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Other View: The most suspicious part of Trump's presidency

The following editorial is appearing in Sunday’s Washington Post:

The antic behavior of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who was slipped classified surveillance by senior aides to President Donald Trump, rushed to hold a news conference about it and then scurried back to the White House to brief Trump, was clumsy and clownish—but it may have accomplished its main purpose. Nunes managed to derail his own House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the far more serious matter of Russia’s interference in the presidential election, and to distract attention from the emergence of troubling new evidence.

As the congressman’s bizarre circuit was chewed over in Washington, it emerged that Jared Kushner, the president’s aide and son-in-law, had met with an executive from a Russian bank that is on the U.S. sanctions list; former national security adviser Michael Flynn sought immunity in exchange for his testimony on his Russian ties; and experts told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russian hacking and propaganda efforts are continuing, and have recently been directed at House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Mark R. Warner, D-Va., ranking Democrat on the Senate committee, offered an appeal to common sense: The public, he said, must “not lose sight of what the investigation is about: An outside foreign adversary effectively sought to hijack our most critical democratic process, the election for president” in order to “favor one candidate over another.” Unfortunately, Trump and willing accomplices such as Nunes have been all too effective in clouding this shocking reality and impeding effective investigation of it.

The delivery of intel to Nunes—which the White House has yet to explain—was only the latest diversionary stratagem employed by Trump and his aides. Earlier, Nunes and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. were enlisted to call reporters to discount stories about contacts between Trump aides and Russia. Then Trump used a series of tweets to falsely accuse President Barack Obama of ordering a wiretap on Trump Tower. Meanwhile, as The Washington Post reported, the administration tried to block former Justice Department official Sally Q. Yates from testifying to Congress about what she knows about the links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Trump is still dismissing the Russia investigation as “a witch hunt” that Democrats are using to excuse their “big election loss.” He may be right that there was no active collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin; two former senior intelligence officials with no sympathy for the president have said publicly that they were aware of no evidence of collaboration. Democrats who speak as if such links have been proved are risking their own credibility.

It nevertheless should be undeniable, by now, that the regime of Vladimir Putin brazenly intervened in U.S. politics, including by hacking the Democratic National Committee and releasing stolen material through the WikiLeaks site; that it is still trying to disrupt the political system, including by sowing fake news and faux controversies on social media; and that it is attempting to disrupt elections in other Western democracies, including France and Germany. The top priority of the president and Congress should be to fully expose this hostile assault and develop means to counter it.

Instead, Trump appears to be doing his best to confuse the public about the facts and to prevent the truth from coming out. That, of course, is Russia’s agenda—and it is the strangest and most suspicious aspect of his presidency.

Letter: The religion of science

Stepping on my new digital scales, I learned I weighed 200.8 pounds. Thinking that was high, I moved it a few inches, and it read 198.6 pounds. Still out of line with expectations, I moved it again for a reading of 196.2 pounds. Still, these scales were more technologically advanced than my old analog unit which, for 30 years, would give me the same reading no matter where it was placed. How unimaginative is that?

But not all techno-discoveries can be shuffled aside. Yesterday, I learned we’re being bombarded by “dark matter” called Weakly Interactive Massive Particles or “WIMPS.” In a recent article, science editor Charles Choi said we can’t really PROVE this matter—which “makes up 5/6th of the universe”—exists, “since it’s silent, invisible and intangible.” He continued, “Billions of these particles rush through us every second” and added, “Roughly 35 impacts between dark matter particles and atoms (in our bodies) should happen annually.” With billions passing through us every second, resulting in only 35 impacts on “human atoms” per year, one must assume these little fellows are lousy shots, we consist of mostly non-human atoms, or Choi needs to brush up on his research. But then, this student of scientific methodology is also Christian, so what would I know? If Christians believe in intangible things whose influence can only be felt, we are called superstitious fools. Yet, considering “the Big Bang,” wherein the entire universe supposedly once fit in a space the size of the head of a pin — in a gulf of nothingness, because nothing had been created — and in WIMPS, it seems scientists are guilty of creating their own religion — fraught with even more intangibles, fanciful notions, and beliefs that can’t be proven. Knowledge with wisdom is a dangerous thing.

William Denham

Twin Falls

Krauthammer: The road to single-payer health care

WASHINGTON — Repeal-and-replace (for Obamacare) is not quite dead. It has been declared so, but what that means is that, for now, the president has (apparently) washed his hands of it and the House Republicans appear unable to reconcile their differences.

Neither condition needs to be permanent. There are ideological differences between the various GOP factions, but what’s overlooked is the role that procedure played in producing the deadlock. And procedure can easily be changed.

The House leadership crafted a bill that would meet the delicate requirements of “reconciliation” in order to create a (more achievable) threshold of 51 rather than 60 votes in the Senate. But this meant that some of the more attractive, market-oriented reforms had to be left out, relegated to a future measure (a so-called phase-three bill) that might never actually arrive.

Yet the more stripped-down proposal died anyway. So why not go for the gold next time? Pass a bill that incorporates phase-three reforms and send it on to the Senate.

September might be the time for resurrecting repeal-and-replace. That’s when insurers recalibrate premiums for the coming year, precipitating our annual bout of Obamacare sticker shock. By then, even more insurers will be dropping out of the exchanges, further reducing choice and service. These should help dissipate the pre-emptive nostalgia for Obamacare that emerged during the current debate.

At which point, the House leadership should present a repeal-and-replace that includes such phase-three provisions as tort reform and permitting the buying of insurance across state lines, both of which would significantly lower costs.

Even more significant would be stripping out the heavy-handed Obamacare coverage mandate that dictates what specific medical benefits must be included in every insurance policy in the country, regardless of the purchaser’s desires or needs.

Best to mandate nothing. Let the customer decide. A 60-year-old couple doesn’t need maternity coverage. Why should they be forced to pay for it? And I don’t know about you, but I don’t need lactation services.

This would satisfy the House Freedom Caucus’ correct insistence on dismantling Obamacare’s stifling regulatory straitjacket — without scaring off moderates who should understand that no one is being denied “essential health benefits.” Rather, no one is being required to buy what the Jonathan Grubers of the world have decided everyone must have.

It is true that even if this revised repeal-and-replace passes the House, it might die by filibuster in the Senate. In which case, let the Senate Democrats explain themselves and suffer the consequences. Perhaps, however, such a bill might engender debate and revision — and come back to the House for an old-fashioned House-Senate conference and a possible compromise. This in and of itself would constitute major progress.

That’s procedure. It’s fixable. But there is an ideological consideration that could ultimately determine the fate of any Obamacare replacement. Obamacare may turn out to be unworkable, indeed doomed, but it is having a profound effect on the zeitgeist: It is universalizing the idea of universal coverage.

Acceptance of its major premise — that no one be denied health care — is more widespread than ever. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan avers that “our goal is to give every American access to quality, affordable health care,” making universality an essential premise of his own reform. And look at how sensitive and defensive Republicans have been about the possibility of people losing coverage in any Obamacare repeal.

A broad national consensus is developing that health care is indeed a right. This is historically new. And it carries immense implications for the future. It suggests that we may be heading inexorably to a government-run, single-payer system. It’s what Barack Obama once admitted he would have preferred but didn’t think the country was ready for. It may be ready now.

As Obamacare continues to unravel, it won’t take much for Democrats to abandon that Rube Goldberg wreckage and go for the simplicity and the universality of Medicare-for-all. Republicans will have one last chance to try to convince the country to remain with a market-based system, preferably one encompassing all the provisions that, for procedural reasons, had been left out of their latest proposal.

Don’t be surprised, however, if, in the end, single-payer wins out. Indeed, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Donald Trump, reading the zeitgeist, pulls the greatest 180 since Disraeli dished the Whigs in 1867 (by radically expanding the franchise) and joins the single-payer side.

Talk about disruption? About kicking over the furniture? That would be an American Krakatoa.