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How can we respect the presidency, when Donald Trump clearly doesn’t?

When President Harry S. Truman threatened in December 1950 to punch out a Washington Post music critic who had panned his daughter’s singing, he wrote the letter in his own hand, affixed his own postage stamp, and did not make it public. Neither did the Post.

But America knew all about it once it had leaked to the Washington News.

“It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful,” the president wrote …”Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens, you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

Public reaction was divided. Some people, Republicans especially, said that what Truman did was terrible. Others, fathers especially, applauded him for sticking up for his daughter.

Actually, the critic, Paul Hume, was a young man, 34, only three years into what became a long and acclaimed career at the Post. When they finally did meet, years later at Truman’s home in Independence, Missouri, they played the piano together.

Truman’s outburst comes to mind with the news of the very public way in which Donald Trump and his shrill White House shill, Kellyanne Conway, reacted to news of a department store chain, Nordstrom, dropping Ivanka Trump‘s branded merchandise.

The so-called president used his personal and White House Twitter accounts to denounce the company for treating his daughter “unfairly.” Conway was on Fox “News” the next day urging people to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.

“I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today everybody, you can find it online,” Conway said.

That goes way, way beyond what Truman did, and is far, far worse. Truman involved public resources only to the extent that he was living in the White House when he wrote the letter, and he did not pitch his hissy fit in public. Trump and Conway are using their bully pulpit—a term that they obviously misunderstand—to promote his daughter’s private business. And although Trump as president is exempt from ethics rules that prohibit that, Conway clearly is not.

Those rules—with which Conway, as a lawyer, ought to be familiar–forbid any executive branch employee from using the office “for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relations, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”

At least one formal complaint has already been lodged with the Office of Government Ethics.

And here’s what the chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush, Richard W. Painter, said about it, quoted in The New York Times:

“The events of the past week demonstrate that there is no intent on the part of the president, his family, or the White House staff to make meaningful distinctions between his official capacity as president and the Trump family business.”

Trump’s staff, he noted, “instead of trying to push him back on this, they’re jumping in this and shilling for the businesses alongside him.”

Can we count on Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, to law down the law to Trump?

Perhaps when pigs are piloting 747s.

There are doubtlessly a lot of people who aren’t bothered by any of this. They’re those who either voted for the new regime, knowing and liking what it would be, or weren’t concerned enough to go and vote. They seem to include the Republicans running the Senate, which has yet to deny Trump anything.

But for the rest of us, which I think is a majority, this is the question:

How can we be expected to respect the office of president when its occupant doesn’t respect it himself?

The regime’s abuse of public office for private gain is far from the worst of it. Trump’s relentless attacks on the media and, now, the judiciary are the worst of it.

None of his predecessors, not even Richard Nixon, were so persistently thin-skinned, petulant, and heedless of the stature the presidency needs and deserves. Trump’s bombastic, childish, vainglorious outbursts are diminishing not only him, but the office.

If it were just about him being a crybaby, that would be bad enough.

But what he is doing—with calculation and malice, and no doubt with Steven Bannon’s encouragement—is to poison the public’s mind against the only two nonpartisan institutions, the courts and the media, that are willing and able to stand in the way of his abuses of power and his incipient dictatorship.

As it happens, the war on the media is a monumental act of ingratitude. Trump wouldn’t be in the White House had television not fawned on his every act and outrage as a candidate, had the newspapers not contrived to put his picture on every Page 1, had the media been willing earlier to call him out on his falsehoods, and had it not given him, in effect, a free ride against Hillary Clinton by portraying her, falsely, as his equal in sleaze.

Trump understood, as they did not, that it did not matter what they said about him so long as they said it.

Now it matters. It matters a lot. The case for impeachment already exists, and it is building hour by hour, day by day.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

In unanimous ruling, U.S. appeals court refuses to reinstate Trump travel ban

A federal appeals court refused Thursday to reinstate President Donald Trump‘s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, dealing another legal setback to the new administration’s immigration policy.

In a unanimous decision, the panel of three judges from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to block a lower-court ruling that suspended the ban and allowed previously barred travelers to enter the U.S.

An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seems likely and would put the decision in the hands of a divided court that has a vacancy. Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, could not be confirmed in time to take part in any consideration of the ban.

Moments after the ruling was released, Trump tweeted, “SEE YOU IN COURT,” adding that “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

The appeals panel said the government presented no evidence to explain the urgent need for the executive order to take effect immediately. The judges noted compelling public interests on both sides.

“On the one hand, the public has a powerful interest in national security and in the ability of an elected president to enact policies. And on the other, the public also has an interest in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination.”

The court rejected the administration’s claim that it did not have the authority to review the president’s executive order.

“There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,” the court said.

While they did not rule on the actual merits of the states’ argument that the travel ban was intended to target Muslims, the judges rejected the government’s claim that the court should not consider statements by Trump or his advisers about wishing to enact such a ban. Considering those remarks, the judges said, falls within well-established legal precedent.

Last week, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban after Washington state and Minnesota sued. The ban temporarily suspended the nation’s refugee program and immigration from countries that have raised terrorism concerns.

Justice Department lawyers appealed to the 9th Circuit, arguing that the president has the constitutional power to restrict entry to the United States and that the courts cannot second-guess his determination that such a step was needed to prevent terrorism.

The states said Trump’s travel ban harmed individuals, businesses and universities. Citing Trump’s campaign promise to stop Muslims from entering the U.S., they said the ban unconstitutionally blocked entry to people based on religion.

The appeals court sided with the states on every issue save one: the argument that the lower court’s temporary restraining order could not be appealed. While under 9th Circuit precedent such orders are not typically reviewable, the panel ruled that due to the intense public interest at stake and the uncertainty of how long it would take to obtain a further ruling from the lower court, it was appropriate to consider the federal government’s appeal.

Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, said the “million-dollar question” is whether the Trump administration would appeal to the Supreme Court.

That could run the risk of having only eight justices to hear the case, which could produce a tie and leave the lower-court ruling in place.

“There’s a distinct risk in moving this too quickly,” Blackman said. “But we’re not in a normal time, and Donald Trump is very rash. He may trump, pardon the figure of speech, the normal rule.”

Both sides faced tough questioning during an hour of arguments Tuesday. The judges hammered away at the administration’s claim that the ban was motivated by terrorism fears, but they also challenged the states’ argument that it targeted Muslims.

“I have trouble understanding why we’re supposed to infer religious animus when, in fact, the vast majority of Muslims would not be affected,” Judge Richard Clifton, a George W. Bush nominee, asked an attorney representing Washington state and Minnesota.

Only 15 percent of the world’s Muslims are affected by the executive order, the judge said, citing his own calculations.

“Has the government pointed to any evidence connecting these countries to terrorism?” Judge Michelle T. Friedland, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, asked the Justice Department attorney.

After the ban was put on hold, the State Department quickly said people from the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — with valid visas could travel to the U.S. The decision led to tearful reunions at airports round the country.

The ban was set to expire in 90 days, meaning it could run its course before the Supreme Court would take up the issue. The administration also could change the order, including changing its scope or duration.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

 

Marco Rubio re-sharpens condemnation of Putin and any U.S.-Russia deals

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio continued his sharp attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday calling any potential grand deals “immoral” and “fantasy” while positioning himself to be in staunch opposition to any agreements President Donald Trump may want with Russia.

On Thursday, speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing entitled, “The United States, The Russian Federation and the Challenges Ahead,” Florida’s Republican senator condemned prospects of a grand deal between the Trump administration and Putin involving ISIS, sanctions over Russian hacking, and Ukraine, calling it “a really stupid deal” that would have no chance of forwarding American interests.

Rubio has long been a leading critic of Putin and has made no secret of his strong disagreement with Trump on any warmth Trump may have toward the Russian president, or any prospects for deals. For every tweet Trump has issued defending Putin, Rubio has called out human rights abuses by the Russian leader.

Last fall Rubio was one of the first and most ardent Republicans to disavow any damaging information being leaked about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton because Rubio was convinced by intelligence reports that the information came from Putin. And last month Rubio severely grilled Trump’s secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson over his views on Russia, demanding to know if Tillerson would call Putin a war criminal.

Still, Tillerson, who has long, direct business dealings with the Russian government, refused to do so, and Rubio voted to confirm his nomination anyway.

On Thursday Rubio resumed his position as one of the Senate’s most outspoken critic of Putin and any relationship he might have with Trump or Tillerson.

Rubio’s comments came in reference to a “grand bargain” that could ask Putin to fight ISIS in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Russia for its cyberattacks against the U.S. and annexation and occupation of Ukrainian territory.

“I think this whole notion of a grand bargain, where they are going to help us kill terrorists and fight ISIS in exchange for lifting sanctions, is a fantasy,” Rubio said in response to comment from two witnesses, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove, USAF (Ret), and Julianne Smith, senior fellow at the Center for New American Strategy.

He was not alone in his sharp condemnations of Russia and Putin. Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, a South Carolina Republican, and ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland also did so.

“For starters, I think it’s borderline immoral because it basically views the Ukraine situation as a bargaining chip to be used as part of a broader deal. In essence, an asset that we can give away in exchange for something broader, which I don’t think the Ukrainians are going to go for it to begin with and I don’t think there’s support for it in Ukraine,” Rubio continued. “But this talk about fighting against ISIS – that’s what Putin says he’s doing now. Obviously why would we have to cut a deal to get him to do what he claims to already be doing?

“First of all, you can’t pressure him because you die and if you try to there is no media. So we are going to try to cut a deal with a guy who thinks he’s winning, has no internal pressure, and wants us to give up everything in exchange for him doing what he claims to be doing anyway,” Rubio added. “So maybe I am a little harsh, but I think that’s a really stupid deal.

“What do you think?”

“Agreed,” Smith replied. “The grand bargain mythology is really getting, for lack of better word, laughable.”

“Senator, I agree,” said Breedlove.

 

Florida ‘crossover’ congressional districts give Democrats glimmer of hope in 2018

Democrats could be in for more election woes in 2018, according to a new post from political blog Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

In the post, author Kyle Kondik gives a rundown of the 2016 cycle’s “crossover” congressional seats – districts that voted for one party on the congressional level, and another for president.

There were 26 such seats in the 2012 cycle, and 2016 saw an increase to 35.

A dozen of the crossover seats sent a Democrat to Congress and backed Republican Donald Trump for president, while the remainder, including Florida’s 26th and 27th Congressional Districts, voted a Republican into Congress while backing Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Despite the jump in crossover seats, Kondik writes that the Clinton versus Trump election may not be an “accurate gauge” of these seats true partisan leans, and says most of the districts are “more competitive on paper than in practice.”

On the whole, the crossover seats picked up by Democrats had a much narrower vote than the seats picked up by Republicans, and one Democrat, Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, didn’t even face a major party opponent.

When it comes to Florida’s two crossover seats, CD 26 Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo had the benefit of running against “scandal-tarred” former Rep. Joe Garcia, while and CD 27 Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen consistently polled ahead of Trump throughout the election cycle.

Kondik called Ros-Lehtinen one of the GOP’s “most skilled incumbents” and noted that she is the incumbent in the most Democratic-leaning seat any Republican holds, which bodes well for the Republican Party.

Kondik also said the GOP has a much firmer grasp on their Congressional seats than Democrats did in 2010, when Republicans won the midterm election by a landslide. Democrats lost 48 House seats, and their majority, in that cycle.

“Republicans today are only about half as overextended, and it’s an open question as to whether Democrats can legitimately contend for many of these Clinton-Republican seats,” Kondik said.

Donald Trump’s assertions echo site filled with tales of dark plots

President Donald Trump‘s assertion that the media often fails to cover terrorist attacks is false, but he’s hardly alone in making the claim. The statement is just the latest by Trump to echo a website known for trafficking in dubious allegations of plots and cover-ups.

“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that,” Trump said in a speech to military commanders at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base Monday.

That allegation was quickly disproven by numerous articles and broadcast clips detailing many of the very attacks the White House said had been overlooked or underreported. But versions of the same accusation have long gone unquestioned on Infowars, a website run by former public access cable host Alex Jones.

“Scandal: Mass media covers up terrorism to protect Islam,” a headline on Jones’ site alleged last July. “Fake news: Mainstream media whitewashes Islamic terror in Berlin,” proclaimed another, last December.

There’s no evidence that Trump gets his information from the site. But Trump voiced his admiration for Jones when the Infowars host interviewed him in December 2015.

“Your reputation is amazing,” then-candidate Trump told Jones. “I will not let you down. You will be very impressed, I hope, and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.”

Jones responded: “I hope you can uncripple America…”

Days after the election, Jones said that Trump had called him to “thank your viewers, thank your listeners for standing up for this republic.”

Jones, whose site has alleged that the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting was a hoax and that the September 11, 2001, terror attacks involved the federal government, is “America’s leading conspiracy theorist,” said Mark Fenster, author of “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in America.”

Such allegations have always had their believers, but those who traded in the tales mostly existed on the fringes, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor specializing in political communication.

“You weren’t watching it. I wasn’t watching it. Certainly our political leaders weren’t watching it,” she said. But the internet has given organs devoted to such claims more visibility and acceptability. Jones’ YouTube channel has nearly 2 million subscribers.

With Trump, the country has a leader who repeats such allegations as if they are plausible, said Fenster, a professor of law at the University of Florida. Political campaigns sometimes see candidates make vague references to dark forces, but for a sitting president to regularly engage in an “unfiltered set of allegations” is well beyond the norm, Fenster said.

Trump’s allegations about the media and those made on Infowars are just the latest to echo one another. Their shared assertions include:

— President Barack Obama may not have been born in the United States.

It’s hard to know where these allegations originated, but Infowars has been making the “birther” argument for years, alleging that documents showing Obama was born in Hawaii were fake.

“Shocking new birth certificate proof Obama born in Kenya?” asked an Infowars headline in August 2009. “New Obama birth certificate is a forgery,” said another, in April 2011.

The latter was shortly after Trump appeared on the television show “The View,” in March 2011, during which he falsely said that nobody from Obama’s childhood remembered him, and that he was obligated to prove his birth in Hawaii. “Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate?” Trump said. Last September, Trump said he accepted that Obama was born in the U.S.

— Thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11.

Trump was criticized after a November 2015 political rally in which he said that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in New Jersey when the World Trade Center came down. Questioned afterward, Trump insisted that he had seen the celebrations on television that day.

There’s no evidence such celebrations took place. But accounts of Muslims cheering terrorist attacks have been a repeated theme on Infowars.

“I live in Jersey and Trump is right: Muslims did celebrate on 9/11 in NJ… We saw it!” headlined an article in November 2015. Soon afterward, the site ran another story, “Exclusive: Radical U.S. Muslims celebrate, shoot fireworks after terrorist attack,” featuring an anonymous man who said that on the night of the Paris attacks he heard people celebrating four or five blocks away from his home outside Detroit.

— Millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.

Trump won the presidency with an Electoral College victory despite losing to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. He has said he was cheated out of a rightful win in the popular vote.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” the president said on Twitter on November 27. Numerous state elections officials, many of them Republicans, said there is no evidence of widespread voting fraud. But Trump ordered an investigation.

His allegations have been echoed, if not preceded, on Infowars, which alleged widespread voter fraud well before Election Day.

“Dead people and illegal immigrants are being registered to vote all over America,” the site headlined in early October.

In mid-November, Infowars posted a story headlined: “Report: Three million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens.” The story cited a Texas businessman, Greg Phillips, who claimed to have compiled a list of 3 million illegal votes by non-citizens. On January 27, Trump Tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing Phillips’ evidence. “We must do better!” Trump wrote.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump nominee decried criticism of judges, senators agree

President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that comments by his Supreme Court nominee criticizing his own attacks on the judiciary were “misrepresented,” even as Republican and Democratic lawmakers vouched for the veracity of the remarks.

Trump responded after private rebukes from Judge Neil Gorsuch, who said in meetings with lawmakers on Wednesday that the president’s comments about federal judges were “disheartening.”

Gorsuch, who was nominated by Trump last week to the nation’s highest court, made the comments in meetings with senators after Trump accused an appeals court panel considering his immigration and refugee executive order of being “so political.” Over the weekend, he labeled a judge who ruled on his executive order a “so-called judge” and referred to the ruling as “ridiculous.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut first relayed Gorsuch’s remarks on Wednesday following a meeting with him. Trump’s own confirmation team for Gorsuch later confirmed he had made the remarks.

But Trump said during a Thursday luncheon with senators that Blumenthal had misrepresented Gorsuch. “His comments were misrepresented. And what you should do is ask Senator Blumenthal about his Vietnam record that didn’t exist after years of saying it did,” he said.

Blumenthal, who served in the Marine Corps Reserves during Vietnam, apologized in 2010 for saying he had served in Vietnam.

The president made the comments while making the case for Gorsuch during a luncheon with 10 senators, including six of Blumenthal’s fellow Democrats.

Blumenthal, a former state attorney general, argued Thursday that Gorsuch would need to go further to publicly denounce Trump’s verbal assault on judicial independence.

“He needs to condemn Donald Trump’s attacks publicly and it needs to be much stronger, more explicit and direct than has been done so far,” Blumenthal said. “Unless it is done publicly in a clear condemnation, it will not establish his independence.”

Lawmakers from both parties quickly vouched for the veracity of the remarks the senator said Gorsuch made. GOP former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is helping with Gorsuch’s confirmation and was at the meeting, issued a statement saying Gorsuch made clear he was not referring to any specific case. But she said the nominee said he finds any criticism of a judge’s integrity and independence to be “disheartening and demoralizing.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., each confirmed that Gorsuch made the same comments to them.

Sasse told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” ”Frankly, he got pretty passionate about it.” He added that Gorsuch said any attack on the “‘brothers or sisters of the robe is an attack on all judges’.”

Fellow Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy came to Blumenthal’s defense Thursday, lashing out in a tweet directed at Trump: “Ha! As a prosecutor, Dick used to put guys like u in jail. Now, u use your position to mock vets, he uses his to make their lives better.”

Gorsuch’s comments came at the end of a week of meetings with members of the Senate, which is considering his nomination. His response may have been aimed at drawing a line of separation with the new president.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing the appeal of Trump’s executive order on immigration, which included a temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. In a hearing Tuesday, judges on the appeals court challenged the administration’s claim that the ban was motivated by terrorism fears, but they also questioned an attorney’s argument that it unconstitutionally targeted Muslims.

Trump told visiting police chiefs Wednesday that a portion of the immigration law gives him the power to enact the ban, calling it “beautifully written” and saying, “A bad high school student would understand this.”

“Courts seem to be so political and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what’s right,” Trump added. “And that has to do with the security of our country, which is so important.”

Since a lower-court judge blocked the order last week, Trump has assailed the decision, leading legal experts, Democrats and some Republicans to question whether his remarks might jeopardize the independence of the judiciary. Others have expressed fears he may be attempting to use political influence to sway the courts.

The president has repeatedly said foreigners are “pouring in” since the ban was put on hold and suggested that blocking the order would be dangerous for U.S. citizens.

On Wednesday he tweeted, “Big increase in traffic into our country from certain areas, while our people are far more vulnerable, as we wait for what should be EASY D!”

The administration has not provided any information to support his claims.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Charlie Crist wants Trump administration to look into voter suppression, disenfranchisement

Democrats skeptical about President Trump‘s repeated claims of voter fraud in last November’s election are now challenging him to add voter suppression and disenfranchisement to his administration’s pending investigation.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that Vice President Mike Pence will be in charge of a commission to probe what he believes was voter fraud in the election, despite a consensus among state officials, election experts — and both Democrats and Republicans — that voter fraud is extremely rare in the U.S.

“I’m going to set up a commission to be headed by Vice President Pence and we’re going to look at it very, very carefully,” Trump told O’Reilly in an interview taped Friday.

Seizing on that, Congressman Charlie Crist and 75 other Democrats are signing on to a letter originally penned by Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, Alabama’s Terri Sewell and Washington’s Derek Kilmer calling for an evaluation of state voter restrictions in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida. Those states bar individuals with past felony convictions from voting unless they are able to meet a burdensome clemency requirement. This law has led to the disenfranchisement of an estimated 1.5 million Floridians. 

“Unsubstantiated voter fraud claims are being used as cover to enact policies aimed at disenfranchising certain voters — something Floridians are all too familiar with,” said Crist, the first-term St. Petersburg Democrat. “Voter suppression efforts are an attack on our democracy. I will fight to protect access to the voting booth, including for nonviolent former felons. It’s a matter of civil rights and fundamental fairness.”

“Voter suppression efforts are an attack on our democracy,” Crist added. “I will fight to protect access to the voting booth, including for nonviolent former felons. It’s a matter of civil rights and fundamental fairness.”

Clearly upset about the fact that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes, Trump has steadfastly maintained that if it weren’t for voter fraud, he would have won the popular vote on November 8.

Despite that refrain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday show that while election fraud does occur, “there is no evidence that it occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election.”

Trump’s focus seems intent only on looking at what happened in November, so the Democrats call for a look into other voting issues will unlikely find a sympathetic audience. Nevertheless, it gives them the opportunity to get out their beliefs that there are sustained, legalized measures in place currently that intentionally suppress the vote.

Bill Nelson says any attempt to intimidate scientists ‘must be stopped’

In its first week in office, the Trump administration froze new scientific grants at the Environmental Protection Agency. That fueled concerns amongst some in the scientific community that it will be a rough four years in Washington.

Since the presidential election, more than 5,000 scientists, including many Nobel Prize winners, have signed an open letter urging President Trump and Congress to preserve scientific integrity. and there may be a major “March for Science” taking place on Earth Day in Washington later this spring.

Now, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and a number of his Democratic colleagues are weighing in, with a bill aimed at protecting government scientists from political interference.

“Few things are more un-American than censorship, especially when it would keep the public in the dark on vital public health and safety information, such as climate change and sea level rise,” said Nelson, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.  “Any attempt to intimidate or muzzle scientists must be stopped.”

Some of the provisions of the bill include:

  • Reaffirm the principle of open communication of scientific findings and prevent the suppression of scientific findings;
  • Ensure that scientists are allowed to communicate their findings with the public, press, and Congress;
  • Direct federal agencies to develop scientific integrity policies that include whistleblower protections; and,
  • Require scientific integrity policies to be posted online and given to all new hires

At least 27 other Democratic senators have signed on to the proposal.

Charlie Crist, Stephanie Murphy among top GOP targets for 2018

National Republicans, in an effort to boost their majority for the midterms, are targeting top House Democrats over the next two years – including Florida’s Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy.

POLITICO first reported on the list of 36 lawmakers coming from the National Republican Congressional Committee, with a particular focus on “blue-collar parts of the country where President Donald Trump is popular.”

Nearly one-third of the districts on the NRCC spreadsheet were taken by President Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton and won by a Democratic House member. Many of those are heavily blue-collar districts in the Midwest, a region Republicans believe see as winnable territory in the Trump era.

Florida’s 13th Congressional District, the district Democrat Crist won in November over incumbent Republican David Jolly, covers much of Pinellas County, which also elected Trump by a single percentage point.

POLITICO notes that there are two Democrats who were not key GOP targets in 2016: Reps. Dave Loebsack of Iowa and Ron Kind from Wisconsin. In 2016, Kind ran unopposed in the West Central Wisconsin district that Trump by more than four points.

“The success of our government depends on Republicans maintaining a strong majority in the House,” NRCC chair Steve Stivers said in a news release. “We owe the American people assurance that the agenda we were elected on — health care reform, a stronger national defense, and more good-paying jobs – is fulfilled.”

Democrats have issued their own list of 59 Republicans, released last month by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Democrats need a gain of 24 seats in 2018 to take back the House.

Darryl Paulson: We are not the same; the immoral equivalency of President Donald Trump

Voters who supported Donald Trump for president did so because they liked his free-speaking ideas, his attacks on the political establishment and his promise to “make America great again.”

President Trump has repeatedly stated that he would have won the popular vote for president if not for massive vote fraud. Does Trump believe that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin won his office in free and fair elections?  I hope Trump cannot be that deluded.

Republicans raised strong criticisms when President Barack Obama conducted what many Americans viewed as an “apology tour,” criticizing America for all its failures. Americans prefer their presidents defend the nation and its values, and not constantly criticize the nation for its shortcomings.

Obama told a European audience in 2009 that “there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.” He also criticized the notion of American exceptionalism that all presidents have defended.

When Jihadists burned a Jordanian pilot alive, then showing the video online as a recruiting tool, President Obama cautioned a national prayer breakfast audience not to “get on our high horse” and “remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

Many Americans were sickened and highly critical of Obama’s efforts to apologize for America’s shortcomings. Instead of defending American exceptionalism, the president seemed to delight in pointing out our deficiencies.

If President Obama’s “apology tour” disgusted many Americans and most Republicans, President Trump’s defense of Putin and the Soviets should strike a similar response from the electorate. To cast America and the Soviets as “one and the same” should thoroughly repulse Republicans, in particular. Republican Ronald Reagan must be retching.

President Trump turned in one of the most disgusting performances of any American president when he placed America and the Soviets on the same moral plateau. In a Fox News interview with Bill O’Reilly before the Super Bowl, Trump defended Putin against O’Reilly’s charge that “Putin’s a killer.”

Trump responded that “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” If Obama had made that statement, Republicans would be calling for his impeachment.

But, weak-kneed Republicans, who have no problem praising Trump, have a far more difficult time criticizing him when he becomes ill with “foot and mouth” disease. In their silence, supporters of Trump are neither doing him, or the nation, favors anyway.

Do you remember when one of our political leaders ordered the assassination of a political opponent?  Neither do I. But, Putin did that to Boris Nemtsov in 2015.

Anti-corruption reporter Sergei Magnitsky was killed in prison in 2009. Respected journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed the same year, and fellow reporter Yuri Schekechikhin was poisoned in 2013. The list of reporter and political opponent deaths is a long one.

The United States does not purposely bomb civilian neighborhoods as did the Soviets in Syria. The United States does not shoot down unarmed civilian aircraft as the Soviets did in the Ukraine. The United States does not invade independent neighboring countries as the Soviets did to the Ukraine.

Does President Trump really believe that murders of political opponents could happen in America?  I hope that Trump sees America in a different light than Putin and the Soviets.

Some Republicans have objected to President Trump’s abhorrent remarks about the moral equivalency between the Soviets and the United States. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who called Putin a “thug,” and rejected any attempt at moral equivalency.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted:  “When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP or vice versa?  We are not the same as #Putin.”

Republicans, in particular, and all Americans must support the president when he is right and must criticize him just as vigorously when he is wrong. To not do so will embolden both Trump and dictator Putin to continue a reckless path.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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