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Columns
Gerson: Lickspittle wing of GOP is now firmly in charge

WASHINGTON

According to House Speaker Paul Ryan, the declassified Devin Nunes memo—alleging FBI misconduct in the Russia investigation—is “not an indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice.” According to President Trump, the memo shows how leaders at the FBI “politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats” and “totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe.”

Both men are deluded or deceptive.

Releasing the memo—while suppressing a dissenting assessment from other members of the House Intelligence Committee—was clearly intended to demonstrate that the FBI is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party. The effort ended in a pathetic fizzle. Nunes’ brief, amateurish document failed to demonstrate that FBI surveillance was triggered solely or mainly by a Democratic-funded dossier. But for cherry-picking above and beyond the call of duty, Nunes deserves his own exhibit in the hackery hall of fame. This was a true innovation: an intelligence product created and released for the consumption of Fox News.

Trump’s eager publication of the memo was expected. Yet his action crossed a line: from criticism of the FBI to executive action designed to undermine an ongoing investigation. Trump seems to be testing the waters for direct action against the FBI by testing the limits of what his Republican followers will stomach. So far, there are no limits.

With the blessing of Republican leaders, the lickspittle wing of the GOP is now firmly in charge. The existence of reckless partisans such as Nunes is hardly surprising. The nearly uniform cowardice among elected Republicans is staggering. One is left wishing that Obamacare covered spine transplants. The Republican-led Congress is now an adjunct of the White House. The White House is now an adjunct of Trump’s chaotic will.

And what to make of Ryan? I have been a consistent defender of his good intentions. But after the 17th time saying “He knows better,” it dawns that he may not. By his recent actions, the speaker has provided political cover for a weakening of the constitutional order. He has been used as a tool while loudly insisting he is not a tool. The way Ryan is headed, history offers two possible verdicts: Either he enabled an autocrat, or he was intimidated by a fool. I believe Ryan to be a good person. But the greatest source of cynicism is not the existence of corrupt people in politics; it is good people who lose their way.

The United States Congress is an institution of great power. According to the Constitution, it can deny jurisdiction to the Supreme Court. It can remove the commander in chief. But now it watches as Trump makes the executive branch his personal fiefdom. It stands by—or cheers—as the president persecutes law enforcement professionals for the performance of their public duties.

Why can’t Republican legislators see the personal damage this might cause? Trump has made a practice of forcing people around him to lower their standards and abandon their ideals before turning against them when their usefulness ends. His servants are sucked dry of integrity and dignity, then thrown away like the rind of a squeezed orange. Who does Trump’s bidding and has his or her reputation enhanced? A generation of Republicans will end up writing memoirs of apology and regret.

The political damage to the GOP as the party of corruption and cover-up should be obvious as well. This is a rare case when the rats, rather than deserting a sinking ship, seemed determined to ride it all the way down.

But it is damage to the conscience that is hardest to repair. For Republicans, what seemed like a temporary political compromise is becoming an indelible moral stain. The Russia investigation is revealing a Trump universe in which ethical considerations did not (and do not) figure at all. Who can imagine a senior Trump campaign official—say Paul Manafort, or Donald Trump Jr.—saying the words: “That would be wrong”? Their degraded spirit has now invaded the whole GOP. By defending Trump’s transgressions, by justifying his abuses, Republicans are creating an atmosphere in which corruption and cowardice thrive.

How can this course be corrected? “You only have one political death,” said the late Rep. John Jacob Rhodes, R-Ariz., “but you can choose when to use it.” Larger showdowns—concerning the possible firings of special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—now seem likely. If there is nothing for which Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders will risk their careers, there is nothing in which they truly believe.

Michael Gerson’s email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.


Letters
Ryan should put country before party and career

For months, some of us have been hoping Paul Ryan would at some point stop bowing down to the con man in chief who sits in the White House eating cheeseburgers and watching cable news.

That he would start putting country over party and his career goals.

That he would start preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution.

How naïve we have been!

It has become apparent to anyone who pays attention that Ryan is complicit in Trump’s big con job whose objective is not having to worry about investigations leading to findings of his family’s involvement in money laundering and obstruction of justice.

Some people have referred to Ryan as Trump’s lap dog. I would disagree with that comparison. Lap dogs have spines.

Long ago I learned to judge a person by their deeds, not by the smirk on their face.

MARK HAMEL

Janesville


Other_views
Guest views: Raise the tobacco-buying age to 21

Few 20-somethings or older adults take up cigarette smoking. They understand that the health risks are inevitable and often lethal. Put another way: If people don’t get hooked on cigarettes at a young age, they generally don’t start to smoke.

How to steer young people away from an addiction that will wreck their health? One way is for Illinois lawmakers to raise to 21 from 18 the legal age to buy tobacco products. That would limit access to cigarettes, and not only for 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. That’s because younger adolescents who smoke need someone to buy, or give them, cigarettes. They’re more likely to know an 18-year-old who will do that—often a fellow high school student—than they are to have a 21-year-old running illicit errands for them.

Chicago hiked the tobacco-buying age in July 2016. Early indications suggest a powerful effect. The percentage of Chicagoans 18 to 20 who reported using cigarettes or e-cigarettes fell from 15.2 percent in 2015 to 9.7 percent in 2016, City Hall reports.

Now there’s a push by state Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, to raise the state tobacco-buying age to 21. Count us in.

We don’t recommend this change lightly. This page long has opposed Nanny State decrees about what adults may eat or drink or (legally) smoke. We’ve spilled gallons of ink inviting the government to butt out of those personal choices. We don’t want a city where people can’t have a mega-huge-gulp soda if they want one. Better information (posted calorie counts, for instance) and more education should suffice to help people make healthier choices on their own.

Those who oppose this change point out, rightly, that age 18 brings many adult obligations and privileges. So why not the ability to buy smokes?

Here’s why we say no. The legal age for buying alcohol is still 21 in the U.S. for the same reason that the tobacco age should be: protecting the health of young people and helping them avoid terrible decisions that they and their families will regret for decades to come.

We used similar reasoning to support the statewide ban on smoking in public places a decade ago. Restaurateurs and retailers grumbled about losing customers, as retailers near the state line do when proposals to raise the tobacco age surface. But for us, the overwhelming potential public health benefit tipped the scales.

Think back to 2008. That’s when Illinois followed Chicago and imposed a ban on indoor public smoking. Opponents hyperventilated over the possible impact on restaurants and other businesses. But have you heard anyone reminisce about smoke-choked restaurants, offices, bars? Neither have we. Which employees yearn for the days when they choked on secondhand smoke in their jobs? Many smokers admit that even they prefer smoke-free venues.

Three out of 4 American adults—including 7 in 10 cigarette smokers—favor hiking the minimum age to 21, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine already have hiked the tobacco-buying age. Nearly 300 cities have, too.

That’s not the Nanny State forcing an unpopular change on people. That’s lawmakers responding to what citizens want.

—Chicago Tribune


Letters
Burns would fight corporate interests as court justice

What do you want in a candidate for the Wisconsin State Supreme Court? Surely, you want someone who upholds and obeys the law, someone who is both honest and transparent.

Unfortunately, Michael Screnock, one of three candidates for the office, fails on all counts. He was arrested and ticketed for trespassing and obstructing officers on two occasions. Moreover, he failed to disclose his arrests on a judicial application.

On the other hand, do you want a candidate who champions your rights against huge corporate interests? If so, Tim Burns is your man. He worked successfully across the country and overseas to hold massive insurance companies accountable for financial fraud. His aim is to “prevent concentrated wealth from taking over democratic institutions”.

At a time of when the enormous gap between the rich and poor in this country is as bad as it was during the era of the robber barons just before the Great Depression, it’s time for us to elect this champion of the people.

I plan to vote for Tim Burns for Supreme Court justice on Feb. 20, and I hope you will, too.

MARIETTE NOWAK

East Troy


Letters
Turkey should be condemned for actions in Syria

Since Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria two weeks ago, Turkey is violating international law and committing war crimes. Turkish jets, bought from the U.S., continue to bomb civilians (150 killed and 298 injured, according to the Health Council of the Canton of Afrin).

Problematically, no attacks on Turkey have allowed President Erdogan of Turkey to justify this incursion by Article 51 of the UN Charter, nor did Turkey report its actions to the U.N. Security Council, also required by Article 51. Turkey may be a member of NATO, but who should we, in fact, be an ally of?

It is important to understand that the Syrian Democratic Forces, an essential ally of the U.S. in routing ISIS from Raqqa and elsewhere, are now defending Afrin and surrounding villages from the Turkish assaults. The YPG and YPJ (the Peoples’ and the Women’s Protection Units), are two Kurdish forces making up part of SDF and are not terrorist groups, as Turkey would have the world believe, but rather supporters of democratic values.

Furthermore, the region of Afrin is one of three Democratic Autonomous Regions of Rojava, a confederation of Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Aramaeans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens. Rojavans believe in direct democracy, the inclusion of minorities, more leadership by women and an ecologically sound economy. This democratic experiment is the real threat to Erdogan.

Turkey’s criminal assault on Afrin’s civilians and its duplicity about its actions should be condemned! And we should support democratic experiments!

MARK FULLER

Janesville


Letters
Veterans fought for freedom to fly the flag or burn it

My late father, Thomas Turner, God rest his soul, was a very patriotic veteran who was very active in the American Legion near him.

My brother is also still active there and related a story about Dad that happened several years ago but seems very appropriate to the times.

The legion members were very upset about flag burnings and felt people who did such things should be punished. They were spewing upsets about "fighting for the flag."

My dad stood to speak.

"I don't know what you fought for, but I never fought for our flag. I fought for our freedom to fly the flag, wear the flag or burn it!"

We need to remember "rights and freedoms" are we what want to defend, not a piece of material.

I know my dad would be watching the Super Bowl and reminding vets that they fought for the players right to fly, to wear, to burn, to stand or to kneel for our flag!

God bless America.

PAULETTE DAVIS

Janesville