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Safety/Irony Alert. CNBC (December 25): Your new home security system may be an open invitation to hackers to make you, and perhaps many others, unsafe.” -- CW

New York Times: "Prehistoric humans — perhaps Neanderthals or another lost species — occupied what is now California some 130,000 years ago, a team of scientists reported on Wednesday. The bold and fiercely disputed claim, published in the journal Nature, is based on a study of mastodon bones discovered near San Diego. If the scientists are right, they would significantly alter our understanding of how humans spread around the planet." -- CW 

If you're curious as to how realistic the New York City apartments of TV sitcom characters are -- in terms of what the characters could reasonably afford -- the Washington Post checks out several of the hovels & dream rentals of a number of shows. Kinda fun. CW: My husband & I (he paid the rent) had a fairly spacious two-bedroom with a galley kitchen (dishwasher included!) & dining room plus teensy closets on Washington Square in the 1980s & '90s. NYU owned the building & helped considerably with the rent.

Politico: "Comedian Hasan Minhaj will be this year's entertainer for the White House Correspondents' Dinner later this month, the association's president announced on Tuesday. Minhaj is a stand up comedian and senior correspondent on 'The Daily Show,' where he has performed caustic bits on ... Donald Trump, liberals and others in between. Minhaj has Washington experience already, having performed as host of last year's Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner." -- CW 

AFP: "After months of uncertainty and controversy, Bob Dylan finally accepted the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature at a jovial, champagne-laced ceremony on Saturday, [April 1,] the Swedish Academy announced. The academy, which awards the coveted prize, ended prolonged speculation as to whether the 75-year-old troubadour would use a concert stopover in Stockholm to accept the gold medal and diploma awarded to him back in October." -- CW 

 


The Hill: "Arnold Schwarzeneggar says his first season as host of NBC's 'Celebrity Apprentice' is also his last. In remarks Friday, the former California governor cited President Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the ratings of his reality TV replacement, as his reason. 'Even if asked [to do it again] I would decline,' Schwarzenegger told Empire magazine.... 'With Trump being involved in the show people have a bad taste and don’t want to participate as a spectator or sponsor or in any other way support the show. It’s a very divisive period right now and I think the show got caught up in all that division.'" -- CW 

New York Times: "Penguin Random House will publish coming books by former President Barack Obama and the former first lady Michelle Obama, the publishing company announced Tuesday night, concluding a heated auction among multiple publishers. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but publishing industry executives with knowledge of the bidding process said it probably stretched well into eight figures." -- CW ...

Guardian: A statement by the Academy of Motion Pictures said "that PwC – formerly Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm that has been used by the Academy to handle the voting process for 83 years – had taken full responsibility for 'breaches of established protocols' that led to the error.... On Monday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal reported that ... Brian Cullinan, one of two accountants whose job it was to hand out the winners’ envelopes..., had tweeted a behind-the-scenes photo of [best female actor winner Emma] Stone holding her statuette. The tweet, sent moments before the best picture announcement, raised the question of whether the accountant was distracted, handing Beatty the duplicate envelope." -- CW ...

... Actually, No, It Was Donald Trump's Fault. The Hill: "President Trump is calling Sunday’s Oscar ceremony 'sad,' saying the awards show was 'focused so hard on politics' it led to the epic mix-up over the best picture winner. 'I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn’t get the act together at the end,' Trump said Monday in an interview with Breitbart News." CW: Because everything is about Drumpf. 

Los Angeles Times: "In one of the most surprising upsets and shocking moments in Oscar history, the poetic coming-of-age drama 'Moonlight' took home the top prize for best picture at the 89th Academy Awards, beating out the heavily favored 'La La Land,' which was actually announced as the winner. The win for 'Moonlight' came in a chaotic and confused moment that played out live in front of an audience of millions, as presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway initially presented the evening’s final award to 'La La Land,' only to have one of the film’s producers announce that 'Moonlight' had, in fact, won." -- CW 

Here's the LA Times' "live coverage" page.

CW: It would have been way better for the world if the Electoral College had admitted, as a body, that "There's been a mistake." Unfortunately, actors & film producers have more integrity than electors.

The New York Times embeds the February 23 late-nite's show responses to the latest political news.

Washington Post: "A newfound solar system just 39 light-years away contains seven warm, rocky planets, scientists say. The discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, represents the first time astronomers have detected so many terrestrial planets orbiting a single star. Researchers say the system is an ideal laboratory for studying distant worlds and could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth.... The newly discovered solar system resembles a scaled-down version of our own. The star at its center, an ultra-cool dwarf called TRAPPIST-1, is less than a tenth the size of our sun and about a quarter as warm. Its planets circle tightly around it; the closest takes just a day and a half to complete an orbit and the most distant takes about 20 days.... TRAPPIST-1 is so cool that all seven of the bodies are bathed in just the right amount of warmth to hold liquid water. And three of them receive the same amount of heat as Venus, Earth and Mars, putting them in 'the habitable zone,' that Goldilocks region where it's thought life can thrive." -- CW 

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Saturday
Apr222017

The Commentariat -- April 22, 2017

Matt Apuzzo, et al., of the New York Times: "An examination by The New York Times, based on interviews with more than 30 current and former law enforcement, congressional and other government officials, found that while partisanship was not a factor in [FBI Director Jim] Comey's approach to the two investigations [of Donald Trump & Hillary Clinton], he handled them in starkly different ways. In the case of Mrs. Clinton, he rewrote the script, partly based on the F.B.I.'s expectation that she would win and fearing the bureau would be accused of helping her. In the case of Mr. Trump, he conducted the investigation by the book, with the F.B.I.'s traditional secrecy." -- CW

Rebecca Morin of Politico: "The United States will honor an Obama-era agreement with Australia to help resettle Syrian refugees, despite the Trump administration not favoring the arrangement, Vice President Mike Pence announced Saturday. 'President Trump has made it clear that we'll honor the agreement -- that doesn't mean we admire the agreement,' Pence said during a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney, according to the Associated Press." -- CW

Alan Rappeport & Michael Shear of the New York Times: "President Trump promised on Friday that he would unveil a 'massive' tax cut for Americans next week, vowing a 'big announcement on Wednesday,' but he revealed no details about what is certain to be an enormously complicated effort to overhaul the nation's tax code.... Mr. Trump told The Associated Press in the interview that his tax reductions would be 'bigger, I believe, than any tax cut ever.'... His announcement surprised Capitol Hill and left Mr. Trump's own Treasury officials speechless as he arrived at the Treasury offices to sign directives to roll back Obama-era tax rules and financial regulations. Earlier in the day, when reporters asked Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, how far away a tax overhaul proposal was, he said he could not give an answer. 'Tax reform is way too complicated,' he said." ...

     ... CW: Trump is coughing up shit, as usual. The story's punchline comes later: "But despite Mr. Trump's statement on Friday that his tax overhaul 'really formally begins on Wednesday,' White House officials quickly cautioned against high expectations that Mr. Trump would provide the legislative text of a detailed tax plan next week. Instead, a senior administration official said the president would release only the 'parameters' that Mr. Trump expected a tax plan to follow in the long congressional debate that would surely follow." Trump counts on his base not to know the difference between his musings on a Trump gold-rimmed paper napkin (a/k/a "parameters") & a 2,000-page tax bill.

Alan Rappeport : "President Trump ordered his Treasury Department on Friday to review measures put in place by the Obama administration, setting the stage for a rollback of regulations that were intended to curtail corporate tax evasion and prevent another financial crisis. The executive order and two presidential memorandums come as Mr. Trump is scrambling for achievements as the 100-day mark in the White House approaches. Frustrated by the slow pace of action in Congress on his goal of overhauling the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation law and the fact that his mission of rewriting the tax code remains in limbo, Mr. Trump is attempting to take matters into his own hands.... Undoing the rules would appear to be at odds with Mr. Trump's campaign pledge to reduce incentives for companies to invert [i.e., merge with foreign companies to take advantage of lower tax rates abroad]." CW: "Setting the stage" for another financial crisis is a great "achievement" to "scramble for." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Matt Yglesias: "... the broader significance of Trump's executive sort-of order is as a statement of priorities -- a clear flashing light that the notion of a Trump-era GOP as an economically populist 'workers' party' is dead, and business interests rule the roost.... Trump's order does not rescind any [Obama-era] rules. It merely orders a 'review' of them.... The financial services executive order is meaningful primarily for clarifying what the exact meaning of the rising clout of 'globalists' inside the White House is." -- CW

Julie Pace of the AP: "... Donald Trump waded into France's upcoming elections Friday, saying he believes an attack on police officers this week will help Marine Le Pen, the far-right presidential candidate. In an interview with The Associated Press, Trump said that while he is not explicitly endorsing Le Pen, the attack played to her strengths. 'She's the strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France,' Trump said in the Oval Office interview. 'Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election.' U.S. presidents typically avoid weighing in on specific candidates running in overseas election. But Trump suggested his opinion was no different from an average observer, saying, 'Everybody is making predictions on who is going to win. I'm no different than you.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

** "He Probably Saw It on TV." Dana Milbank: "There has been much speculation about Trump's nonsense talk about his 'armada.' Administration officials suggested a miscommunication between the Pentagon and the White House.... I put the question to my former colleague Tom Ricks, military writer and national security specialist at the New America Foundation. Ricks's hypothesis: Trump didn't have any idea where his armada was. 'He probably saw it on TV.'... This would appear to be another disturbing case of life imitating cable news.... At home as well as abroad, people are coming to recognize this emperor's state of undress." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... CW: Let that sink in. The Man Living in the White House has no idea what the President is doing. He "finds out" by watching Fox "News." This is the same way he "found out" President Obama was "tapping his wires." ...

... William Steakin of AOL.com: "... a group of psychiatrists claimed on Thursday at a conference at Yale University that ... Donald Trump has a 'dangerous mental illness' and is not fit to be president of the United States.... Dr. John Gartner, a practicing psychotherapist and advisor to psychiatric residents at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, said during the conference that the president is 'paranoid and delusional.'" Thanks to Marvin S. for the link. ...

... Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker: "Our problem is not Trump Derangement Syndrome; our problem is Deranged Trump Self-Delusion. This is the habit of willfully substituting, as a motive for Trump's latest action, a conventional political or geostrategic ambition, rather than recognizing the action as the daily spasm of narcissistic gratification and episodic vanity that it truly is. The bombing of Syria, for instance..., was ... simply a reaction to an image, turned into a self-obsessed lashing out that involved the lives and deaths of many people. It was a detached gesture, unconnected to anything resembling a sequence of other actions, much less an ideology.... Similarly, the current revival of a repeal-and-replace plan for Obamacare is clearly empty of all value, in its promoter's mind, save that of publicity. It was painfully, absurdly apparent, in the last go-around, that Trump had no idea what Obamacare actually consists of or how it works, or what the Republican replacement bill did or how it worked, or, indeed, how medical insurance works in the first place.... The one appetite that he does have is for announcing his authority through violence, a thing capable of an unimaginable resonance and devastation." -- CW

The Russia Connection, Ctd. Pamela Brown, et al., of CNN: "The FBI gathered intelligence last summer that suggests Russian operatives tried to use Trump advisers, including Carter Page, to infiltrate the Trump campaign, according to US officials. The new information adds to the emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election, not only through email hacks and propaganda but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit. The intelligence led to an investigation into the coordination of Trump's campaign associates and the Russians." -- CW ...

Leah McElrath of Shareblue: "Only one week after the Guardian quoted British sources as saying there was 'specific concrete and corroborative evidence of collusion' between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, United States government officials are now being cited reporting U.S. intelligence supports the likelihood that 'Russian operatives tried to use Trump advisers ... to infiltrate the Trump campaign.' Much of the new report focuses on Carter Page, a former foreign policy advisor for Donald Trump, as a possible Russian operative and notes that the FBI had Page 'on their radar for at least four years.'" -- CW

David Fahrenthold of the New York Times Washington Post: Trump's unkept pledges to charities & even his pattern of non-giving foretold how he would "govern": with unkept campaign promises, short-sighted "policies" and little interest in concerns of those outside his limited circle of "peers." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker: "... absent a spending deal with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, next Saturday the government will shut down.... 'Next week is going to have quite high drama,' a top White House official, who sounded excited by the coming clash, told me. 'It's going to be action-packed....'... Yesterday..., Mick Mulvaney, a Republican and former congressman who was one of the House members who agitated for the 2013 shutdown and is now Trump's budget director, announced that 'elections have consequences.'... Mulvaney suggested that if Trump didn't get his defense spending and border wall ... then the federal payments ... that pay for health insurance for millions of Americans under Obamacare had to be cut from the spending bill.... The White House, which is trying to force another vote on an Obamacare repeal, seems desperate to either win some of Trump's priorities in a deal next week, or force a government shutdown that it can blame on Democrats." -- CW ...

... Eric Levitz of the New York: "'The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it,' Donald Trump once paid someone to write. 'That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you're dead.' If his nostrils aren't clogged, Chuck Schumer should be getting a big whiff of vital fluid right about now. With the government set to run out of funds at the end of next week, congressional leaders were making steady progress toward a new, bipartisan spending bill -- when the White House& barged into negotiations with a list of weighty demands.... Trump has informed Democrats that he is deeply concerned about the optics of his 100th day. He has then ordered them to vote for his monument to American xenophobia - or else, he will force the government to shut down ... on the morning of his 100th day." --safari

Caitlin McNeal of TPM: "Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday afternoon announced that the Treasury Department would not grant ExxonMobil a waiver from U.S. sanctions to resume its drilling ventures in Russia. 'In consultation with President Donald J. Trump, the Treasury Department will not be issuing waivers to U.S. companies, including Exxon, authorizing drilling prohibited by current Russian sanctions,' Mnuchin said in a statement." --safari

Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "Escalating a threat to withhold grants from state and local governments that block the police from telling federal authorities about undocumented immigrants in custody, the Trump administration sent letters Friday to nine jurisdictions telling them they were obligated to prove compliance. The recipients, which included New York City, were identified in a May 2016 Justice Department inspector general report as having local rules or regulations that interfere with the ability of police or sheriffs to communicate with federal immigration authorities, about the status of prisoners in their custody." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Making up Stuff to Justify Xenophobia & Racial Animus. Philip Bump of the Washington Post: "Donald Trump's presidency has always been predicated on a shaky link between undocumented immigrants and crime.... There's no strong evidence that there's a link between immigrants and crime beyond a number of salacious anecdotes.... On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered the administration's latest attempt to link crime to undocumented immigrants.... The Justice Department's announcement reads, in part: '[M]any of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime. The number of murders in Chicago has skyrocketed, rising more than 50 percent from the 2015 levels....' ... But not many of those murders are linked to illegal immigration.... These nine jurisdictions are not among those with the most severe crime problems in the United States." -- CW ...

... Josh Marshall: "If [Sessions' sanctuary cities memo] were one deception it might be dismissed. But of course it is not. It is a single illustrative example of deception as policy, one peep in a symphony of lies that President Trump, Attorney General Sessions and all their fellow travelers and appointees use regularly to sell their anti-immigrant crackdown and attempt to return to the 'tough on crime' policies of the past." -- CW

Kleptocracy Comes to America, via Democracy Now! --safari

... Ivanka Trump: Hypocrite Extraordinaire. Michael Daly of The Daily Beast: "As a mom, Ivanka Trump feeds her three kids organic food.... As a hotel executive, she helped institute Trump Wellness, which includes organic meals, especially for children.... But Ivanka Trump is also the president's daughter and now an official White House adviser. She was silent when the Trump administration gave a last-minute reprieve to a pesticide [chlorpyrifos] that was slated for a total ban after more than two dozen scientific studies found it to be a neurotoxin that very likely affects the development of children's brains, most particularly if the exposure is prenatal.... Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris ... is the head of President Trump's new American Manufacturing Council. Dow donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee. Dow also happens to be the leading producer of chlorpyrifos.... For Ivanka Trump to be silent while dedicated scientists are slandered is for her to be party to what her actions as a mom demonstrate that she knows to be a lie." --safari

Henry Kissinger gives one of Time's "100 most influential people" Jared Kushner a thorough panning. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post reads between the lines. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

(... CW: Speaking of undesirable political "dynasties," T.A. Frank of Vanity Fair writes an entirely fair takedown of Chelsea Clinton's vanity. Title: "Please, God, stop Chelsea Clinton from Whatever She Is Doing." Really, Chelsea is god-awful, & if you're fond of her, assuming you're not a cousin or close friend, try to suppress or redirect your affections.)

Tom Price Fires Top U.S. Doctor. Melanie Eversley of USA Today: "The White House administration on Friday dismissed U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.... [According to the HHS statement announcing Murthy's firing,] 'Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, who is the current Deputy Surgeon General, will serve as the acting Surgeon General....'" CW: Trent-Adams is not a medical doctor but holds advanced degrees in nursing & health policies. Maybe Price, who is a medical doctor, thinks a lady nurse will just "naturally" follow his orders & direction.

Trumpifying Government, Ctd. Elizabeth Preza of RawStory: "The CIA's liaison to the White House was abruptly fired from his role after clashing with National Security Council member Ezra Cohen-Watnick, one of three sources who provided documents to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA). The Guardian reports the Marine officer, who was responsible for 'bringing relevant White House officials ... into the loop about cover operations,' was told in mid-March he did not need to come to work the next day.... Despite [Michael] Flynn's resignation, Cohen-Watnick remains loyal to the former Trump adviser; according to the Guardian, he belongs to a 'clique' among national security staff bitingly referred to as the 'Flynnstones.' '[Officials at the CIA] hate him.... One source said Cohen-Watnick is appearing to 'operationalize' the NSC, where the council goes around Congress, directly to the White House." --safari ...

...Trumpifying Government, Ctd. David Ferguson of RawStory: "A longtime State Department official has been removed from office and reassigned after her loyalty to President Donald Trump was questioned by right-wing media outlets. Politico.com reported on Friday that Sahar Nowrouzzadeh -- a civil service officer and co-architect of the Iran nuclear deal -- had been working since July of 2016 on the Secretary of State's policy team as an advisor and strategist.... Nowrouzzadeh's assignment was slated to last a year, but after attacks on her appeared at the Conservative Review and 'alt-right' white nationalist hub Breitbart.com, she was abruptly reassigned.... Nowrouzzadeh is an American, born in the U.S.... She joined the government in 2005...." --safari

Rachel Maddow delves into Trumplandia "Pay For Play" foreign policy. --safari

Jamelle Bouie: "[The] elevation of black art and black performance, from the first black president, was a statement of inclusion, a declaration that the story of American achievement is also the story of black art forms and black excellence.... [White House] meetings [with black artists] weren't political per se, but they were part of Barack Obama's politics.... A photo from one of [Donald Trump's] meetings ... shows the president at his desk with five visitors. To his right, musician Kid Rock with fiancée Audrey Berry. To his left, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, musician Ted Nugent, and Nugent's wife, Shemane Deziel. If cultural representation is part of what the president does, then these visitors reflect Trump's base.... But there's more at work in this picture than just representation.... Palin ... was a demagogue who attacked Obama as a racialized other, a quasi-foreigner who 'palled around with terrorists.'... [Kid Rock's] image is rooted in a similar culture of opposition and resentment, where you fly the Confederate flag and tell black protesters to 'kiss my ass.'... Nugent ... made racism his signature during the Obama years.... Donald Trump ... ran a racist campaign, meeting with men and women who sell racial defiance to an angry multitude of white Americans.... That image, of Trump and his visitors gathered around the Resolute desk in the Oval Office... , [is] an attack on Obama, his legacy, and the ethos of inclusion he brought to the White House." -- CW ...

... Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast: "Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock are totally classless people. First of all, hats in the Oval Office.... When a photo emerged once of Obama not wearing his suit jacket in the Oval, a that photo with Hillary's portrait. They're making kind of obscure hand gestures.... It should have occurred to them -- and it certainly should have occurred to the person who was escorting them around, who may have been Donald Trump himself, at least according to what Nugent told the Times -- that this was totally inappropriate White House behavior.... No party has a monopoly on public rectitude or manners. But the permissible bounds of our political discourse are such that one side can get away with the kind of childish stuff the Trump-loving troika got up to, while the other side can't." -- CW

** Allan Nairn of The Intercept: "Associates of Donald Trump in Indonesia have joined army officers and a vigilante street movement linked to ISIS in a campaign that ultimately aims to oust the country's president.... The move against President Joko Widodo (known more commonly as Jokowi), a popular elected civilian, is being impelled from behind the scenes by active and retired generals.... Prominent supporters of the coup movement include Fadli Zon, vice speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives and Donald Trump's main political booster in the country; and Hary Tanoe, Trump's primary Indonesian business partner, who is building two Trump resorts, one in Bali and one outside Jakarta.... This account of the movement to overthrow President Jokowi is based on dozens of interviews and is supplemented by internal army, police, and intelligence documents I obtained or viewed in Indonesia, as well as by NSA intercepts obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden." --safari...

... Nairn adds details: --safari

"There's No Planet B." Joel Achenbach, et al., of the Washington Post: "Earth Day has arrived, and so has the March for Science. Tens of thousands of people -- scientists and 'friends of science,' as organizers put it -- are expected to gather this morning on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Lab coats are optional. Entrances open at 8 a.m., teach-ins start at 9 a.m., the formal rally starts at 10 a.m., and then at 2 p.m., after the speeches and musical performances, the participants will march down Constitution Avenue to Union Square at the foot of Capitol Hill." -- CW ...

     ... Among other places you can watch live is the front page of the Washington Post. -- CW

... Yeah, the Weather Is Political. Jason Samenow of the Washington Post: "Atlantic hurricane season doesn't officially begin until June 1, but 2017's edition is off to a premature start thanks to the formation of Tropical Storm Arlene. Arlene formed Thursday in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, some 815 miles west of the Azores. Early Friday, it was moving westward at more than 30 mph with maximum sustained winds near 50 mph. But Arlene is not expected to be around for long. The National Hurricane Center expects it to get absorbed by a nearby nontropical storm and dissipate later Friday. As it's no threat to any land, Arlene is more or less just a curiosity for forming so early in the year." -- CW

John Ellement of the Boston Globe: "Two Harvard University researchers announced Friday that they have found a second parchment manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence in a tiny records office in southern England. The only other parchment copy is maintained by the National Archives in Washington, D.C., researchers Emily Sneff and Danielle Allen said in a statement. The newly discovered document -- which the two have dated to the 1780s -- was found in the town of Chichester archives, and is believed to have originally belonged to Duke of Richmond who was known as the 'Radical Duke,' for the support he gave to Americans during the Revolutionary War, the researchers said." -- CW ...

... Jennifer Schuessler of the New York Times: "Ms. Allen and Ms. Sneff's conference presentation will focus on their leading candidate for person behind it: James Wilson, a Pennsylvania lawyer and one of the strongest nationalists at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, who probably commissioned the parchment." Read on. -- CW

Beyond the Beltway, Florida Edition

Amazing Coincidences Aren't Ethics Violations. Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel: "A state ethics panel on Friday decided not to look further into a complaint against Attorney General Pam Bondi over her solicitation of a campaign donation from President Donald Trumpin 2013.... Her office at the time was considering what to do about complaints lodged about Trump University, a real estate investment seminar that many customers say was worthless and swindled them out of thousands of dollars.... Bondi personally asked Trump for a campaign donation in August 2013. Trump's charity, the Trump Foundation, issued a $25,000 check to her political committee the following month.... During the campaign, Trump aides admitted that the donation from his charity -- which violated a federal ban on charities giving political donations -- was a mistake." --safari

Matthew Haag of the New York Times: "A Florida state senator who unleashed an expletive-laden rant over drinks with two other lawmakers this week, uttering a racial slur for black people and other vulgarities, resigned from his position on Friday. State Senator Frank Artiles, a Republican from Miami-Dade County, apologized the day after the episode, saying on Tuesday that he let his 'temper get the best of me.'... The profane tirade occurred on Monday night at the exclusive Governors Club in Tallahassee during a conversation at a table with several people, including two other state senators, Audrey Gibson and Perry Thurston, both Democrats who are black." -- CW ...

... Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald: "... the long list of expenditures [Frank Artiles] filed with the Florida Division of Elections by Artiles' political committee, Veterans for Conservative Principles, also raised some questions.... Heather Thomas, a former Hooters calendar girl and waitress at 101, a restaurant and bar in Tallahassee, was paid $2,000 [by the committee] between March and June of last year. The expense report lists the purpose as 'consultant.' Her friend, Brittney Singletary, is a waitress at Stetsons on the Moon in Tallahassee. She was paid $1,500 with three checks covering three of the same dates and listing the same purpose.... Artiles resigned Friday after charges that he violated Senate conduct rules with a profanity-laced tirade at a Tallahassee bar this week.... The complaint was filed by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, who was with Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. Artiles referred to Gibson as a 'bitch,' and a 'girl' and made reference to some white Republican senators as 'niggas.' Thurston withdrew the complaint Friday after Artiles' resignation." -- CW

Way Beyond the Beltway

James McAuley & William Branigin of the Washington Post: "French authorities on Friday identified a small-time criminal, apparently inspired by the Islamic State, as the perpetrator of a deadly attack on police officers in a shooting that set France on edge and darkened the final day of campaigning in the country's pivotal presidential election. Despite a promise not to campaign following the attack Thursday night on Paris's renowned Champs-Élysées boulevard, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen reinforced her anti-immigrant message in a Friday speech, calling on the French government to immediately reinstate border checks and expel foreigners being monitored by the intelligence services." The assailant was "a 39-year-old of Algerian descent who was born in the Paris suburbs, had a criminal record and was well-known to authorities." CW: In other words, he was French. ...

... Natalie Nougayrède of the Guardian: [In France, "[p]opular resentment, fears and frustrations set the stage for a major political upheaval, almost 60 years after De Gaulle founded the country's Fifth Republic.... The very essence of France's democracy hangs in the balance, as well as the survival of the 60-year-old European project. Much of what is at work resembles the trends that produced Brexit in Britain and Trump in the US -- not least the disgruntlement of those who feel they have lost out to globalisation. But there are also specific, distinct elements of a collective French identity crisis." --safari

Mujib Mashal of the New York Times: "A day after a lethal Taliban assault on an Army base in northern Afghanistan, an official said on Saturday that at least 140 soldiers had been killed, making it the single deadliest known attack on an Afghan military base in the course of the long war." -- CW

AP in the Guardian: "At least 12 people were killed overnight following looting and violence in Venezuela's capital amid a spiraling political crisis, authorities in Caracas said Friday.... Two days of massive protests on the streets of Caracas against the government of Nicolás Maduro spilled into a violent night in several parts of the city, with residents in El Valle witnessing repetitive gunfire, street barricades set aflame and more than a dozen businesses looted." --safari...

     ...safari: Keep an eye on Venezuela and the Trump "Doctrine" of being sold to the highest bidder. See Rachel Maddow's slush fund piece above for the connections.

Thursday
Apr202017

The Commentariat -- April 21, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Julie Pace of the AP: "... Donald Trump waded into France's upcoming elections Friday, saying he believes an attack on police officers this week will help Marine Le Pen, the far-right presidential candidate. In an interview with The Associated Press, Trump said that while he is not explicitly endorsing Le Pen, the attack played to her strengths. 'She's the strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France,' Trump said in the Oval Office interview. 'Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election.' U.S. presidents typically avoid weighing in on specific candidates running in overseas election. But Trump suggested his opinion was no different from an average observer, saying, 'Everybody is making predictions on who is going to win. I'm no different than you.'" -- CW

Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "President Trump ordered his Treasury Department on Friday to review measures put in place by the Obama administration, setting the stage for a rollback of regulations that were intended to curtail corporate tax evasion and prevent another financial crisis. The executive order and two presidential memorandums come as Mr. Trump is scrambling for achievements as the 100-day mark in the White House approaches. Frustrated by the slow pace of action in Congress on his goal of overhauling the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation law and the fact that his mission of rewriting the tax code remains in limbo, Mr. Trump is attempting to take matters into his own hands.... Undoing the rules would appear to be at odds with Mr. Trump's campaign pledge to reduce incentives for companies to invert [i.e., merge with foreign companies to take advantage of lower tax rates abroad]." CW: "Setting the stage" for another financial crisis is a great "achievement" to "scramble for."

** "He Probably Saw It on TV." Dana Milbank: "There has been much speculation about Trump's nonsense talk about his 'armada.' Administration officials suggested a miscommunication between the Pentagon and the White House.... I put the question to my former colleague Tom Ricks, military writer and national security specialist at the New America Foundation. Ricks's hypothesis: Trump didn't have any idea where his armada was. 'He probably saw it on TV.'... This would appear to be another disturbing case of life imitating cable news.... At home as well as abroad, people are coming to recognize this emperor's state of undress." ...

     ... CW: Let that sink in. The Man Living in the White House has no idea what the President is doing. He "finds out" by watching Fox "News." This is the same way he "found out" President Obama was "tapping his wires."

David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post: Trump's unkept pledges to charities & even his pattern of non-giving foretold how he would "govern": with unkept campaign promises, short-sighted "policies" and little interest in concerns of those outside his limited circle of "peers."

Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "Escalating a threat to withhold grants from state and local governments that block the police from telling federal authorities about undocumented immigrants in custody, the Trump administration sent letters Friday to nine jurisdictions telling them they were obligated to prove compliance. The recipients, which included New York City, were identified in a May 2016 Justice Department inspector general report as having local rules or regulations that interfere with the ability of police or sheriffs to communicate with federal immigration authorities, about the status of prisoners in their custody." -- CW

Henry Kissinger gives one of Time's "100 most influential people" Jared Kushner a thorough panning. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post reads between the lines.

*****

Man Living in White House Reacts to Morning News:

It's the Media's Fault! Max Greenwood of the Hill: "President Trump took aim at the media early Friday morning, accusing journalists and news outlets of belittling and disparaging his early accomplishments in the White House. 'No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!' -- Donald J. Trump April 21, 2017' [wherein 'S.C.' = Supreme Court]." -- CW

CW: Trump, who has been credited for not weighing in on the French presidential election, just weighed in on the French presidential election. Louis Nelson of Politico: "'Another terrorist attack in Paris. The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!' Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning.... The U.S. president has not officially backed a candidate in the French election, but far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is widely seen as holding views, especially on immigration and terrorism, that are close to Trump's. Le Pen, one of the election's frontrunners who spoke Thursday of her 'anger' following the attack and insisted that France possesses 'the means to defend itself,' met with Trump in his Manhattan skyscraper during the transition period." Voting begins Sunday. -- CW ...

     ... Update: Here's the NYT story on Trump's French-election comment, by Aurelien Breeden & Adam Nossiter. -- CW


Nutty Prez Goes Off-script Again; Disses BFF Mark Landler
of the New York Times: "President Trump added a new name Thursday to the list of countries he accuses of preying on American workers and exploiting naïve American trade policies: Canada. 'What they've done to our dairy farm workers is a disgrace,' Mr. Trump said as he ordered a sweeping investigation into whether steel imports are harming America's national security. 'We can't let Canada or anybody else take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers.' Mr. Trump admitted he was going off script because the steel order is aimed at more familiar trade boogeymen like China and Japan. But his outburst in the Oval Office toward a friendly neighbor punctuated a week when tough talk on trade took center stage in a White House deeply divided over how aggressively to erect the trade barriers that Mr. Trump promised during his campaign.... 'He's manically focused on these trade issues,' said Stephen K. Bannon.... The flurry of activity amounts to a comeback by nationalists like Mr. Bannon...." ...

... Josh Wingrove, et al., of Bloomberg: "Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will stick with its system of protectionist dairy quotas, even as ... Donald Trump doubled down on a vow to help American farmers.... 'The U.S. has a $400 million dairy surplus with Canada so it's not Canada that's the challenge here,' Trudeau said Thursday, adding many other countries subsidizes agriculture. 'Let's not pretend we're in a global free market when it comes to agriculture.'" -- CW ...

... Here's the view from the CTV (Canada TV) fact-checker, which pronounces Trump's milk rants "a lot of baloney." Even if you presume a Canadian bias, you'll have to admit this: the issue is quite complex, and nothing will convince me that Trump understands the first thing about the complexities.

Time-out for Stoopid Gnus: Glenn Thrush of the New York Times: "Ted Nugent, Kid Rock and Sarah Palin had a fete to remember at the White House for several hours Wednesday night, as President Trump treated the high-profile supporters to a white-china private dinner, a room-by-room tour and free-range policy chat." -- CW

SCROTUS to Dismember ACA so He'll Look Like a "Winner." Matt Flegenheimer & Reed Abelson of the New York Times: "White House officials, desperate to demonstrate progress on President Trump's promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, are pushing to resurrect a revamped version of a Republican health care bill before his 100th day in office next week.... The latest version of the proposal, published Thursday morning in Politico, would maintain popular benefits in President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, like guaranteed coverage for emergency services and maternity care. It would also preserve the health law's ban on insurers rejecting customers with pre-existing medical conditions. But under the compromise Affordable Care Act replacement, states could seek waivers from many of those mandates if they could demonstrate that premiums would be lowered.... But at the same moment Mr. Trump's hundred-day mark is reached on Saturday, April 29, there is a far more urgent deadline: Much of the federal government will run out of money." -- CW ...

... Rachel Bade, et al., of Politico: "A frantic and impatient White House is pressuring House GOP leaders for another showdown vote on repealing Obamacare next week so it can notch a legislative win before ... Donald Trump reaches the milestone of his first 100 days in office.... Trump on Thursday predicted that health care legislation would pass 'next week or shortly thereafter.'... The vote is not currently on the calendar. Nor do Republican insiders think it's even possible, as Congress will reconvene Tuesday after a two-week Easter recess. That would leave them with one day to whip votes -- an unlikely time frame for such a heavy legislative lift.... Conflicting narratives suggest top administration officials and House Republican leaders are either miscommunicating -- or, more likely, that White House sources are squeezing Speaker Paul Ryan and his team, telling them to move quickly." -- CW ...

... Paul Waldman: "Sure, let's try to remake one-sixth of the American economy in the space of a couple of days, in order to meet a ludicrous arbitrary deadline to make the president look better. What could go wrong?" -- CW ...

... Eric Levitz of New York: "Zombie Trumpcare is officially undead again -- and uglier than it's ever been.... The practical effect of these changes [to the original massively unpopular bill] would (almost certainly) be to increase the number of Americans who lose their insurance under the GOP's plan." -- CW ...

... Sarah Kliff of Vox: "House Republicans are floating a new amendment to their health care bill -- one that would likely cause even more Americans to lose coverage than the last version. Leaders of the staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus and the more moderate Tuesday Group have reportedly hashed out a proposal that would let some states ditch key Obamacare policies, such as the requirement to charge sick people the same for coverage as healthy people. States would also have the choice to opt out of the Affordable Care Act's essential health benefit requirement." -- CW ...

... What the Congress Giveth, the States Can Taketh Away. Greg Sargent: The new plan "is even crueler than the last GOP plan: [A newly-released] study finds premiums would likely soar for the sick, probably pushing them off coverage.... The waiver on prohibitions against jacking up premiums for people with preexisting conditions -- which is called 'community rating' -- is a major problem. It would smack them with far more in costs -- potentially pushing them off coverage entirely." -- CW ...

... Gene Robinson: "Having failed miserably to win passage of an abomination of a bill -- the American Health Care Act -- [Paul] Ryan (R-Wis.) and his minions are back with something even worse. A draft framework being circulated this week would pretend to keep the parts of Obamacare that people like, but allow states to take these benefits away. We see what you're doing, folks.... Republicans don't talk much about the practical reason for moving urgently on health care, which is to set the stage for tax reform: They want to take money now used to subsidize health care for low-income Americans and give it to the wealthy in the form of big tax cuts. Again, we can see you." -- CW ...

... Paul Krugman: Every GOP plan to "reform" healthcare coverage "turns out to have a fatal flaw ... because the task Republicans have set for themselves is basically impossible.... Now they've trapped themselves: They can't admit that they have no ideas without, in effect, admitting that they were lying all along." -- CW

Josh Dawsey & Jake Sherman of Politico: "The White House, under internal pressure to show legislative achievements ahead of the 100-day mark, is gearing up for a government shutdown fight to secure money for a border wall, more immigration enforcement officers and a bigger military, according to White House and congressional sources familiar with the plan. It is a risky gambit. With almost uniform Democratic opposition to nearly all of the Trump administration's spending proposals, the fight could lead to a government shutdown next Friday -- the day government spending expires, and right before the 100th day of Donald Trump's presidency." -- CW ...

... Robert Schlesinger of US News: "So Trump wants something to brandish at the 100 day mark and might risk shutting the government down to get it? Sigh. Can we all please acknowledge that the '100 days' is an arbitrary measure which should have been retired immediately after the one time it was relevant, Franklin Roosevelt's whirlwind of activity in the face of the Great Depression? The idea of shutting the government down so that you can get a 'big win' before the mark is insane.... The idea of a shutdown as the capstone of the first 100 days of unified GOP government (symbolic though that mark may be) is so absurd and self-destructive that in the current environment it's entirely plausible." -- CW

No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days. -- President Trump, remarks in Kenosha, Wis., April 18

Trump actually is unusual for his first 100 days, but for a reason opposite of what he said. Not only has he accomplished almost nothing, but rather his initiatives (executive orders stayed by courts, a major legislative proposal failing even to come to a vote when his party controls both houses, etc.) have notoriously been unsuccessful. -- Max Skidmore of the University of Missouri

There were 76 bills signed into law under Roosevelt in the first 100 days, compared with 28 (with a week to go) under Trump.... Thirteen of the Trump bills disapprove of major regulations put in place by Obama, which signifies a reversal of action, not new action.... Other bills [Trump signed are] 'minor or housekeeping bills'.... None of Trump's bills can be considered 'major' legislation according to political science standards, whereas at least nine of Roosevelt's bills met that standard.... Meanwhile, Trump is woefully behind in presidential appointments.... Trump would be well advised to not make such a big deal about this because the available evidence shows that he in no way comes close to matching FDR's record. -- Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post

Philip Rucker & Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post: "An Egyptian American charity worker who was imprisoned in Cairo for three years and became the global face of Egypt's brutal crackdown on civil society returned home to the United States late Thursday after the Trump administration quietly negotiated her release. President Trump and his aides worked for several weeks with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi to secure the freedom of Aya Hijazi, 30, a U.S. citizen, as well as her husband, Mohamed Hassanein, who is Egyptian, and four other humanitarian workers. Trump dispatched a U.S. government aircraft to Cairo to bring Hijazi and her family to Washington.... The Obama administration unsuccessfully pressed Sissi's government for their release. It was not until Trump moved to reset U.S. relations with Egypt by embracing Sissi at the White House on April 3 -- he publicly hailed the autocrat's leadership as 'fantastic' and offered the U.S. government's 'strong backing' -- that Egypt's posture changed. Last Sunday, a court in Cairo dropped all charges against Hijazi and the others." -- CW

I thought [Trump] was really going to help people. He's helped the rich man, the coal operators. But nothing for us so far. -- Tony Brnusak, 62, president of a local coal miners' union [in Pennsylvania???] ...

... Noam Scheiber of the New York Times: "Donald J. Trump made coal miners a central metaphor of his presidential campaign, promising to ... look after their interests in a way that the Obama administration did not. Now, three months into his presidency, comes a test of that promise. Unless Congress intervenes by late April, government-funded health benefits will abruptly lapse for more than 20,000 retired miners, concentrated in Trump states.... Many of the miners have serious health problems arising from their years in the mines.... The president has offered no public comment on the issue, even as he has rolled back regulations on mine operators, an omission that has not escaped the notice of ... retired miners.... Responsibility for the retirees' health plans has increasingly shifted to the federal government in recent years, as struggling coal companies have shed their liabilities in bankruptcy court. Congress voted last fall to finance benefits for a large group of retirees for several months, but House and Senate Republican leaders have yet to agree on a longer-term solution." -- CW

Jacob Levy of the Niskanen Center: "... regardless of who's up and who's down in the West Wing, policy continues down the path of racism, ethnonationalism, and protectionism.... Over the course of the Bannon-Kushner struggle, many, reportedly including Kushner himself, have noted that he 'can't be fired.' But even those of us cheered at a little loss in status for Bannon can't be too comfortable with the idea that a 36-year-old ' real-estate guy' can be in charge of half a dozen major government portfolios and can't be removed from them because the only person with firing authority trusts family over expertise and experience." Via Greg Sargent. -- CW

If You Can't Walk on It, Is It a "Sidewalk"? Eric Beech of Reuters: "The U.S. Secret Service said it would end public access to a sidewalk along the south fence of the White House beginning on Wednesday night. The sidewalk has been closed nightly from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. since 2015 and will now be off-limits around the clock, the Secret Service said in a statement. The closure will 'lessen the possibility of individuals illegally accessing the White House grounds,' Secret Service Communications Director Cathy Milhoan said." -- CW ...

... Washington Post Editors: "SHUT IT down and close it up. That seems to be the default reaction of the Secret Service to any problem or failing -- including its own -- in protecting Washington buildings.... This is just the latest in a succession of closings that have turned parks into parking lots for White House staff, walled off walkways and pushed Americans steadily farther from the buildings that belong to them." -- CW

I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.... Judges don't get to psychoanalyze the President to see if the order he issues is lawful. It's either lawful or it's not. I think that it will be real important for America to have judges in the model of Judge (Neil) Gorsuch and (the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin) Scalia, people who serve under the law, under the Constitution, not above it, and they are faithful to the law. They honor it and don't try to remake it as they'd like it to be. -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in remarks about Trump's Muslim bans

Hey Jeff Sessions, this #IslandinthePacific has been the 50th state for going on 58 years. And we won't succumb to your dog whistle politics. Hawaii was built on the strength of diversity & immigrant experiences- including my own. Jeff Sessions' comments are ignorant & dangerous. -- Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)

I'm surprised JeffBo didn't tweet back: "Put on your grass skirt, Mazie, & show us what you've got." I guess he'll do that more subtly, by refusing to defend women & minorites in discrimination cases. -- Constant Weader

Some little island! Hawaii -- where a certain former President, not to mention hordes of other inadequately-pale individuals, come from. And have allowed themselves to become entirely too UPPITY! -- Anne Laurie of Balloon Juice

I am going to make a general observation here that Hawaii is not only a series of islands in the Pacific, but it is the least white and most ethnically and racially diverse state in the country. That probably has at least a little to do with why a white conservative man from Alabama named after the former president of the Confederacy and the man who fired on Ft. Sumter doesn't think it's a legitimate part of America. -- Martin Longman, in the Washington Monthly

This is a man who spent his entire life defending states' rights. Now that he's the head of the top Federal law enforcement officer in the country he doesn't even acknowledge that states exist.... He is an authoritarian monster, the worst of all possible world, the scariest member of the scariest administration in American history. -- digby

Matt Zapotosky & Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "Federal prosecutors are weighing whether to bring criminal charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, taking a second look at a 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents and investigating whether the group bears criminal responsibility for the more recent revelation of sensitive CIA cyber-tools, according to people familiar with the case.... Prosecutors in recent weeks have been drafting a memo that contemplates charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, possibly including conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act, officials said. The memo, though, is not complete, and any charges against members of WikiLeaks, including founder Julian Assange, would need approval from the highest levels of the Justice Department." -- CW ...

... Josh Gerstein of Politico: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the Justice Department is aggressively investigating recent leaks of classified information and wants to put 'some people in jail' over the disclosures. 'Whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail,' Sessions said in El Paso, Texas, during a border-security visit with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.... Donald Trump has repeatedly urged investigations into national security leaks, particularly those related to the ongoing FBI probe of possible ties between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government.... Sessions call for a more vigorous approach to leak cases came shortly before a Washington Post report Thursday that prosecutors are taking a fresh look at bringing criminal charges against people affiliated with the pro-transparency organization WikiLeaks.... A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the Post report." -- CW

Steven Mufson of the Washington Post: "President Trump has nominated ... conservative lawyer [Neomi Rao] to run the obscure but powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a gateway through which federal regulations must pass.... Rao would also be in a position to promote her conservative views. A critic of 'the administrative state' that ... Stephen K. Bannon has vowed to deconstruct, Rao has written that the independence of federal agencies should be abolished, their rules subject to White House review, and the heads of those agencies subject to dismissal by the president.... Not surprisingly, some liberal groups have opposed Rao, who must be confirmed by the Senate." -- CW

See Ya Later. CBS News: "The White House announced Thursday that President Trump is tapping former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown to be ambassador to New Zealand. Brown served as Massachusetts senator, winning the seat in a special election in 2010, after the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. Two years later, Elizabeth Warren defeated him and has held the seat since then. Brown then challenged New Hampshire incumbent Jeanne Shaheen for her Senate seat in 2014 but was defeated." -- CW ...

... Matthew Rosza of Salon: "One of the most widely circulated daily newspapers in New Zealand reported the news that ... Donald Trump has tapped former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown to be America's next ambassador to New Zealand with a hilarious headline. 'Man tipped for US ambassador role in NZ a former nude model who supports waterboarding,' The New Zealand Herald wrote on Thursday." Thanks to Akhilleus for the tip.

Matt Flegenheimer reviews the events at townhall-style meetings that Members of Congress conducted during their spring break.

Doina Chiacu, et al., of Reuters: "U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of a House committee with broad investigative powers, said on Thursday that it is possible he could leave office before his term finishes next year, The Wall Street Journal reported.... In Utah, officials have begun running informal scenarios on how and when to hold a special election should Chaffetz resign, but have not been formally notified of the congressman's intentions...." CW: There's more to this story than we know. It's beginning to sound like the cat-on-the-roof story. First, we learn Chaffetz won't run for re-election. Then we read he may not fill out his term. Thanks to James S. for the link. ...

     ... McKay Coppins hears Chaffetz may be quitting for a Fox "News" gig. CW: Well, there is something of a shuffle going on over there at "Fair & Balanced." Via Paul Waldman. ...

     ... Update. We're Up to "The Cat Fell off the Roof." Jake Sherman of Politico: "Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz -- who shocked the political establishment when he announced his retirement earlier this week -- said that he has already started looking for post-congressional employment, and hopes to serve on boards of directors and link up with a television network." -- CW

Michael Shear of the New York Times: "Barack Obama's extended post-presidential vacation is about to end. After spending weeks in French Polynesia ... Mr. Obama will return to Chicago on Monday for his first public event as a former president. His self-imposed silence since Inauguration Day will end with a series of events over the next four weeks. A Monday town hall-style meeting with students at the University of Chicago will be followed by an awards ceremony in Boston; a series of public remarks as well as private paid speeches in the United States and Europe; and an appearance at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel.... Aides have rejected the idea that Mr. Obama should actively wage a public feud against Mr. Trump, with whom he has not spoken since the inauguration. They believe that such a fight would give the current president the high-profile political foil he wants to further energize his conservative supporters." -- CW

Perry Stein of the Washington Post: "Activists and scientists are expected to descend on the nation's capital Saturday to rally for environmental causes and government policies rooted in scientific research as part of the Earth Day and March for Science rallies. The demonstration comes a week after the Tax March and a week before the People's Climate March.... The rally is set for 10 a.m. at the Washington Monument and will feature dozens of short speeches and videos, said Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network. At about 2 p.m., attendees will march toward the U.S. Capitol." -- CW

Annals of "Journalism," Ha Ha Ha. Emily Steel & Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "Bill O'Reilly is leaving Fox News with a payout of up to $25 million, the equivalent of one year of his salary, two people briefed on the matter said Thursday. For 21st Century Fox, the network's parent company, payouts related to sexual harassment allegations at Fox News now total more than $85 million. The vast majority of that -- up to $65 million in exit packages -- is being paid to the men who were ousted from the network because of the harassment allegations." -- CW ...

... Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post: "The Bill O'Reilly saga has three villains: the revolting former anchor himself, the network that ignored accusations of serial abuse, and a broader system that punishes confrontation and enables silence and complicity. Each deserves flaying -- along with President Trump, so eager to vouch for O'Reilly and dismiss suggestions of wrongdoing." -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Ed Pilkington of the Guardian: "Arkansas is preparing its death chamber for a possible execution Thursday night after the state supreme court lifted a temporary injunction blocking its use of a medical drug that a US healthcare giant had been duped out of under false pretences. The state's top court sided with the Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge and overturned an earlier lower court ruling that had imposed an injunction that had stymied any executions from going ahead. The ruling in effect allows the state to resume its highly contentious plan for a spate of quick-fire executions before its batch of the sedative midazolam expires at the end of the month. Two executions are scheduled for Thursday night. One of them, Stacey Johnson, remains on hold after the state supreme court agreed with his lawyers that he should have the chance for DNA testing on crime-scene materials that would either prove his innocence or confirm his guilt. But the life of Ledell Lee, the second prisoner facing an execution on Thursday, now hangs in the balance." -- CW ...

     ... Update. Mark Berman of the Washington Post: "Arkansas late Thursday night carried out the state's first execution in more than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a last-minute series of orders, rejected requests by a death-row inmate to stay his lethal injection. The execution followed a wave of criticism and tumult in Arkansas, which had set an unprecedented scheduled of executions, plans that were imperiled by a round of court orders halting at least some of the eight lethal injections originally set for April.... [Ledell] Lee was sentenced to death in 1995 for the killing of Debra Reese, who was beaten to death in her home two years earlier. According to court petitions and his attorneys, Lee has long denied involvement in Reese's death, and he was seeking DNA testing to try and prove his innocence. Lee's execution was confirmed by state officials." -- CW

Samantha Schmidt of the Washington Post: "Shortly after the body of [Judge Sheila] Abdus-Salaam, the first African American woman to serve on New York's top court, was found floating fully clothed in the Hudson River with no apparent signs of trauma or criminality, local police said they were treating the death as an apparent suicide.... But about a week later, following an inconclusive autopsy, authorities have begun asking for the public's help in the investigation. And on Wednesday, Abdus-Salaam's husband, the Rev. Gregory Jacobs, joined the police in appealing for help from anyone with information that might help determine what happened in the moments before his wife's death. In his first public comments since the death, Jacobs firmly pushed back against reports that Abdus-Salaam's death was an apparent suicide." -- CW

Thomas Fuller & Stephanie Saul of the New York Times: "The University of California, Berkeley, on Thursday said it would permit the conservative author Ann Coulter to speak on campus in early May, just one day after it canceled her appearance that had been scheduled for next week. But a student group that invited her rejected the new date, saying that the university was putting unreasonable conditions on the event and that Ms. Coulter would appear next Thursday, as originally planned." -- CW

Way Beyond

James McAuley & William Branigin of the Washington Post: "A gunman opened fire on French police Thursday on a renowned Paris boulevard, killing one and wounding two others before being fatally shot himself in an incident that shook France just three days before a crucial election.... French news media, citing the Islamic State-affiliated Amaq news agency, reported that the terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it was carried out by a Belgian national identified only as Abu Yusuf. It was not immediately possible to confirm that the Islamic State was behind the shooting." -- CW

Wednesday
Apr192017

The Commentariat -- April 20, 2017

Rachel Maddow's exposure of Drumpf and his team's utter incompetence is worth the watch. --safari

E.J. Dionne: "There are many reasons to stand against Trump, but the one that should take precedence -- because it is foundational for decent governance -- is his autocratic assumption that he is above the expectations that apply to us normal humans.... It's said that Trump always skates away. Not true. Those he ripped off in his Trump University scam stuck with the fight and forced Trump to settle a lawsuit he said (in an untruth typical of his approach) he would never settle. The country's citizens can prevail, too, if we insist on calling out a self-absorbed huckster who treats us all as easily bamboozled fools." -- CW

When Two Megalomaniacs Collide. Nicholas Kristof: "President Trump is scary in many ways, but perhaps the most frightening nightmare is of him blundering into a new Korean war. It would begin because the present approach of leaning on China to pressure North Korea will likely fail. Trump will grow angry at public snickering at the emptiness of his threats. At some point, U.S. intelligence will see a North Korean missile prepared for a test launch -- and it may then be very tempting for a deeply frustrated rogue president to show his muscle." -- CW ...

What part is misleading? I'm trying to figure that out. We were asked a question about what signal sent. We answered the question on what signal it sent. I'm not the one who commented on timing.... The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula.... That's a fact. It happened. It is happening, rather. -- Sean Spicer, at a press briefing Wednesday ...

... Missy Ryan, et al., of the Washington Post: "Trump administration officials on Wednesday denied misleading the public about the location of an aircraft carrier and whether it was redeployed as a show of strength against North Korea.... President Trump declared last week that he was 'sending an armada, very powerful' toward the Asian nation. He, like other officials, made that assertion after U.S. Pacific Command's April 9 announcement that the ship was headed from Singapore toward the western Pacific, part of a U.S. response to tensions with Pyongyang.... But ... the ship at the time was actually in the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles to the southwest.... Military officials struggled to give a firm answer for why officials from the Pentagon and other agencies failed to correct at least a week of widespread media reports stating that the ship was already headed north toward the Korean Peninsula.... As media outlets reported widely on the deployment, senior officials made comments in the following days that reinforced the belief that the ship was already headed in the direction of North Korea." -- CW ...

... Choe Sang-Hun of the New York Times: "Just 10 days ago, when news broke that the Trump administration was sending the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the Korean Peninsula, many South Koreans feared a possible war with North Korea. Others cheered for Washington.... On Wednesday, after it was revealed that the carrier strike group was actually thousands of miles away and had been sailing in the opposite direction, toward the Indian Ocean, it left South Koreans feeling bewildered, cheated and even manipulated by the United States, their country's most important ally. 'Trump's lie over the Carl Vinson,' read a headline on the website of the newspaper JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday. 'Xi Jinping and Putin must have had a good jeer over this one.'... The episode raised questions about whether major allies of the United States, like South Korea and Japan, had been informed of the carrier's whereabouts, and whether the misinformation undercut America's strategy to contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions by using empty threats." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Joshua Keating of Slate has the tick-tock on how the false story developed -- and got busted. "It seems like this was a case of the Pentagon not communicating very clearly (Did the strike group's orders actually change on April 8? If so, where was it actually headed?), the media getting a bit overexcited, and the White House just taking a narrative it liked and running with it." CW: Say what? The White House liked the narrative & ran with it? (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Lindsey Graham Officially Sells His Soul. Kyle Cheney of Politico: "South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham enthusiastically praised President Donald Trump on Wednesday for his foreign policy, a continued departure from his sharp criticism of Trump during the 2016 race and even after the election. 'I am like the happiest dude in America right now,' a beaming Graham said on "Fox & Friends." 'We have got a president and a national security team that I've been dreaming of for eight years.'...'I am all in. Keep it up, Donald,'" --safari...

     ... safari: And remember, this is after lying about the lost 'armada' at sea. There are no buybacks when selling your soul. From now on, every time Drumpf shows he's a fucking idiot, and the MSM namecalls Graham and McCain as (the only) adults in the party, call bullshit. ...

... Gail Collins: "Trump was talking about bringing in four warships, one of them an aircraft carrier. Was this going to mean real shooting?... Everybody was talking about the dangers. If North Korea sent up a missile, would the U.S. retaliate? Then what would happen to South Korea and Japan? People debated all the variables. The only thing that did not come up was the possibility that the American flotilla was actually no place near the neighborhood." -- CW ...

The Russia Connection, Ctd. Scott Shane, et al., of the New York Times: "Ever since F.B.I. investigators discovered in 2013 that a Russian spy was trying to recruit an American businessman named Carter Page, the bureau maintained an occasional interest in Mr. Page. So when he became a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign last year and gave a Russia-friendly speech at a prestigious Moscow institute, it soon caught the bureau's attention. That trip last July was a catalyst for the F.B.I. investigation into connections between Russia and President Trump's campaign, according to current and former law enforcement officials.... Mr. Page's role in the Trump campaign appears to have been minimal." -- CW ...

... Reuters: "A Russian government thinktank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 US presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters' faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former US officials have told Reuters. They described two confidential documents from the thinktank as providing the framework and rationale for what US intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the 8 November election. US intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, after the election." Read on. -- CW ...

... Matthias Stewart of The Intercept: "Mary B. McCord, who has been helping oversee the Justice Department's probe into Russian interference in the presidential election, is stepping down from her post as the acting head of the department's national security division and leaving the federal government in the coming weeks.... It was not immediately clear who will take over for McCord.... McCord will be leaving at a time when Justice is already in disarray." --safari

Jeff Pegues of CBS News: "... a manhunt is underway for a traitor inside the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA and FBI are conducting a joint investigation into one of the worst security breaches in CIA history, which exposed thousands of top-secret documents that described CIA tools used to penetrate smartphones, smart televisions and computer systems. Sources familiar with the investigation say it is looking for an insider -- either a CIA employee or contractor -- who had physical access to the material.... Much of the material was classified and stored in a highly secure section of the intelligence agency, but sources say hundreds of people would have had access to the material. Investigators are going through those names." -- CW ...

Marie's Sports Report (Is Seldom about Sports). Victor Mather of the New York Times: "During a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday, President Trump singled out several members of the New England Patriots, including wide receiver Danny Amendola, calling for them to raise a hand or step forward for acknowledgment. But Amendola was not there, nor were two dozen or more other players for the Super Bowl champions. The customary White House visit for sports champions has become especially fraught since Trump was elected, with some athletes saying they would reject an invitation for political reasons. The issue was stark on Wednesday, when a relatively small contingent of Patriots players flanked the president.... Quarterback Tom Brady was among those who did not attend Wednesday's ceremony, citing family matters. Trump did not mention Brady, the Super Bowl's most valuable player.... The visit to the White House came the same day that a former Patriot, Aaron Hernandez, hanged himself in prison, where he was serving a life sentence for murder." (See also yesterday's News Ledes.) -- CW ...

... CW: See also the end of Colbert's illustrated monologue, embedded below. Two pictures; two events. Where have we seen that before? ...

     ... Update: Ah, here are the pix, via Akhilleus:

... Adam Raymond of New York: "[Danny] Amendola later tweeted that he was working out and preparing for a friend's funeral. He thanked the president in the tweet, but deleted it after his followers revolted. Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick spoke after Trump, with each of them heaping praise on the president. It was, Mark Murray of NBC noted, among the most 'political' White House championship ceremonies in a long time." -- CW ...

Chris Mooney, et al., of the Washington Post: "Top Trump officials are feuding over whether the United States should stay in -- or exit -- the historic Paris climate agreement. The president, who promised to 'cancel' Paris during the election campaign, has faced calls from oil, gas and even some coal companies for the United States to remain a party to an accord endorsed by nearly 200 countries. But many conservatives and climate-change doubters have continued to urge Trump to keep his election pledge and quit the agreement. The White House has suggested that Trump would make his decision about the fate of the Paris agreement by late May, when leaders of the Group of Seven major economies are expected to gather in Taormina, Italy. But a decision could also emerge from a meeting of his top advisers that was postponed Tuesday and could take place as early as next week, according to Republican lobbyists. The meeting's ... new date, for now, remains unclear...." -- CW ...

... Paul Waldman: "That's right, we're counting on fossil fuel lobbyists to convince Trump to do the right thing on the environment." -- CW ...

... Enter Right, Scott Pruitt. Eric Levitz of New York: "In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency passed a rule limiting the amount of heavy metals that coal-fired power plants could spew into the air. The agency's research suggested that the rule would prevent 11,000 deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks every year. These findings meant that, for every dollar spent on enforcing the new regulation, the public would enjoy up to $9 in avoided medical costs.... Many red states stood up for their constituents' inalienable right to die from preventable asthma attacks, and sued the federal government over the EPA's rule. In Oklahoma, then -- attorney general Scott Pruitt led that valiant effort. Now, as the EPA prepares to defend its rule in court, the agency's new head, Scott Pruitt, is asking his new underlings a simple question: Is this really worth defending?... Pruitt's EPA asked for [the] court date to be pushed back, as it would need time to 'fully review' its past findings.... That decision comes even as a majority of utilities in the United States are already on pace to meet the new emissions standards." ...

     ... CW: That's right. The life- and cost-savings of the rule have been quantified. But if the "Change in Administration" should deign to defend the law (which seems unlikely), it still is apt to come, eventually, before the guy who stole Merrick Garland's chair, a guy who doesn't believe bureaucrats should be able to make rules Congress has not specifically mandated. ...

... Sam Levin of the Guardian, republished in Mother Jones: "Under Barack Obama, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed an agricultural ban on chlorpyrifos, one pesticide widely used in [California's Central Valley], based on the growing body of research documenting the risks for farm workers and communities, including links to brain damage in children. Donald Trump's administration, however, has rejected the science, announcing a reversal of the ban. That means that despite recent victories for families and environmentalists who have fought for more than a decade for protections from the insecticide, widespread use will continue in California, where a majority of the fruits and nuts in the US are grown.... In California, Latino children are 91% more likely than white students to attend schools near heavy pesticide use, according to state data. Tulare County [in the Central Valley] is also located in a region considered to have the highest poverty rate in the state and the worst air pollution in the US." -- CW ...

     ... CW: Now guess who represents part of Tulare County? Why, it America's most famous White House fence-jumper Devin Nunes. ...

... Nathalie Baptiste of Mother Jones on how Scott Pruitt's deregulation plans will destroy towns like East Chicago, Indiana, a Superfund site host with a lead-polluted water supply, which Pruitt was scheduled to visit Wednesday. -- CW

Jim Acosta, et al., of CNN: "Two sources close to the health care legislative process tell CNN the White House is exploring whether to take one more stab at repealing and replacing Obamacare before ... Donald Trump hits the key milestone of 100 days in office late next week." -- CW ...

... Peter Sullivan of the Hill: "Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Republicans are putting the 'finishing touches' on an effort to revive their ObamaCare replacement bill.... Talks on the healthcare measure have continued during Congress's two-week recess." -- CW

Washington Post: Jason Chaffetz will not run for re-election in 2018. "The Republican congressman from Utah, who became chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2015, has been criticized for a lack of action in investigating the Trump administration and President Trump's potential conflicts of interest. He reversed his position on Trump's candidacy several times in 2016, and recently faced an angry crowd at a town-hall meeting that criticized his tenure as Oversight chairman.... This is a developing story." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Brooke Siepel of the Hill: "Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford (R) is joining calls for President Trump to release his tax returns, saying Trump should 'keep his promise.'" Lankford made his remark in response to a question at a townhall meeting Tuesday night in Claremore, Oklahoma. -- CW

Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "Rob Quist surveyed his audience last week at an annual powwow of Montana's Native American tribes ... before turning his thoughts to a very different audience, far to the east: the national Democratic Party. 'They've been on the sidelines a little too long, and it's time for them to get in the game' said Mr. Quist, the banjo-playing Democratic nominee in a special May election to fill Montana's at-large House seat. But, he predicted, 'they're coming in.' They may have little choice. After a hard-fought campaign to fill a House seat in the Atlanta suburbs fell just short of outright victory on Tuesday, the House seat in Montana vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is up next, and a groundswell of new activism on the left is demanding attention." -- CW ...

... Zack Ford of ThinkProgress: "Considering that Montana ranks 48th in the country for population density with only 6.5 people per square mile, it's no surprise that allowing voters to simply cast ballots through the mail would save the state up to $750,000. Nonetheless, this week, Montana House Speaker Austin Knudsen (R) put the final nail in the coffin of a bill that would have made the state's upcoming special election all mail-in votes --  seemingly to avoid the reality that when barriers to voting are removed, Democrats cast more ballots." --safari ...

... Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "Democrats believe that [Democrat Jon] Ossoff's performance [in the Georgia special Congressional election], coming up less than two points shy of the 50 percent threshold he needed to win outright, validated their emerging strategy of focusing on dozens of GOP seats in diverse, well-educated suburbs across the country in advance of next year's elections. Price regularly won this seat north of Atlanta without breaking a sweat, but Trump won the region by just 1.5 percentage points last year." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... ** Tommy Christopher of Shareblue: The main reason Ossoff couldn't hit 50 percent? The GOP-controlled state legislature racially gerrymandered the district. "... a Republican state legislator openly admitted that the district's lines were drawn to disenfranchise Black voters and beat Democrats like Ossoff.... Such an admission would likely prompt a federal civil rights investigation, if the Department of Justice were not under the control of the blatantly racist Jeff Sessions, whose own career has included attempts to disenfranchise Black voters. Such disenfranchisement has been further enabled by a conservative-dominated Supreme Court that gutted the Voting Rights Act, and a Republican-controlled Congress that refuses to fix the problem." -- CW ...

... CW BTW: Trump viewed Ostoff's narrow loss of the majority against a field of 4 other Democrats & 11 Republicans as a big win for ... Trump: "Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG 'R' win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help! -- Donald J. Trump April 19, 2017." As Greg Sargent points out, "For all of Trump's 'help,' the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the GOP runner-up, Karen Handel, who will face Ossoff in the runoff, never mentioned Trump in her speech last night." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Alex Shephard of the New Republic: "... Trump did not help; in fact, he almost certainly hurt. Every race in the country is now a referendum on his presidency, evidenced by the huge swings we've seen toward the Democrats in special elections in Kansas and Georgia.... Any Republican trying to argue that a twenty point swing toward Democrats in Georgia and Kansas is a good thing is selling something." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Leveling the Playing Field, Literally. Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: The Supreme Court hears a church v. state case & the Justices seem sympathetic to the church. -- CW ...

... Dana Milbank: "Restraint was in short supply during oral arguments in the Trinity Lutheran Church case at the high court. It was a manufactured controversy, cooked up by conservative interest groups that are hoping to chip away at constitutional provisions in 39 states restricting taxpayer money from going to churches.... The complaint became irrelevant last week when the state's new governor, Eric Greitens, reversed Missouri's position and said he would allow religious organizations to compete for ... [state Department of Natural Resources] grants." -- CW

Alan Gomez of USA Today: "President Trump will confront a familiar figure in the lawsuit over a DREAMer who was deported by federal immigration agents: U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel. He's the judge who oversaw a lawsuit involving Trump University who Trump accused of being biased because of his 'Mexican heritage.' Curiel, who was born in Indiana, approved a $25 million settlement between Trump and students who claimed they overpaid for real estate seminars.... Curiel has been assigned to handle a lawsuit brought on behalf of Juan Manuel Montes, 23, a California resident who was deported in February despite being approved for the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides protective status for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. Curiel's assignment to the case was completely coincidental...." CW: My sympathies to Judge Curiel. ...

     ... P.S. JeffBo Has a Message for Montes: "Tough Luck, Hombre." Margaret Hartmann: "Wednesday on Fox News, Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied that DACA recipients are being targeted for deportation. 'I don't know why this individual was picked up,' Sessions told Jenna Lee. 'Everybody in the country illegally is subject to being deported, so people come here and they stay here a few years and somehow they think they are not subject to being deported -- well, they are.'" -- CW

The Chili Bowl Defense. Charlie Warzel of BuzzFeed: "... the first full day of [winger conspiracy theorist & Friend of Trump Alex] Jones' battle to retain custody of his three young children was filled with bizarre allegations -- claims that Jones took his shirt off during a joint family counseling session and once blamed his inability to recall basic facts about his children during a pretrial deposition on having 'had a big bowl of chili for lunch.' The news from the Travis County courtroom -- breathless tweets from a gaggle of journalists covering the trial -- bled across the internet instantly.... Jones' unenviable position then -- disavow your lucrative professional views or risk losing your family -- feels like a rare shot at the truth at a time when disinformation and professionalized trolling are staples of both sides of the political spectrum." CW: Thanks for the both-sides-do-it shout-out, Charlie!

White Men's Lives Matter Most. Jamelle Bouie: As the New York Times reported recently, "'More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all the people employed in the coal industry.'... Despite this ongoing challenge and threat to millions of ordinary Americans [in the retail industry], Washington is silent.... Politicians -- and a multitude of voices in national media -- are preoccupied with the prospects of blue-collar whites and the future of the Rust Belt.... For all of the impersonal economic reasons for the decline of retail, for all the understandable reasons motivating political attention to manufacturing, it's also the case that this is a story of race and gender. A story of who matters in our society; who deserves our collective concern." -- CW

Capitalism Is Awesome, Ctd. Clifford Krauss of the New York Times: "Exxon Mobil is pursuing a waiver from Treasury Department sanctions on Russia to drill in the Black Sea in a venture with Rosneft, the Russian state oil company, a former State Department official said on Wednesday. An oil industry official confirmed the account. The waiver application was made under the Obama administration, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity, and the company has not dropped the proposal.... The appeal did not come up during Senate confirmation hearings for Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who was Exxon Mobil's chief executive before his nomination by President Trump and was known to have a strong working relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. At the time, Mr. Tillerson and other company officials said they had not lobbied against the sanctions, which were imposed on Russia in response to its military intervention in Ukraine.... Hal Eren, a former official in the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said that such waivers were rarely requested or granted and that in most cases such permission was given only for environmental or safety reasons. The Exxon request is particularly unlikely to succeed, he said, because of the narrow nature of the current sanctions." ...

     ... CW: In other words, if the Trump administration grants Exxon the waiver, it will be because it's a crooked administration.

Capitalism Is Awesome, Ctd. Oh the Irony! Natasha Geiling of ThinkProgress: "A Kentucky coal company announced Tuesday that it is planning to build a solar farm on a reclaimed mountaintop removal coal mine and that the project would bring both jobs and energy to the area. Berkeley Energy Group, the coal company behind the project, billed it as the first large-scale solar farm in the Appalachian region, which has been hit hard by the decades-long decline in the U.S. coal industry." --safari

Buh-Bye, Bill-O. Emily Steel & Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "Bill O'Reilly has been forced out of his position as a prime-time host at Fox News, the company said on Wednesday, after the disclosure of settlements involving sexual harassment allegations against him. His abrupt and embarrassing ouster ends his two-decade reign as one of the most popular and influential commentators in television.... Mr. O'Reilly is departing two and a half weeks after an investigation by The New York Times revealed how Fox News and 21st Century Fox had repeatedly stood by him even as sexual harassment allegations against him mounted. The Times found that the company and Mr. O'Reilly had reached settlements with five women who had complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by him. The agreements totaled about $13 million. Since then, more than 50 advertisers had abandoned his show, and women's rights groups had called for his ouster. Inside the company, women expressed outrage and questioned whether top executives were serious about maintaining a culture based on 'trust and respect,' as they had promised last summer when another sexual harassment scandal led to the ouster of Roger E. Ailes as chairman of Fox News." -- CW ...

Bill O'Reilly is one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news. In fact, his success by any measure is indisputable. -- Excerpt, Fox "News" statement on firing of mutual agreement with O'Reilly ...

... German Lopez of Vox: "As it fires former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly following sexual harassment allegations, 21st Century Fox wants people to know that O'Reilly is actually great." -- CW ...

... Sarah Ellison of Vanity Fair: "The most unsettling feeling among some at Fox News..., is that Wednesday's events are only the beginning. 'There's more to come,' one Fox News insider told me, suggesting that there are more women with stories of harassment who have not come forward publicly. This estimation was affirmed by two people who heard such stories directly." -- CW ...

... CW: Maybe Bill-O can go back to his old gig anchoring "Inside Edition":

Bill-O's No. 1 satirist bids him farewell:

... Andrew Kirell of the Daily Beast: "The reign of the most-watched host on the right-wing cable news network is coming to an end after two full decades, brought down by a perfect storm of newly unearthed sexual-harassment accusations, a massive advertiser boycott, and the absence of Roger Ailes, a fellow serial harasser of women, to protect him.... Bill-O can rest easy, however, knowing he has one defender: ... Donald Trump, who said, 'I don't think Bill did anything wrong.'" -- CW ...

... Michael Grynbaum & John Koblin of the New York Times: "Tucker Carlson, a conservative provocateur who joined Fox News's prime-time ranks only three months ago, has been tapped to replace Mr. O'Reilly at 8 p.m. Eastern, beginning on Monday, the network said. Mr. Carlson has become, seemingly overnight, one of the network's most vital players, a remarkable turnaround for a pundit whose bow-tied heyday had seemed behind him. Fox News's afternoon ensemble show, 'The Five,' which features a chatty round table of hosts, will take over Mr. Carlson's 9 p.m. slot." -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Rocco Parascandola & Graham Rayman of the New York Daily News: "Secret Service agents detained a Brooklyn man who slithered into a Tribeca building where former President Obama's daughter Malia interns -- and begged the 18-year-old to marry him. Jair Nilton Cardoso showed up on the fourth floor of the building on April 10, held up a sign in an office window and loudly begged for her hand in marriage, sources said. The agents recognized Cardoso as a man who had repeatedly tried to get into the White House in the past, sources said." -- CW

Paul Bond of the Hollywood Reporter: "It appears UC Berkeley is in for another political brawl, this time with Ann Coulter, who tells The Hollywood Reporter that she'll speak at the famously progressive campus even though administrators are trying to prevent her from doing so. 'Yes, it was officially banned,' Coulter said of her planned April 27 appearance. 'But they can't stop me. I'm an American. I have constitutional rights.'... On Wednesday, though, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the powers that be at Berkeley ordered that Coulter's speech be canceled, citing riots that erupted when Milo Yiannopoulos and other conservatives have visited the university." -- CW

Way Beyond

Henry Meyer, et al., of Bloomberg: "Vladimir Putin is seizing on mixed signals from the U.S. to quietly tighten Russia's grip on two rebel regions of Ukraine, burying hopes for a European-brokered peace deal and relief from sanctions anytime soon. While the Kremlin continues to publicly back the accord that Germany and France oversaw in 2015, Putin's real strategy in Ukraine is to fully separate the two border areas known as the Donbas through incremental integration with Russia, three people close to the leadership in Moscow said. He has no plans to recognize or annex the territories, they said." -- CW

Radio Free Europe: "A prominent Russian journalist known for articles criticizing Russia's government and President Vladimir Putin has died at a hospital in St. Petersburg after being severely beaten by unknown assailants. Nikolai Andrushchenko, a 73-year-old co-founder of the weekly newspaper Novy Petersburg, had been unconscious since he was attacked on March 9.... He became a renowned journalist as a result of his investigative reporting about human rights issues in Russia, organized crime, and police brutality. Andrushchenko began to express concerns about Putin after he came to power in 2000, writing that the secret services were taking control over Russia." -- CW

Tuesday
Apr182017

The Commentariat -- April 19, 2017

Afternoonish Update:

"After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O'Reilly have agreed that Bill O'Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel," 21st Century Fox said in a statement." Thanks to Patrick forth the lead.

Choe Sang-Hun of the New York Times: "Just 10 days ago, when news broke that the Trump administration was sending the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the Korean Peninsula, many South Koreans feared a possible war with North Korea. Others ... call[ed] the deployment a powerful symbol of its commitment to deterring the North. On Wednesday, after it was revealed that the carrier strike group was actually thousands of miles away and had been sailing in the opposite direction, toward the Indian Ocean, it left South Koreans feeling bewildered, cheated and even manipulated by the United States, their country's most important ally. 'Trump's lie over the Carl Vinson,' read a headline on the website of the newspaper JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday. 'Xi Jinping and Putin must have had a good jeer over this one.'... The episode raised questions about whether major allies of the United States, like South Korea and Japan, had been informed of the carrier's whereabouts, and whether the misinformation undercut America's strategy to contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions by using empty threats." -- CW ...

... Joshua Keating of Slate has the tick-tock on how the false story developed -- and got busted. "It seems like this was a case of the Pentagon not communicating very clearly (Did the strike group's orders actually change on April 8? If so, where was it actually headed?), the media getting a bit overexcited, and the White House just taking a narrative it liked and running with it." CW: Say what? The White House liked the narrative & ran with it? I like the narrative that I'm a candidate for the Nobel Prize in chemistry, the next Mother Teresa & a deadringer for Scarlett Johansson. But I'm not running with it, even tho there's no chance my risible "narrative" could have dire global consequences.

Washington Post: Jason Chaffetz will not run for re-election in 2018. "The Republican congressman from Utah, who became chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2015, has been criticized for a lack of action in investigating the Trump administration and President Trump's potential conflicts of interest. He reversed his position on Trump's candidacy several times in 2016, and recently faced an angry crowd at a town-hall meeting that criticized his tenure as Oversight chairman.... This is a developing story." -- CW

Brooke Siepel of the Hill: "Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford (R) is joining calls for President Trump to release his tax returns, saying Trump should 'keep his promise.'" Lankford made his remark in response to a question at a townhall meeting Tuesday night in Claremore, Oklahoma. -- CW

Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "Democrats believe that [Democrat Jon] Ossoff's performance [in the Georgia special Congressional election], coming up less than two points shy of the 50 percent threshold he needed to win outright, validated their emerging strategy of focusing on dozens of GOP seats in diverse, well-educated suburbs across the country in advance of next year's elections. Price regularly won this seat north of Atlanta without breaking a sweat, but Trump won the region by just 1.5 percentage points last year." -- CW ...

... CW BTW: Trump viewed Ostoff's narrow loss of the majority against a field of 4 other Democrats & 11 Republicans as a big win for ... Trump: "Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG 'R' win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help! -- Donald J. Trump April 19, 2017." As Greg Sargent points out, "For all of Trump's 'help,' the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the GOP runner-up, Karen Handel, who will face Ossoff in the runoff, never mentioned Trump in her speech last night." ...

... Alex Shephard of the New Republic: "... Trump did not help; in fact, he almost certainly hurt. Every race in the country is now a referendum on his presidency, evidenced by the huge swings we've seen toward the Democrats in special elections in Kansas and Georgia.... Any Republican trying to argue that a twenty point swing toward Democrats in Georgia and Kansas is a good thing is selling something." -- CW

*****

Jonathan Martin & Richard Fausset of the New York Times: "Jon Ossoff, a Democrat making his first bid for elective office, narrowly missed winning a heavily conservative House district in Georgia outright on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press. It threw a scare into Republicans in a special congressional election that was seen as an early referendum on President Trump. Mr. Ossoff received 48.1 percent of the vote, just short of the 50 percent threshold needed to win the seat, and he will face Karen Handel, the top Republican vote-getter, in a June runoff." -- CW ...

... The New York Times is liveblogging the results of the Georgia special election to replace Tom Price, now Secretary of No Health & Human Services.

** Everything Donald Trump Says Is a Lie. When He Says North, Think South. Mark Landler & Eric Schmitt of the New York Times: "A week ago, the White House declared that ordering an American aircraft carrier into the Sea of Japan would send a powerful deterrent signal to North Korea and give President Trump more options in responding to the North's provocative behavior. 'We're sending an armada,' Mr. Trump said to Fox News that afternoon. The problem was that the carrier, the Carl Vinson, and the three other warships in its strike force were that very moment sailing in the opposite direction, to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, 3,500 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula. White House officials said Tuesday that they had been relying on guidance from the Defense Department. Officials there described a glitch-ridden sequence of events, from an ill-timed announcement of the deployment by the military's Pacific Command to an erroneous explanation by the defense secretary, Jim Mattis -- all of which perpetuated the false narrative that a flotilla was racing toward the waters off North Korea. By the time the White House was asked about the Carl Vinson, its imminent arrival had been emblazoned on front pages across East Asia, fanning fears that Mr. Trump was considering a pre-emptive military strike.... With Mr. Trump himself playing up the show of force, Pentagon officials said, rolling back the story became difficult." -- CW ...

     ... Update: "... officials expressed bewilderment that the Pentagon did not correct its timeline, particularly given the tensions in the region and the fact that Mr. Spicer, as well as the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, were publicly answering questions about it. 'The ship is now moving north to the Western Pacific,' the Pentagon's chief spokeswoman, Dana White, said Tuesday. 'This should have been communicated more clearly at the time.'" ...

... Aaron Rupar of Think Progress: "Press Secretary Sean Spicer also seemed to confirm the strike group was on the way to North Korea, saying during a news conference [last week] that..., '... when you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a huge deterrence.'" -- CW ...

... Simon Dennis & Emily Rauhala of the Washington Post: "As tensions mounted on the Korean Peninsula, Adm. Harry Harris made a dramatic announcement: An aircraft carrier had been ordered to sail north from Singapore on April 8 toward the Western Pacific. A spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command, which Harris heads, linked the deployment directly to the 'number one threat in the region,' North Korea, and its 'reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.' Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on April 11 that the Carl Vinson was 'on her way up there.' Asked about the deployment in an interview with Fox Business Network that aired April 12, President Trump said: 'We are sending an armada, very powerful.'... Instead of steaming toward the Korea Peninsula, the carrier strike group was actually headed in the opposite direction to take part in 'scheduled exercises with Australian forces in the Indian Ocean,' according to Defense News, which first reported the story.... The carrier strike force may indeed be finally heading north now." -- CW ...

... Matthew Weaver of the Guardian: "The Carl Vinson and its strike force will not reach the seas off the Korean peninsula until next month." -- CW ...

... David Graham of the Atlantic: "The boat blunder is only the latest example of how failure to communicate between units is undermining the Trump administration's ability to articulate and execute a policy. In this case, the White House blames the Pentagon for providing misleading information and a premature press release, though a fuller story will probably emerge over time. (It's important to remember that Mattis, a decorated and respected Marine general, was supposed to be one of the more competent figures in an administration full of thin government resumes.)... These are ... the sign of an administration that cannot effectively communicate within its constituent parts.... They are, perhaps most importantly, an indication of how Trump is trying to employ his 'fake it 'til you make it' campaigning style as a governing technique, too." -- CW

You are going to have a few people who have nothing better to do than to sit behind a computer and send a mean tweet. It's unfortunate, but it's the nature of the game. -- Eric Trump, in an interview with the U.K. Independent

... Trump Took Time out from Easter Egg Roll to Diss Obama & Bill Clinton. Joe Concha of the Hill: "President Trump said his predecessors Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were 'outplayed' by North Korea and that he won't be broadcasting his plans to deal with the isolated and increasingly aggressive country.... 'You read Clinton's book. and he said, "Oh, we made such a great peace deal," and it was a joke,' Trump said. 'You look at different things over the years with President Obama. Everybody has been outplayed.[]... They've all been outplayed by this gentleman,' he continued, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 'And we'll see what happens. I just don't telegraph my moves.'" CW: Trump repeatedly referred to the thug Kim as a "gentleman," no doubt because Trump couldn't remember or couldn't pronounce Kim's name. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

Spencer Ackerman> & Justin McCurry of the Guardian: "The US military is considering shooting down North Korean missile tests as a show of strength to Pyongyang, two sources briefed on the planning have told the Guardian. Amid heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, the Pentagon is looking for ways short of war to pressure the country into denuclearization, particularly if Pyongyang goes forward with a sixth nuclear test." CW: So sorry if I don't believe it. ...

... Antony Blinken in a New York Times op-ed: "As President Trump confronts the twin challenges of North Korea and Syria, he must overcome a credibility gap of his own making. His insistence on remaining the most prominent consumer and purveyor of fake news and conspiracy theories is not only corrosive of our democracy -- it's dangerous to our national security. Every fact-averse tweet devalues his credibility at home and around the world. This matters more than ever when misinformation is a weapon of choice for our most dangerous adversaries.... A series of sophomoric presidential missives -- 'North Korea is behaving very badly'; 'North Korea is looking for trouble'; if China won't help, 'we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.'; North Korea's quest for a nuclear-tipped ICBM 'won't happen!' -- has given Pyongyang a rare chance to take the high road.... Equally problematic is Mr. Trump's challenged relationship with veracity, documented almost daily by independent fact-checking organizations.... If Mr. Trump continues to spread his own misinformation on matters large and small, he will cede that advantage and America will be seen like any other country -- which is just what our adversaries want. This will complicate his administration's ability to rally others against threats to our national security." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Daniel Drezner of the Washington Post: "Trump actually congratulated Erdogan on the outcome [of the Turkish election]. Trump apparently thought it was a good thing that, despite all the flaws in the process, a bare majority of Turkey's citizens voted to strengthen their populist leader. I don't think any other post-Cold War president would have congratulated a democratic ally that held a flawed referendum leading to a less democratic outcome.... For all the talk about Trump's moderation, for all the talk about an Axis of Adults, it's time that American foreign policy-watchers craving normality acknowledge three brute facts: 1. Donald Trump is the president of the United States; 2. Trump has little comprehension of how foreign policy actually works; 3.The few instincts that Trump applies to foreign policy are antithetical to American values." -- CW (Also linked yesterday.)

Glenn Thrush, et al., of the New York Times: "President Trump, hammering his 'America First' campaign theme, signed an order on Tuesday that he said would favor American companies for federal contracts and reform the visa program for foreign technical workers. After recent policy reversals that have angered his populist base, Mr. Trump described the visa program as an initiative gone awry that has driven down wages for Americans.... Yet the order calls for a series of relatively modest steps..., under which the government admits 85,000 foreign workers annually, many of them in the high-tech, industrial, medical and science fields. Collectively, the efforts outlined in the order could take years to carry out.... 'This does nothing,' said Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. 'Like all the other executive orders, it's just words -- he's calling for new studies. It's not going to fix the problem. It's not going to create a single job.'" -- CW ...

... Nolan McCaskill of Politico: "... Donald Trump on Tuesday promised big wins in the next stretch of his administration, glossing past the reality that the political newcomer will celebrate his first 100 days without a major legislative victory. In a speech that could be seen as a messaging test for that milestone, Trump hailed the opening days of his administration as a wild success and pledged to quickly deliver on health care, tax reform and infrastructure. 'No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days,' Trump declared in Kenosha, Wisconsin.... 'That includes on military, on the border, on trade, on regulation, on law enforcement -- we love our law enforcement -- and on government reform.'" -- CW"

Greg Miller of the Washington Post: "'Things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia,' President Trump declared on his Twitter account last week. 'At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!' Trump's interest in achieving warm relations with Moscow has been a consistent theme since the earliest days of his campaign, and it stands now as one of the few major foreign policy positions that he has not discarded or revised since taking office. But in his devotion to this outcome, Trump appears increasingly isolated within his own administration. Over the past several weeks, senior members of Trump's national security team have issued blistering critiques of Moscow, using harsh terms that have led to escalating tensions between the countries and seem at odds with the president.... The statements have created confusion about the Trump administration's posture toward Russia and put senior officials ... in the awkward position of having to explain why Trump has yet to echo any of their harsh words." -- CW ...

... The Russia Connection, Ctd. Evan Perez, et al., of CNN: The FBI last year used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign as part of the justification to win approval to secretly monitor a Trump associate [Carter Page], according to US officials briefed on the investigation.... Officials familiar with the process say even if the application to monitor Page included information from the dossier, it would only be after the FBI had corroborated the information through its own investigation. The officials would not say what or how much was corroborated." -- CW ...

** Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker: "It is now clear that the scandal was not [Susan] Rice's normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and [Rep. Devin] Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice's unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal.... [An] intelligence source told me that he knows, 'from talking to people in the intelligence community,' that 'the White House said, "We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President's tweet that he was being surveilled." They put out an all-points bulletin' -- a call to sift through intelligence reports -- 'and said, "We need to find something that justifies the President's crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower."' The fallout from Trump's tweet could have grave consequences for national security.... Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are still preparing to focus on Obama's national-security team, rather than on Vladimir Putin's." -- CW

Nicholas Fandos of the New York Times: "President Trump raised twice as much money for his inauguration festivities as any previous president-elect in history.... Disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday showed the contributions from corporate executives, lobbyists and businesses, as well as small donors, totaled $107 million. The previous record was held by President Barack Obama, who raised $53 million for his 2009 inauguration. Mr. Trump's inaugural committee is not required to report how it spent the money on his inauguration festivities, which included more than 20 events and drew modest crowds in January. In a statement on Tuesday, the committee said it was still identifying charities toward which it would direct leftover money, although it did not detail how much was left." -- CW

Matt O'Brien of the Washington Post: "Winning ... is Trump's real ideology. Which is to say that his populism was never about the ideas themselves, but about what he thought they projected: strength. He wasn't opposed to free trade, for example, because he had reservations about the logic of comparative advantage. He was opposed to it, because he thought other countries were bending the rules to take advantage of us. It was about being tough. There's nothing less tough, though, than having your plans blocked by Congress. In that case, populism becomes the very weakness it was supposed to get rid of -- so Trump gets rid of it instead. And then he turns to anyone who seems like they can get things done, which, in his administration, are the generals and the Goldman guys. That's how the people you ran your campaign against end up in charge, just like they have been in every Republican government going back to time immemorial." ...

... CW: AND there's the crux of the problem. Trump has zero commitment to do what's good for the country. All he cares about is what's good for him. So it's golfing at Mar-a-Lago; it's dropping the MOAB; it's tax breaks for billionaires; it's getting a legislative "win," no matter the content of the bill; it's scrawling his name on the bottom of some executive order; it's criticizing everybody who is not Donald J. Trump. And so forth.

The Most Unethical Administration Ever, Ctd. Danny Hakim & Rachel Abrams of the New York Times: "While [Ivanka Trump] has stepped down from both her own fashion company and from the Trump Organization and put her brand in a trust, she has not given up her financial control, an unusual situation to navigate now that she is subject to federal ethics rules on conflicts of interest. Even though many of her trademark applications were filed long before she took her government job, they could be decided on by foreign governments while she works in the White House, creating ethical issues with little precedent.... Earlier this month, China approved three new trademarks for Ms. Trump's brand on the same day she met China's president, Xi Jinping.... Helping steady her father's presidency could be critical to preserving the appeal of both her brand and her father's. Certainly, his scorching rhetoric has led to a complicated period for Ms. Trump's brand, both at home and abroad." -- CW

... CW: If you were all surprised that Trump was cool with Kellyanne Conway's violation of ethics laws when she made "a commercial" on Fox "News" for Ivanka Trump's clothing lines, Kevin Drum provides a chart that explains why.

The Most Dysfunctional Administration Ever. Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making aggressive law enforcement a top priority, directing his federal prosecutors across the country to crack down on illegal immigrants and 'use every tool' they have to go after violent criminals and drug traffickers. But the attorney general does not have a single U.S. attorney in place to lead his tough-on-crime efforts across the country. Last month, Sessions abruptly told the dozens of remaining Obama administration U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations immediately -- and none of them, or the 47 who had already left, have been replaced.... The 93 unfilled U.S. attorney positions are among the hundreds of critical Trump administration jobs that remain open. Sessions is also without the heads of his top units, including the civil rights, criminal and national security divisions, as he tries to reshape the Justice Department." -- CW ...

... Maria Sachetti of the Washington Post: "After Trump threatened in January to strip federal money from cities that refuse to help deport immigrants, Miami-Dade County was the first to retreat. The mayor halted the policy, the council made it official, and now stunned advocates in a county where 51.7 percent of the residents are immigrants are considering their next move. 'People are really angry,' said María Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. 'People in Miami-Dade are outraged that we would buckle so quickly to the administration's intimidation.' Across the country, in city halls and statehouses, elected leaders are debating whether to follow Miami-Dade's lead. Emotions are rippling across more than 100 other sanctuary communities as they weigh whether to defend policies that shield undocumented immigrants and other noncitizens from deportation -- including those who have been arrested for crimes -- or risk losing their share of $4.1 billion in Justice Department grants this year." -- CW ...

... Jonathan Blitzer of the New Yorker: 'Ever since Donald Trump became President, mayors and city council members in 'sanctuary cities' -- places where local law-enforcement officials limit their coöperation with immigration agents -- have promised to resist the federal government's crackdown on immigrants.... But Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) answers to the federal government, not to local officeholders, and as it continues to expand the scope and reach of its activity, the limits of city power are becoming increasingly clear. Consider New York City.... Lately, ICE agents have been showing up at locations where the city is powerless to stop them: the courts. Since January, there have been seventeen reports of ICE agents making arrests at courthouses in the city, compared to nineteen such reports made in the previous two years combined.... As President, Trump has removed almost all of ICE's arrest and deportation guidelines.... Agents appear emboldened by their new latitude." -- CW ...

... Say, Here's a Good Example of "Latitude." Alan Gomez & David Agren of USA Today: "Federal agents ignored President Trump's pledge to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children by sending a young man back to his native Mexico, the first such documented case.... After spending an evening with his girlfriend in Calexico, Calif., on Feb. 17, Juan Manuel Montes, 23, who has lived in the U.S. since age 9, grabbed a bite and was waiting for a ride when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer approached.... Montes was twice granted deportation protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by President Barack Obama and left intact by President Trump. Montes had left his wallet in a friend's car, so he couldn't produce his ID or proof of his DACA status and was told by agents he couldn't retrieve them. Within three hours, he was back in Mexico, becoming the first undocumented immigrant with active DACA status deported by the Trump administration's stepped-up deportation policy." -- CW ...

... CW: Let's ask Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly about that:

If lawmakers do not like the laws that we enforce, that we are charged to enforce, that we are sworn to enforce, then they should have the courage and the skill to change those laws. Otherwise, they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines. -- DHS Secretary John Kelly, at the George Washington University event, Tuesday ...

... Madeline Conway of Politico: "Kelly's remarks at the event ... laid out a bleak worldview similar to what ... Donald Trump has articulated. The country is continuously 'under attack' by drug smugglers, terrorists and other criminals who hate America and try to cross its borders, Kelly said, arguing that law enforcement officials do not always get the respect they deserve for protecting Americans. But, he asserted, that is changing. 'It stopped with President Trump and it stopped with me,' Kelly said." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Looks as if JeffBo Sent Kelly the Weed-Is-Evil Memo. Katie Williams of the Hill: "Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly course-corrected recent comments on marijuana Tuesday, in his first major public speech since being sworn in. Kelly vowed that Department of Homeland Security staff would continue to investigate and arrest those involved in illegal trade of the drug, and called marijuana 'a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs.' The apparent reversal comes two days after he told 'Meet the Press' that marijuana is not 'a factor in the drug war.'" -- CW

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post: "Despite the rise of the tea party and unified Republican control of government, one decidedly anti-free-market idea appears ascendant: single-payer health care.... A recent survey from the Economist/YouGov found that a majority of Americans support 'expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American.' Similarly, a poll from Morning Consult/Politico showed that a plurality of voters support 'a single payer health care system, where all Americans would get their health insurance from one government plan.'... In ... [the two] polls..., the age group most opposed to single payer was the only one that basically already has it: those 65 and up. In other words, single payer for me but not for thee.... Often what ... Trump voters say they want is not a return to pre-Obamacare days; rather, they want in on the great insurance deal that they think their lazy, less-deserving neighbors are getting.... Somewhere out there, Bernie Sanders is smiling." -- CW

Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker: "Neil Gorsuch ... will immediately have a chance to make his mark with a case that involves one of the top priorities for the conservative movement: lowering the barriers between church and state.... The complexion of the controversy has changed in recent years, as those on the right have become more aggressive in pressing constitutional arguments. At one point, the issues in this area were fairly straightforward, if largely symbolic.... The current cases before the Supreme Court are more consequential because they concern government policy and, more often, government money. In some of the cases, religious individuals seek to be excused from obligations that the law imposes on the rest of society; in other cases, including Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the one to be argued this week, religious institutions seek government money, notwithstanding the Constitution's prohibition on the establishment of a state religion." -- CW

Julie Zauzmer of the Washington Post: "Dozens of men and women whose ancestors were once sold as slaves to fund the nascent Georgetown University gathered at that university Tuesday for an emotional worship service of remembrance and repentance. Maryland's Jesuit priests sold 272 slaves in 1838, and used the proceeds of the sale to secure the future of the floundering new college. That sale only became well-known last year, through the research of genealogists and then widespread publicity. Now, the university is grappling with how to respond to the new knowledge of its own history -- as are dozens of people who have learned their ancestors were once enslaved by men of God and sold by those priests to even more brutal slavery in Louisiana." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Mark Hensch of the Hill: "United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz says his company will not fire any employees following backlash over the forced removal of a passenger aboard a recent flight. 'The buck stops here,' he said on United's earnings call Tuesday, according to CNBC. 'And I'm sure there was lots of conjecture about me personally. Again, it was a system failure across various areas, so no, there was never a consideration for firing an employee.' Munoz's remarks came as shares of United Continental reportedly dropped 4.4 percent Tuesday despite the company reporting earnings that exceeded expectations Monday." CW: The security guards who removed & injured Dr. Dao are not United employees; they work for the City of Chicago. According to a couple of reports I read, one of them was suspended or put on leave. (Also linked yesterday.)

Annals of "Journalism," Ha Ha Ha. Gabriel Sherman of New York: "With only six days remaining in Bill O'Reilly's vacation, the pressure on the Murdoch family to decide the embattled commentator's fate is intensifying. Three sources with knowledge of the discussions said that, while no final decision has been made, the Murdochs are leaning toward announcing that O'Reilly will not return to the air. Sons James and Lachlan have been arguing that O'Reilly needs to go, say these sources, though their father, Rupert, has resisted that outcome. The prospect of dumping O'Reilly -- once unimaginable -- has gained steam this week due in part to street protests outside Fox News headquarters and advertiser boycotts on O'Reilly's air. One network insider said Fox executives are alarmed by the severity of the ad-revenue decline." -- CW ...

... Brian Stelter: "A well-placed source said Tuesday afternoon that representatives for Fox and O'Reilly have begun talking about an exit. But this prompted a denial from sources in O'Reilly's camp. Even one person close to O'Reilly, however, said he will probably not be back on 'The O'Reilly Factor.'" -- CW ...

... Annals of "Journalism," Ctd., Sock Puppets Edition. Matthew Sheffield of Salon: "During the Ailes era, [Fox 'News']... employed a team of 'black room' operators who allegedly obtained phone records and credit reports of reporters disliked by Ailes.... Fox News employees and contractors were dispatched to do battle against not just mainstream media reporters but also against small-time bloggers and even website commenters. Fox News even went so far as to create at least two anonymous websites that attacked the competition. This strategy of online fakery -- a practice known as creating 'sock puppet' accounts, in internet parlance -- was an outgrowth of the corporate culture established by Ailes.... The network also retained the services of a now-defunct public relations firm ... to create and operate a series of homespun-looking websites designed to market women who worked as hosts or correspondents [at Fox] in a manner that can only be described as overtly sexist. " -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Lindsey Bever, et al., of the Washington Post: "The suspect accused of killing a 74-year-old man in Cleveland and then posting a video of the coldblooded slaying on Facebook shot and killed himself Tuesday in Pennsylvania as police were closing in, authorities said. Steve W. Stephens, the subject of a rapidly expanding nationwide manhunt following the horrific slaying Sunday in Ohio, was spotted by Pennsylvania State Police troopers in Erie County on Tuesday morning, the agency announced. 'A traffic stop was attempted, there was a brief pursuit, at which time Stephens shot and killed himself,' Pennsylvania State Police communications director Ryan Tarkowski said." -- CW (Also linked yesterday.)

Way Beyond

Anushka Asthana, et al., of the Guardian: British Prime Minister "Theresa May has said she wants to hold a snap general election on 8 June, despite repeatedly claiming that she was against the idea of an early vote. In a surprise statement outside Downing Street on Tuesday morning, the prime minister claimed that opposition parties were jeopardising her government's preparations for Brexit." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

News Ledes

Boston Globe: Former New England Patriots tight end "Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in prison Wednesday morning, the Department of Correction said." At 7am ET, this is a breaking news story. CW: Hernandez was serving a life sentence for murder. -- CW ...

... TMZ: "... attorney Jose Baez -- who just got a not guilty verdict for Aaron last week in the double murder case -- has launched an investigation on behalf of Hernandez' family and they are not buying the suicide story." -- CW