cuomo giuliani
Cuomo breaks down Rudy Giuliani's wild interview
04:49 - Source: CNN

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In 2015, Corey Lewandowski was a low-profile political operative. Sean Spicer was a spokesman and strategist for the Republican National Committee. Neither looked likely to star on national TV.

Then along came Donald Trump, who gave both prominent jobs.

And last week, former White House Press Secretary Spicer was twirling in a lime-green ruffled shirt, dancing with the stars. And former Trump campaign manager Lewandowski, defiant in a red tie and jacket, was tangling with and frustrating the House Judiciary Committee’s Democrats in a hearing that many could only label absurd.

Spicer’s much-hyped re-emergence was not okay, wrote Anushay Hossain, and she wasn’t referring to his dance moves. “Sean Spicer’s entire claim to fame (or infamy) comes from lying for a president who uses his office to lie, to side with dictators, to defend men who abuse women and work for him, to separate families, to stand up for white nationalism and much, much worse. Spicer lied for a liar for a living.

Lewandowski, who’s considering a run for a US Senate seat in New Hampshire, got an equally bad review from legal analyst Elie Honig: “Lewandowski was a truly horrible witness. His demeanor was the stuff of a trial lawyer’s nightmares. He was angry, combative, sarcastic, and more intent on getting off personal insults and pumping up his impending Senate campaign than actually answering questions or getting Congress or the public any closer to truth.”

Writing about the Lewandowski hearing in the Washington Post, Harry Litman warned, “We may have just gotten a living glimpse of the way President Trump will continue to distort and darken our politics long after he himself has left the scene.”

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Then there’s Rudy Giuliani.

The former New York City mayor actually had a national reputation before his immersion in Trumpworld, but has added a new cast to it. In a contentious interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo about an intelligence whistleblower allegation, wrote Michael D’Antonio, “Trump’s personal lawyer and TV attack dog…both denied and confirmed that the controversy may have to do with the fact that Giuliani has urged Ukrainian officials to investigate former vice president Joe Biden.” (There’s no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company.)

In a July call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump repeatedly suggested working with Giuliani on such an investigation, according to the Wall Street Journal. Zelensky may have a lot to gain from good relations with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. That, wrote David Andelman, raises a “key question: will Ukraine’s new president calculate that he can win big points with the Kremlin by giving a little help to Trump, Giuliani and their campaign from more than 5,000 miles away?”

The Ukraine matter seemed to be at the heart of the striking new fissure in Trump’s relationship with intelligence agencies. Frida Ghitis asked, “What exactly could President Donald Trump have done that…drove a US intelligence official to file a formal whistleblower complaint over communications between Trump and an unidentified foreign leader…?” She added, “we have encountered another secret in a presidency that has been defined by obfuscation and falsehoods… what is Trump hiding?

This could be seen as a warning to Trump’s 2020 political rivals. In fact, Democrats should be ready for a race unlike anything they’ve seen before, wrote Julian Zelizer. Now, “Trump has the power of the presidency behind him. With that power comes the potential for the administration to unleash damaging investigations in the middle of the campaign that will put the Democrats on defense.”

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The A team is long gone

Now that generals James Mattis, John Kelly and H.R. McMaster have left the administration, along with CEOs Gary Cohn and Rex Tillerson, the President has “surrounded himself with yes-men and is running his Cabinet like he used to run his real estate company – as a one-man show surrounded by flunkies,” wrote Peter Bergen. Trump’s selection of Robert O’Brien, the State Department’s chief hostage negotiator, as national security adviser last week fits right in, Bergen observed.

One of the first things on O’Brien’s agenda is how to respond to the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which the Trump administration blamed on Iran.

Trump and his team have said many times that the President was willing to meet with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani with no preconditions – but last Sunday Trump tweeted that was “fake news.” It must be “amnesia,” Bergen noted. “Trump’s posturing back and forth between aggression and conciliation might work for a real estate deal in Manhattan, but it’s quite confusing and the stakes are also much higher when you are dealing with the complex calculations of a major regional power such as Iran.”

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More op-eds on politics:

Jeff Yang: Trump and the GOPs massive hypocrisy on clean air

Samantha Vinograd: What a successful Trump strategy on Iran must include

Julian Zelizer: Jimmy Carter wants an age limit for the presidency – and he may have a point

Robert Alexander: The road to abolish the Electoral College may just run through Texas

Jason Greenblatt: Trump Mideast envoy’s hopeful, bittersweet goodbye

Striking to teach adults a lesson

Katie Eder

With the UN Climate summit convening this week, students around the world struck and marched for action. One of them, 19-year-old Katie Eder wrote, “we’re striking for a Green New Deal; for the immediate cessation of fossil-fuel projects on sovereign indigenous land; for environmental justice; for the protection and restoration of nature; and for sustainable agriculture. We’re striking for ourselves, for our friends and family, for the kid who lives down the street from us. We’re striking because it’s what we have to do.

Good for them, wrote David Gergen and James Piltch. Like the Parkland students and the civil rights protesters of the 1960s, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is leading a movement of conscience, one that contrasts with the do-nothing attitudes of many of their elders. “At least once before, a children’s movement was a core inspiration for our country to address its greatest injustices,” Gergen and Piltch wrote. “Today, the young speak with moral clarity again.”

Kavanaugh redux

kavanaugh conf hearing  sept 27

The controversy over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh resurfaced in a big way with the publication of a piece in the New York Times opinion section drawing on a new book by two of the newspaper’s reporters. There was something for all sides to focus on.

The book, Jill Filipovic wrote, “explores and corroborates previously under-reported claims by Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez that when she was a student, Kavanaugh thrust his penis in her face as a joke. According to news reports, the FBI never fully investigated her claims, nor interviewed the people who reached out to them to corroborate. Thanks to constraints put in place by the White House, sources told CNN, the FBI also never interviewed Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, nor Kavanaugh himself. The ‘investigation’ was a sham, and the Trump administration made it that way.”

The Times came in for withering criticism for its handling of the piece, since – while it described an additional allegation against Kavanaugh – it failed to point out that the woman allegedly involved did not remember the incident, according to her friends, and declined to speak to reporters (The Times added an editor’s note with those points after the piece was originally published).

The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker wrote, “The recent fiasco at the New York Times, which last weekend published the latest uncorroborated sexual assault accusation against Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, was a monument to hearsay and a travesty of journalistic ethics.

Also in the Post, Marc Thiessen welcomed the call by some Democrats to impeach Kavanaugh: “As we have seen in the past two elections, when the Supreme Court is on the ballot, Democrats lose. In other words, Democrats should not want voters to be thinking about Brett Kavanaugh or liberal court packing when they cast their ballots in 2020. Republicans should. So, let the impeachment proceedings begin.”

Elie Honig blasted President Trump’s tweet urging the Justice Department to “rescue” Kavanaugh from the allegations. That’s definitely not its role, wrote Honig. Still, the calls for impeachment are futile: “Kavanaugh almost certainly is not going anywhere… He likely will sit on the Supreme Court for decades to come, certainly for as long as he wishes. But Kavanaugh’s deeply flawed confirmation process should stand as a reminder of the danger of turning the Justice Department, long fearless and proudly independent, into an institutional political operative.”

The short SNL career of Shane Gillis

Shane Gillis

Days after Saturday Night Live announced that comedian Shane Gillis would be joining its cast, the show fired him for what it called his past “offensive, hurtful and unacceptable” remarks. Presidential candidate Andrew Yang had waded into the controversy, saying that it would be a mistake to dismiss Gillis for his 2018 podcast comments, which included anti-Asian slurs.

Dean Obeidallah applauded Yang’s suggestion of “a more nuanced approach that offered the hope that people like Gillis can evolve.” Obeidallah, a former comedian and SNL staffer, wrote, “We should encourage and incentivize people to improve, instead of ensuring that they remain ignorant and hateful.”

Comedian Judy Gold thought SNL’s call was sensible: “Shane Gillis has every right to say whatever he wants – that’s what is so great about this country and the First Amendment. But let’s get a few things straight. The clip wasn’t exactly dug up; it’s not old, it’s from last year. The clip is not funny, because it’s not comedy. It’s a guy who happens to be a stand-up comic blathering with his friend, Matt McCusker, who also happens to be a stand-up comic, as they sit in front of microphones gratuitously spewing epithets and making lazy ‘jokes’ about other races, sexual orientations and gender without any real context or substance.”

An ‘imposter’?

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In the midst of a challenging election campaign, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to try to explain why he wore brownface or blackface at least three times. Amid his apologies, he admitted he didn’t know how many times he had darkened his skin. “Canada’s elections take place on October 21, and it’s looking like a tough race,” wrote Michael Bociurkiw. “Any perception of being insensitive or hypocritical– as an ‘imposter,’ in the words of one major Canadian newsmagazine earlier this year – is certainly not the way Trudeau wants to be seen.

Janaya Khan suggested that, for Trudeau, “blackface is a mere obstacle to overcome in his campaign run after receiving rebukes this week for darkening his face several times in the past. But for the millions of black, Indigenous and other people of color in Canada, this is far more than a simple scandal. Blackface is a reminder that people of color are still considered to be ‘characters’ instead of equal and full human beings.”

Be nice to the coral reefs

jebel ali wetland sanctuary

The storms that have devastated the Bahamas are a reminder of the fragility of coastlines. Marine scientist Michael Beck wrote that endangered coral reefs are much more than a tourist attraction. They “act as submerged breakwaters, they ‘break’ waves and protect communities and wetlands that further block waves and storm surge. …coral reefs dampen more than 97% of waves before they reach coastlines. Losing just one meter from the top of a reef allows an exponential increase in the wave energy that passes through to the shore. This would lead to a doubling in the cost of flooding during storms for coral reef coastlines in more than 60 countries around the world.”

Beck noted, “Storms have shaped our shorelines for millennia, and for most of that time our reefs and wetlands stood as guardians against those storms. Without them, we have only ourselves.”

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Don’t miss:

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John Avlon: Ken Burns’ new documentary ‘Country Music’ is essential viewing

Aaron David Miller: Netanyahu’s fate hangs in the balance.

John Covach: Ric Ocasek’s velvet darkness beneath his sunny surface

Katrín Jakobsdóttir: Gender inequality is one of the most persistent evils of our times

Ruth Golden: Opening up about my mother’s suicide was life-changing

Rahul Parikh: How to combat the anti-vaxxer message


Attention Hollywood

The Princess Bride still

“Republicans and Democrats may be at war,” wrote Gene Seymour. “Boomers may scoff at millennials, and millennials may disdain them back. ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends’ fans may fight it out online about the crucial question of which is the better sitcom.”

But one suggestion last week seemed to unite America: a studio executive’s mention of the possibility the 1987 classic film “Princess Bride” could be remade. It prompted a “mass, multi-generational consensus going,”NOOOOOOOO!”– exploding across social media like a neutron bomb over the offhand implication … that somebody somewhere is thinking of” a remake. The film is, “if not perfect, darned near inimitable. It rewards re-viewing as few others of its era, with (William) Goldman dialogue that you thought you’d forgotten from the last several dozen viewings.”

Breena Kerr was in the audience for the opening weekend of the Jennifer Lopez movie, “Hustlers”. She loved it. “It has the same timeless appeal of Robin Hood, except here, Robin Hood works in a strip club, stealing from Wall Street sharks and giving to, well, herself.”

Kerr talked to real-life strippers about the film, who noted the film’s success with viewers at the box office and wondered: why “don’t they get more support for the work they choose to do in our capitalist world?” Some weren’t thrilled to see strippers portrayed as criminals, “pointing out that those who do this work are doing work, period – they’re putting on a show because it’s their job.