Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The executive state

We start today with David Rohde of The New Yorker writing about the level of proof that may be required to prosecute and, perhaps, even convict a former president.

In a more normal political environment, the Trump case could serve as a civics lesson, of sorts, for Americans. Despite Trump’s false claims, Reinhart has made public as much information as possible. The legal process that the case is following illustrates the procedures in American jurisprudence that help to insure that prosecutors proceed methodically and fairly. There are times, certainly, that these processes have abjectly failed, but Trump’s claims of planted evidence and “deep state” plots are false and dangerous. His conspiracy theories have unleashed a surge in threats of violence against F.B.I. officials. “It has gone way too far,” Tom O’Connor, a former head of the F.B.I. Agents Association, told me.

The investigation has raised expectations on the left of an event that Trump’s opponents have dreamed of for years: a criminal prosecution of the reality-television star turned President. Legal experts and former Justice Department officials told me that, based on the publicly known evidence, prosecuting Trump for mishandling classified documents appears simpler than bringing criminal charges against him for his role in the January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol. The Espionage Act and other statutes clearly state that mishandling classified information is a crime. David Petraeus, a C.I.A. director during the Obama Administration, and Sandy Berger, a national-security adviser during the Clinton Administration, were both investigated for improperly handling classified information and eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.

But Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University, cautioned me that a successful prosecution of Trump would likely need to demonstrate that his reckless handling of classified information caused actual harm—such as adversaries learning about American intelligence methods. Trump’s lawyers would argue that he was merely guilty of carelessness. Trump himself, of course, would make the case that he was being politically persecuted. “I don’t think a jury would convict him without proof of harm. I’m not sure I would,” Gillers said. “He’s a sloppy guy, and he couldn’t let go of the Oval Office, so he dumped a lot of stuff into boxes—souvenirs of his Presidency.”

Jacqueline Alemany, Isaac Arnsdorf, and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post report that the National and Archives Records Administration is yet one more government agency that’s become a target for Trump’s supporters.

The political firestorm has revealed the machinations of a central but overlooked part of American democracy — pulling back the curtain on record-keeping practices enshrined into law in 1978 following the Watergate scandal.

“Without the preservation of the records of government, and without access to them, you can’t have an informed population, and without an informed population, you lack one of the basic tools to preserving democracy,” said former acting archivist Trudy Peterson, who expressed concern that Trump’s rhetoric is damaging the public perception of the Archives. “The system won’t work if the neutrality of the National Archives is not protected.”

This portrait of an agency under siege by a former president and his supporters is based on interviews with 14 current and former Archives employees, Trump advisers, historians and others familiar with the escalating dispute, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions.

Indulge me for one more brief paragraph.

Boxes of documents even came with Trump on foreign travel, following him to hotel rooms around the world — including countries considered foreign adversaries of the United States.

Classified materials strewn all over the place even on Air Force One and in foreign hotels as Number 45 was on foreign trips. And granted, a certain amount of classified materials have to go on a foreign trip (i.e. advisors need their briefing books) classified materials were “on top of newspapers” along ww with other unclassified materials.

The scary part is who Number 45 may have showed those classified materials to.

In light of the scandal involving Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security Joseph Cuffari in connection with Jan. 6, Glenn Fine— a former inspector general himself— writes for The Atlantic about the importance of the IG position.

Inspectors general have been referred to as the most powerful public officials you’ve never heard of. In fact, IGs are a crucial part of our democratic system’s checks and balances: They expose government misconduct, fraud, and abuse, and they promote transparency in government operations. Over the years, IGs have uncovered wasteful expenditures in pandemic-relief funding, investigated alleged misconduct by the secretary of Veterans Affairs, and brought to light the FBI’s misuse of sensitive national-security letters.

Of course, IGs are not the only check on government—Congress, the courts, and the media also act as checks—but IGs are uniquely placed inside federal agencies, with unfettered access to all agency officials and records. They have the independent authority to investigate, audit, and report on the full range of government programs. An effective IG has the power to improve government and raise public trust in agencies; an incompetent or ineffective inspector general can have the opposite effect.[…]

I was an IG for 15 years, in four presidential administrations, both Republican and Democratic. I served as the IG of the Justice Department for 11 years (from 2000 to 2011) and also as the acting IG of the Department of Defense for four years (from 2016 to 2020). During that time, I witnessed the majority of my IG colleagues performing in an exemplary manner. Their work sent billions of dollars back to the federal Treasury and held government officials accountable for misconduct and inefficiency. Only a small minority of IGs were, unfortunately, not up to the task.

Jon Roozenbeek, Sander van der Linden, and Stephan Lewandowsky write for NiemannLab about studies showing that using “inoculation theory” is an effective tool in combating misinformation.

Inoculation theory is the notion that you can forge psychological resistance against attempts to manipulate you, much like a medical vaccine is a weakened version of a pathogen that prompts your immune system to create antibodies. Prebunking interventions are mostly based on this theory.

Most models have focused on counteracting individual examples of misinformation, such as posts about climate change. However, in recent years researchers including ourselves have explored ways to inoculate people against the techniques and tropes that underlie much of the misinformation we see online. Such techniques include the use of emotive language to trigger outrage and fear, or the scapegoating of people and groups for an issue they have little-to-no control over.

Online games such as Cranky Uncle and Bad News were among the first attempts to try this prebunking method. There are several advantages to this approach. You don’t have to act as the arbiter of truth as you don’t have to fact-check specific claims you see online. It allows you to side-step emotive discussions about the credibility of news sources. And perhaps most importantly, you do not need to know what piece of misinformation will go viral next.

Calder McHugh of POLITICO offers up a profile of the new Dean of Columbia School of Journalism, Jelani Cobb, at a time of uncertainty about the value of graduate school training in the journalism profession.

A little under 250 new students are masked up and packed into the Joseph D. Jamail lecture hall to hear Dean Jelani Cobb talk about a 118-year-old article that he plucked from the archives. His goal: to get these newly minted J-schoolers to think more clearly about a journalism school’s place in America. The title of the piece, written by founder of the Columbia Journalism School Joseph Pulitzer is “The College of Journalism,” which Pulitzer describes as “a review of criticisms and objections.” And while some of the complaints about the concept of a journalism school feel slightly anachronistic (whether a journalist must be “born” or whether he can be taught) many remain relevant: whether journalism has to be taught in newsrooms, what can’t be taught in a classroom — and whether a “college of journalism” is superfluous.

These are a ballooning list of questions that are very much on Cobb’s mind these days as he takes on a job as the public face of the country’s premier J-school. He’s stepping in at a particularly fraught time: Local newsrooms have been hollowed out; the ones remaining are regularly accused of relentlessly chasing clicks and eyeballs, rather than delivering reporting that seeks to educate or hold power to account. Politicians and their fans regularly attack the credibility of the press. (As do some journalists.) Then there’s a worldwide rise in the killing of journalists. […]

Beyond the issue of cost, there is the question of what nine months in this highly intensive place can teach students. Certainly, it can help them build a certain skill set: how to report and interview; how to write clearly; how to file a FOIA request. And it certainly links students into professional networks — and to coveted internships and jobs. Cobb is also laser-focused on historical context, something he says young journalists can easily lack. He wants them to have at least “50 years of working knowledge” in major areas of interest from U.S. foreign policy to Capitol Hill to criminal justice. And though he’s a liberal columnist, he says that students are often “surprised” by his commitment to not imposing personal views on readers.

“One of the clichés of Dr. Cobb’s class is, ‘the information you have is not as important as the information you don’t have,’” Cobb says.

Eric Berger of the Guardian writes about the major impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on the nation’s mental health.

While there are indications that, at least among US adults, the rates of anxiety and depression have decreased from the spikes seen during the first year of the pandemic, they still remain higher than before Covid, and there still aren’t enough psychiatrists and therapists.

In short, while the pandemic is no longer the top story in the news each night, its ripple effects remain top of the mind for many Americans.

In addition to those who died from Covid or lost a loved one to the virus, “there are personal stressors that people have had to encounter, on and off with restrictions in their activities, on and off with the possibility of getting ill, and all of those things have now been chronic”, said Roxane Cohen Silver, a University of California at Irvine psychologist who has described the pandemic as a “collective trauma”.

In 2019, 11% of adults in the United States reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In January 2021, the number was 41%. A year later, it had fallen to 32%, which was still significantly higher than before the pandemic.

James Fitzgerald of POLITICO Europe report on how the decimation of the so-called “moderate Tory” leaves the British Conservative Party bereft of electoral talent and policy.

Johnson’s wild swing to the populist right after winning an 80-seat majority was the beginning of the end for moderate Tory political ideals and programs.

The lack of experience in his Cabinet and, indeed, the potential policies being tossed around by leadership candidates Truss and Sunak, highlight that the government has run out of ideas, which doesn’t bode well for the country as it enters a period of uncertainty and a cost-of-living crisis not seen since the end of the World War II.

Both Truss and Sunak have spent weeks on their respective campaigns, throwing policy proposals around with gusto: Tax cuts benefiting the wealthy, when inflation is in double digits and the poor are suffering most? Sure. Cutting the civil service and tackling its “woke” ideology? Why not? It was even revealed recently that the Treasury’s considering giving already strained GPs the responsibility of deciding whether people deserve extra cost-of-living relief.

The fundamental issue with Truss and Sunak’s policy spray-around is that none of it is consistent or very well thought out, and it’s purely targeted at the 160,000-plus Conservative members who are going to decide who will become the next prime minister. This week’s YouGov poll, putting Labour ahead by 15 points, shows that huge swathes of the country aren’t exactly confident that these ideas will help them through this crisis.

Finally today, Amanda Holpuch of The New York Times reports on the eventual final resting place for the ashes of Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols.

The ashes of Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura in the original “Star Trek” television series and died in July, will be launched into space later this year.

Celestis, a private spaceflight company that works with NASA, will carry her ashes on a rocket set to travel between 150 million and 300 million kilometers into space beyond the Earth-moon system and the James Webb telescope.

Ms. Nichols, one of the first Black women to have a leading role on a network television series, died at age 89 from heart failure.

As Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer on the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, Ms. Nichols was not only a pioneering actor, but she was also credited with inspiring women and people of color to join NASA.

Everyone have a good day!

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