even more disturbing. In 1973, the two top law-enforcement officials in the land—the Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, refused to carry out Nixon’s dictatorial order to terminate Cox. It was left to the wretched Robert Bork, who was then the Solicitor General, to do the deed.

Jonathan Chait described this as a progression of what we have already seen from Trump:

Trump has demonstrated his inability to tolerate any authority that lies beyond his control. He disputes the right of courts to review and overturn his actions; he regards his power as a vehicle for enriching himself and his family, and recognizes no public right to know even the contours of his self-interest. It is fitting that Trump sent his personal bodyguard to hand-deliver Comey’s letter of termination. He sees the federal government as a whole as personally subordinate to himself, exactly like his business. He would no more tolerate independent legal enforcement investigating his potential misdeeds than he would allow his own private security detail to dig up dirt on him.

There is no longer any serious possibility that he will respect the norms of conduct governing his office. The only questions are how far his fellow Republicans, who control all the power in Washington, will let him go before they stop him, or whether the midterm elections will give Democrats the chance.

We do no know the degree to which firing Comey was motivated solely by intolerance of any review of his actions, as opposed to a desire to cover up the actions of himself or associates. Firing Comey when he was not only leading the Russia inquiry involving members of the Trump administration but requesting increased funding does create a strong presumption of guilt. While there is currently no evidence of any collusion between Donald Trump himself and Russians who allegedly tampered with the presidential election, the behavior of members of  his staff do suggest that they, if not Trump himself, do have something to hide.

Trump’s decision to fire Comey is very likely to backfire against him, increasing questions regarding what Trump knew about the actions of his staffers. The immediate effect on the investigation is unknown, even to those within the FBI, but this is not likely to go away. As John Harwood wrote, Trump’s firing of Comey endangers his entire presidency. Such an abuse of power could ultimately lead to impeachment if Trump is found to have been acting to obstruct justice by firing James Comey.

Update: Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

Jimmy Carter Reveals He Voted For Bernie Sanders In The Georgia Primary

During a discussion between Jimmy Carter and Bernie Sanders at the Carter Center in Atlanta Carter said, referring to Sanders,  “Can y’all see why I voted for him?”

While Carter didn’t make this pubic previously, it does not come as a surprise. As The Washington Post reports:

Jimmy Carter and the Clintons have long had a frosty relationship. In 1992, he declined to endorse Bill Clinton, saying “people are looking for somebody who is honest and tells the truth.”

Four years later — when he was the only living Democratic ex-president — he skipped the Democratic National Convention entirely. And when Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2008, Carter endorsed Barack Obama, saying at the time she needed to “give it up.”

Carter had predicted that Clinton would win the nomination in July 2015 saying, “There won’t be any problem with Hillary getting the nomination because money dominates, and she has an inside track to the massive amounts that are going to pour into the Democratic Party side.”

I wonder if this is why Carter didn’t make his support for Sanders public. It probably would not have changed the outcome, especially considering how heavily the nomination battle was rigged in Clinton’s favor, but it is possible such a high profile endorsement would have helped. The endorsement of Barack Obama by Ted and Caroline Kennedy, while again not the decisive factor, did help Obama defeat Clinton in 2008. In endorsing Obama, Ted Kennedy had criticized Clinton in saying, “With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion.”

Of course Clinton did win the nomination as Carter predicted, with Clinton’s character being one of the factors which led to her loss and the election of Donald Trump. Perhaps if more Democrats had spoken out against Clinton the Democrats might have wound up with a more suitable candidate and prevented the election of Trump.

Carter and Sanders spoke about the rise of authoritarianism at the event:

Asked by the moderator about the rise of authoritarian politics in the United States and elsewhere, both the Vermont senator and former president agreed on a single root cause: political and economic inequality.

“I think the root of it is something that I haven’t heard discussed much,” Carter replied. “I believe the root of the downturn in human rights preceded 2016, it began earlier than that, and I think the reason was disparity in income which has been translated into the average person, you know good, decent, hard-working middle class people feeling that they are getting cheated by the government and by society and they don’t get the same element of health care, they don’t get the same quality education, they don’t get the same political rights.”

“I agree with everything that President Carter said,” Sanders replied.

“Look, here is the situation. You got all over this country tens of millions of people who are extremely angry and they are disappointed. Now we all know as a result of technology workers are producing more today than they did 20 or 30 years ago. Yet despite that you’re seeing people work not 40 hours a week, they’re working 50 or 60 hours a week. Their wages are actually going down!”

37 Out Of 37 Economists Now Agree That Donald Trump’s Economic Plan Is Pure Fantasy

Republicans will say anything to cut their own taxes. Donald Trump has repeated common conservative claims that tax cuts will pay for themselves to justify his planned tax cut for billionaires such as himself. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business had a survey of economists last week in which 35 out of 37 disagreed with Trump’ s tax plan. It now turns out that the two economists who appeared to support Trump’s tax plan had misread the question. Wonkblog reports:

“I screwed up on that one,” said one of those two economists, Kenneth Judd, when asked about his response to Trump’s tax claim. “I meant to say that this is a horrible idea, a bad idea — no chance in hell.”

The other respondent who said that Trump’s tax cuts would pay for themselves was Bengt Holmström of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who confirmed in an email to The Washington Post that he had also misread the question…

In total, there is not one economist in the Chicago poll who believes that Trump’s cuts would pay for themselves, suggesting his administration might not be able to deliver on a crucial promise.

Above graph from The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget.