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November 26: Washington Post: "Federal health officials said Monday that only romaine lettuce from certain parts of California is unsafe to eat and that romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled to give consumers information about when and where it was harvested. If consumers, retailers and food service facilities cannot determine whether the romaine was grown outside California, they should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one got sick, according to a lengthy statement from Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. FDA officials said the most likely source of contamination is from the Central Coast growing regions in northern and central California. Romaine lettuce harvested outside those regions 'does not appear to be related to the current outbreak,' the FDA said. Hydroponically grown and greenhouse-grown romaine also does not appear to be affected in the outbreak. Romaine from those sources is safe to eat, the FDA said."

... November 20: New York Times: "In a sweeping alert, federal health officials warned people not to eat romaine lettuce anywhere in the country, after 32 people in 11 states fell sick with a virulent form of E. coli, a bacteria blamed for a number of food-borne outbreaks in recent years. The notice, issued Tuesday afternoon by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said consumers should not buy or eat any kind of romaine, whether chopped or whole, and restaurants should stop serving it. Anyone who has romaine, the health agency said, should throw it out." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Okay then, guess I'll throw out that romaine. Already ate one head, and I ain't dead yet.

"The Christmas Comet Returneth." New York Times: "Look into the night sky on Sunday [December 16] and you just might see a bright, fuzzy ball with a greenish-gray tint. That’s because a comet that orbits between Jupiter and the sun will make its closest approach to Earth in centuries, right on the heels of this year’s most stunning meteor shower. 'The fuzziness is just because it’s a ball of gas basically,' Tony Farnham, a research scientist in the astronomy department at the University of Maryland, said on Saturday morning.... 'You’ve got a one-kilometer solid nucleus in the middle, and gas is going out hundreds of thousands of miles.' The comet glows green because the gases emit light in green wavelengths. The ball of gas and dust, sometimes referred to as the 'Christmas comet,' was named 46P/Wirtanen, after the astronomer Carl Wirtanen, who discovered it in 1948. It orbits the sun once every 5.4 years, passing by Earth approximately every 11 years, but its distance varies and it is rarely this close. As the comet passes by, it will be 30 times farther from Earth than the moon, NASA said.”

By George O'Keefe or somebody.Maybe the Best Gift Would Be a Spell-Check App. Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Way back in November (so Slate has had plenty of time to make corrections), someone named Angela Serratore (hope I spelled that right), wrote a post for Slate, which is featured on its main page now, suggesting gifts from small museum shops. That's a nice thought, but it would have been even nicer if the story had not misspelled Georgia O'Keeffe three times: twice as "Georgia O'Keefe" & once as "George O'Keefe." But never "Georgia O'Keeffe."

Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi leaving the White House Wednesday, Dec. 12, after making mincemeat of Donald Trump.Everybody Loved Nancy's Coat! It's turns out it's from a 2013 Max Mara collection. According to Ana Colón of Glamour, "the Italian fashion house sent out a press release that not only confirmed the origins of Pelosi's coat but also announced that Max Mara would be reinstating the Glamis into its outerwear collection in 2019. 'In a variety of colorways,' no less! A spokesperson for the brand confirmed to Glamour that the decision to bring it back was inspired by Pelosi."

Isabel Wilkerson reports, in the New York Times, on Michelle Obama's book Becoming. It's quite a compelling read.

Reality Chex Bargain. Someone will pay $1 million or more for a letter written by Albert Einstein. You can read it for free. ...

... New York Times: The "God Letter," "written [in German] in 1954 by Albert Einstein ... is being auctioned this week.... He sent the handwritten letter to Eric Gutkind, a German philosopher who had written a book called 'Choose Life: The biblical Call to Revolt' that, apparently, Einstein did not much like.... Einstein wrote dozens of letters in which he mentioned God or Judaism. 'Nobody should read one Einstein letter and think that solves what he thinks about God,' Walter Isaacson, the author of the 2007 biography 'Einstein,' said in an interview.... The letter surfaced in 2008. Until then, it had apparently been in the hands of Gutkind’s heirs (he died in 1965). And it rocketed into the universe of big-money auctions, selling for $404,000 in London.... It will go on the block at Christie’s on Tuesday. Christie’s set a presale estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million."

Here's New York magazine's take on A Very Melanie Christmas:

... AND Rhonda Garelick of New York has some thoughts on why Melanie's Red Forest is so empty of holiday cheer.

Chris Hayes reviews this year's White House holiday decor:

So if you'd like to read all about Mika Brzezinski's wedding to Joe Scarborough, Emily Fox of Vanity Fair obliges. It sounds as if it was a very nice ceremony. Except, you know, Mika & Joe.

Kwitcherbitchin. Think things are bad now? They were way worse in 536 C.E. A report in Science explains.

Click on picture to see larger image.

... New York Times: "A celebrated and enigmatic painting of two men and a turquoise pool by David Hockney sold at Christie’s on Thursday night for $90.3 million with fees, shattering the auction record for a living artist and cementing a major broadening of tastes at the turbocharged top end of the market. The price for the 1972 painting, 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),' easily surpassed the previous high of $58.4 million, held by Jeff Koons for one of his 'Balloon Dog' sculptures."

Jennifer Szalai of the New York Times reviews Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming.

Constant Comments

 

Editor-in-Chief:
Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. -- H. L. Mencken (probably)

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. -- A. J. Liebling

Thursday
Dec062018

The Commentariat -- December 7, 2018

Afternoon Update:

Charlie Savage & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "President Trump on Friday said he intended to nominate William P. Barr, who served as attorney general during the first Bush administration..., to return as head of the Justice Department.... Mr. Trump also announced that Heather Nauert, the chief State Department spokeswoman, is his pick to be the next ambassador to the United Nations, replacing Nikki R. Haley.... In another personnel move, John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, is expected to leave his post in the next few days, ending a tumultuous 16-month tenure still among the longest for a senior aide to Mr. Trump, two people with direct knowledge of the developments said Friday." See more on Barr in today's links. ...

... Kaitlan Collins of CNN: "John Kelly is expected to resign as White House chief of staff in the coming days, two sources familiar with the situation unfolding in the West Wing tell CNN.... Kelly and ... Donald Trump have reached a stalemate in their relationship and it is no longer seen as tenable by either party. Though Trump asked Kelly over the summer to stay on as chief of staff for two more years, the two have stopped speaking in recent days. Trump is actively discussing a replacement plan, though a person involved in the process said nothing is final right now and ultimately nothing is final until Trump announces it. Potential replacements include Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, who is still seen as a leading contender."

When you talk about Germany, we have a very strong relationship with the government of Germany. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the D-Day invasion. We obviously have a very long history with the government of Germany, and we have a strong relationship with the government. -- Heather Nauert, June 5, 2018 ...

... Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post: "The United Nations came into existence to vanquish Germany, as 26 nations jointly pledged in 1942 not to surrender to 'savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.' Three-quarters of a century later, the woman who would soon become President Trump's pick to represent the United States at the United Nations cited the D-Day landings -- a cornerstone of this unwavering Allied pledge and the basis of the Nazi defeat on the Western Front -- to showcase the strength of German-American relations." Read on. ...

... Do read Akhilleus's commentary in today's thread on Nauert.

John Wagner & Devlin Barrett of the Washington Post: "President Trump said Friday that his lawyers are preparing a 'major Counter Report' in response to expected findings from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation.... Trump confirmed the plan in a spate of angry morning tweets in which also took fresh aim at Mueller and his legal team, accusing them of conflicts of interest and overzealous prosecutions that have 'wrongly destroyed people's lives.' 'We will be doing a major Counter Report to the Mueller Report,' Trump said. 'This should never again be allowed to happen to a future President of the United States!'... 'It has been incorrectly reported that Rudy Giuliani and others will not be doing a counter to the Mueller Report. That is Fake News. Already 87 pages done, but obviously cannot complete until we see the final Witch Hunt Report.'... The president's confirmation of the plan appears to have been spurred by reports that ... Rudolph W. Giuliani, and others were doing little to prepare to rebut Mueller, who is also looking at whether Trump has obstructed justice. Trump said 87 pages had already been written, adding, 'obviously cannot complete until we the see the final Witch Hunt report.'" See also related reports linked below. ...

... Evan Perez & Dana Bash of CNN: "White House chief of staff John Kelly was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller's team in recent months, three people with knowledge of the matter told CNN. Kelly responded to a narrow set of questions from special counsel investigators after White House lawyers initially objected to Mueller's request to do the interview earlier this summer, the sources said.... The Mueller questions to Kelly centered on a narrow set of issues in the investigation of potential obstruction of justice, chiefly Kelly's recollection of an episode that took place after new reporting emerged about how the President had tried to fire Mueller."

Caitlin Oprysko of Politico: "Nearly nine months after his unceremonious firing by tweet, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is breaking his silence on his time in the Trump administration, venting that he had to repeatedly tell ... Donald Trump that what he wanted to do would violate the law. The former ExxonMobil CEO appeared at a fundraiser in Houston on Thursday evening where he sat for a conversation with CBS reporter Bob Schieffer and outlined how Trump had a 'starkly different' style from Tillerson, who said the two also did not share a 'common value system.'... The two continued to clash when Trump would test the limits of his executive power and would grow frustrated when Tillerson would inform him that he didn't have unilateral authority to do something." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Tillerson himself had no government experience prior to being named secretary of state, so in many cases, he would not have known what the limits of the law were, either. But his remarks illustrate the difference between an intelligent person & a "moron": Tillerson took the trouble to find out what he didn't know. Trump not only didn't bother to ask; he didn't want to know the answer. He just wanted to do whatever hairbrained idea he had, the law or treaties be damned. ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "'What was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented Exxon Mobil corporation,' Tillerson said, was 'to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn't like to read, doesn't read briefing reports, doesn't like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, "This is what I believe."'"

Sen. Chuck Schumer, in a Washington Post op-ed lays down his marker: "Now that Democrats will soon control one branch of Congress, President Trump is again signaling that infrastructure could be an area of compromise. We agree, but if the president wanted to earn Democratic support in the Senate, any infrastructure bill would have to include policies and funding that help transition our country to a clean-energy economy and mitigate the risks the United States already faces from climate change." ...

... Eric Levitz: "Rather than trying to meet the president halfway (as has been his wont), the Senate Minority Leader has made Trump an offer he can't accept.... This is a sound approach on (at least) three levels. First, it allows Democrats to obstruct a popular policy idea [Trump's fake "infrastructure" pledge] -- by baiting Republicans into obstructing an even more popular one. Second, it sends a signal to the party's growing left flank and activist base that the Democratic leadership welcomes the former's ideas and energy. Finally, it puts 'green jobs' near the top of the next Democratic government's agenda."

*****

I write the answers. My lawyers don't write answers. I write answers. I was asked a series of questions. I've answered them very easily, very easily. -- Donald Trump, November 16, on responding to the special counsel's written questions

Answering those questions was a nightmare. It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days. -- Rudy Giuliani, to Elaina Plott of the Atlantic, published December 6 ...

... ** The Big Dog Ate Rudy's Homework. Elaina Plott of the Atlantic: "Nobody knows how the White House plans to respond to the Mueller report -- including the people who work at the White House.... According to a half-dozen current and former White House officials, the administration has no plans in place for responding to the special counsel's findings -- save for expecting a Twitter spree.... [Rudy] Giuliani said it's been difficult in the past few months to even consider drafting response plans, or devote time to the 'counter-report' he claimed they were working on this summer.... Giuliani initially pushed back on the prediction that Trump would take center stage after the report drops. 'I don't think following his lead is the right thing. He's the client,' he told me. 'The more controlled a person is, the more intelligent they are, the more they can make the decision. But he's just like every other client. He.s not more ... you know, controlled than any other client. In fact, he.s a little less.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Thoroughly Postmodern Trumpy. Betty Cracker of Balloon Juice has a pretty funny take on Plott's report. It's titled, "What could possibly go wrong?" Mrs. McC: As long as you don't think about the damage these jamokes are doing, they really are a running sit-com. Larry David has said otherwise, but I can't get over the idea that the the "Seinfeld" character Kramer is based on Trump & George Costanza is Rudy, but more intelligent, reasonable & charming. In any event, the "Trump Show" is definitely a show about nothing. ...

... Oh Crap. Chait and I, Mrs. Bea McCrabbie, went with very similar headlines ("The Dog Ate My Counter-Report": "Today's Atlantic reports on the state of the administration's overall response to Mueller, which is as shambolic as one might expect. The numerous difficulties include the fact that nobody is willing to face up to the actual guilt of everybody involved ('There have also been few frank conversations within the White House about the potential costs of Mueller's findings, which could include impeachment of the president or the incrimination of his inner circle') as well as the president's characteristic inability to follow any plan at all."

Kristen Welker of NBC News: "The president's lawyers have resumed discussions with the office of special counsel Robert Mueller in recent days, the first time that's been acknowledged since ... Donald Trump submitted written responses to questions regarding the possibility of collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia, two people familiar with the matter told NBC News on Thursday.... The sources would not characterize the nature of the discussions: whether Mueller is pressing for an in-person interview, or how close the process is to wrapping up."

Jeremy North, et al., of CNN: "... Robert Mueller's team could reveal tantalizing new details in its investigation into possible Russian collusion on Friday thanks to a pair of court filing deadlines involving ... Paul Manafort and former lawyer Michael Cohen."

Martin Longman in the Washington Monthly: "When the time comes, the witnesses against Trump won't be members of the special counsel's office. The witnesses will be people like former White House counsel Don McGahn and firsthand witnesses like Rick Gates and Michael Flynn. This will make it a lot more difficult for the White House to discredit the factual case.... The Mueller revelations won't be rebutted by a clever set of counterpoints that help win a 24-hour news cycle. The revelations will provide the context for hearings and a guide to calling witnesses.... The idea many have is that the Republicans will have little trouble brushing all of this off, but I don't see that as a sustainable position for them. What brought Nixon down was the testimony of his own people, and that's what ultimately will bring Trump down, too."

A "Trump Show" Spin-off? Stephanie Kirchgaessner & Jon Swaine of the Guardian: "Robert Mueller is allegedly examining a Trump campaign adviser's appearances on the Kremlin-controlled broadcaster RT, offering new hints about the investigation into possible collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump's associates. Mueller's investigators have asked Ted Malloch, the London-based American academic who is also close to Nigel Farage, about his frequent appearances on RT, which US intelligence authorities have called Russia's principal propaganda arm. The special counsel's alleged focus on RT is important because the Russian news channel also has a close relationship with the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who in 2016 published tens of thousands of emails stolen from senior Democrats by Russian intelligence operatives."

John Reed of Slate: "One of the biggest developments of the past week, [was] Robert Mueller's Wednesday sentencing memo for former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Full of redactions, the filing is another reminder that the investigation is looking into something much bigger and far-reaching than it may sometimes seem.... This is a giant counterintelligence case involving possible election-law violations, money laundering, and who knows what other criminal behaviors.... That Flynn is helping with not only Mueller's immediate probe into team Trump's interactions with Russians during the campaign but also the two other investigations indicates that the collusion question is tied to something broader." --s

Rebecca Morin of Politico: "... Donald Trump is blaming special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe for his relatively low approval ratings....'Without the phony Russia Witch Hunt, and with all that we have accomplished in the last almost two years (Tax & Regulation Cuts, Judge's, Military, Vets, etc.) my approval rating would be at 75% rather than the 50% just reported by Rasmussen,' Trump tweeted on Thursday. 'It's called Presidential Harassment!'... The president's average approval rating is 43.3 percent, according to Real Clear Politics." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Ed Kilgore: "... Trump, who has the lowest average approval rating (39 percent, to date) of any president since Gallup started this kind of polling in 1938, thinks he'd be as popular as JFK or Ike (the two postwar presidents with the highest average approval ratings) if it weren't for Mueller's 'harassment.' It says a lot that the president cites tax cuts that weren't particularly popular and judicial appointments that half the country hated as among the reasons his numbers should be crazy high." Mrs. McC: Kilgore suggests that Trump's fantastical assertion of unrealized popularity caused by someone else's supposed malfeasance could be a harbinger of a refusal to accept defeat in 2020.

Yo, Bob Mueller. Mike Spies of Mother Jones: "... the NRA and the Trump campaign employed the same operation -- at times, the exact same people -- to craft and execute their advertising strategies for the 2016 presidential election. [An] ... investigation [by Mother Jones & The Trace] ... found multiple instances in which [a conservative consulting firm called] National Media, through its affiliates Red Eagle and AMAG, executed ad buys for Trump and the NRA that seemed coordinated to enhance each other. Individuals working for National Media or its affiliated companies either signed or were named in FCC documents, demonstrating that they had knowledge of both the NRA and the Trump campaign's advertising plans. Experts say the arrangement appears to violate campaign finance laws.... Experts say the apparent coordination is the most glaring they've ever seen.... The FEC has the authority to launch investigations and seek civil penalties, but it's unlikely that the NRA or the Trump campaign will face any official action.... The Department of Justice is also authorized to launch investigations, but prosecutions under the Federal Election Campaign Act are uncommon."

Pamela Brown & Jeremy Herb of CNN: "In the hectic eight days after ... Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and top FBI officials viewed Trump as a leader who needed to be reined in, according to two sources describing the sentiment at the time. They discussed a range of options, including the idea of Rosenstein wearing a wire while speaking with Trump, which Rosenstein later denied. Ultimately, then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe took the extraordinary step of opening an obstruction of justice investigation even before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed, the sources said. The obstruction probe was an idea the FBI had previously considered, but it didn't start until after Comey was fired. The justification went beyond Trump's firing of Comey, according to the sources, and also included the President's conversation with Comey in the Oval Office asking him to drop the investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn."


Apparently Donald Trump is fine with having "dangerous, criminal" "illegal immigrants" from Central America make his bed & clean his toilet. My hypocrisy meter done broke:

We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money. We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation. -- Victorina Morales, Donald Trump's housekeeper at his residence at the Trump golf club in Bedminster ...

... Miriam Jordan of the New York Times: "During more than five years as a housekeeper at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Victorina Morales has made Donald J. Trump’s bed, cleaned his toilet and dusted his crystal golf trophies. When he visited as president, she was directed to wear a pin in the shape of the American flag adorned with a Secret Service logo. Because of the 'outstanding' support she has provided during Mr. Trump's visits, Ms. Morales [-- who is from rural Guatemala --] in July was given a certificate from the White House Communications Agency inscribed with her name. Quite an achievement for an undocumented immigrant housekeeper.... She said she was not the only worker at the club who was in the country illegally.... Throughout [Trump's] campaign and his administration, Ms. Morales, 45, has been reporting for work at Mr. Trump's golf course in Bedminster, where she is still on the payroll. An employee of the golf course drives her and a group of others to work every day, she says, because it is known that they cannot legally obtain driver's licenses.... Ms. Morales said she has been hurt by Mr. Trump's public comments since he became president, including equating Latin American immigrants with violent criminals." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Yo, Bob Mueller. Colin Kalmbacher of Law & Crime: "... Donald Trump has long employed undocumented immigrants at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to a New York Times report. This arrangement may run afoul of federal law.... Parts of the Times report allege that higher-ups at Bedminster were absolutely aware of their employees' undocumented status. Morales explicitly claims that some of those higher-ups conspired to help certain employees obtain forged immigration and work documentation -- including herself."

John Cassidy of the New Yorker: "With Trump, virtually anything that happens tends to get dismissed as just another blow-up or snafu that will be succeeded in rapid order by something else. But in [his latest opaque China dealings, going from 'Tariff Man' to 'everything's going smoothly' in less than 24 hours] it is more than the usual chaos. Trump's volte-face reflected the fact that the economic environment he is operating in has changed, leaving him boxed in.... For a long time -- longer than many financial commentators anticipated -- Trump was able to have it both ways.... Trump breathed fire at the Chinese. He also constantly boasted about the rising market and predicted that it would continue.... Instead, the psychology of the market has shifted dramatically, leaving Trump in a bind.... As the long party on Wall Street comes to an end, investors are getting very nervous, and they are taking what Trump says more seriously. This is a much more awkward world for him to navigate. If he is genuinely determined to force the Chinese to make real changes, he had better get used to it." --s

Mark Landler, et al., of the New York Times: "At dinner with China’s president, Xi Jinping, on Saturday night in Buenos Aires, President Trump celebrated their 'special' relationship and all but predicted they would emerge with a truce in the trade war between the United States and China. Seven thousand miles away, unbeknown to both leaders, Canadian police acting at the request of the United States were in the process of detaining Meng Wanzhou, a top executive of one of China's flagship technology firms, as she changed planes in Vancouver.... The timing of the arrest, some experts said, could feed the suspicion of Chinese officials that nationalist factions in the Trump administration were trying to sabotage the trade deal.... The fact that Mr. Trump went into the meeting without knowing about the arrest raised questions about whether the president was properly briefed before a sensitive meeting with a foreign leader. While the Justice Department did brief the White House about the impending arrest, Mr. Trump was not told about it." ...

... Charles Arthur of the Guardian: "The arrest in Canada of the chief financial officer of the Chinese mobile network and handset tech firm Huawei marks a new stage in a technological cold war between western spy agencies and Beijing. This development could be catastrophic for Huawei: according to reports, the US suspects it broke sanctions by selling telecoms equipment to Iran. If that is proven, the response could exclude Huawei from many of the world's most valuable markets.... Huawei has been the world's largest telecoms network equipment company since 2015.... But the company has for years struggled against suspicions that it has bowed to pressure from the Chinese government to tap or disrupt telecoms systems in foreign countries.... Meng Wanzhou's arrest on a federal warrant in Canada is a dramatic escalation." --s

Déjà vu All Over Again. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "President Trump insisted when he made Matthew G. Whitaker his acting attorney general that he wasn't familiar with Whitaker's past commentary critical of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's probe. But now it might be happening again. Former attorney general William Barr has emerged as Trump's top pick to be the nominee for the full-time AG job, The Washington Post is reporting. Picking former president George H.W. Bush's AG would seem a pretty safe and confirmable pick, on its surface. But much like Whitaker, Barr's past commentary has played down the severity of the allegations against Trump -- on both the collusion and obstruction-of-justice fronts -- and he has also suggested the Clintons should be in more trouble.... In November 2017, Barr told the New York Times that there was actually more basis to investigate Hillary Clinton for the Uranium One deal than there is to investigate Trump for potential collusion with Russia.... In a Washington Post op-ed, Barr said Trump not only did nothing wrong [in firing Jim Comey], but that he actually 'made the right call.'... when Bush in 1992 decided to pardon several figures in the Iran-contra scandal, he took the legs out from beneath the independent prosecutor investigating the matter. And one of the people Bush consulted was Barr. At the time, the prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, called it 'a sort of Saturday night massacre.'..." ...

... Ed Kilgore: "At a time when there is strong bipartisan support in the Senate for criminal-justice reform, it's worth noting that as Bush's AG, [William Barr] was an outspoken advocate for expanded incarceration as a weapon in that era's fight against crime and drugs[.]"

Eliana Johnson, et al., of Politico: "... Donald Trump has tapped State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, two people familiar with the matter said on Thursday night.... Trump chose the former Fox News anchor to replace Nikki Haley, who is leaving her post at the end of the month.... If officially nominated, [Nauert] will have prevailed over a number of candidates with more foreign policy credentials." ...

... Elise Labott of CNN: "The former Fox News host's precipitous rise since arriving at the State Department in 2017 sets the stage for a potentially tough Senate confirmation hearing, where Democrats will likely grill Nauert on her qualifications for the position.... [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo has told aides he wants the UN position downgraded from the Cabinet-level job Haley had insisted on.... National security adviser John Bolton has been said to want the role downgraded as well.... The shift means Nauert would wield less clout than her predecessor, both at the UN and within the administration...." ...

... Michael Schwirtz of the New York Times: "The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday rejected a resolution proposed by the United States to condemn the Islamic militant group Hamas for violence against Israel. The rejection was a blow to the American ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, who had positioned the measure as a capstone of her tenure."

Katy O'Donnell of Politico: "The Senate narrowly confirmed Kathy Kraninger for a five-year term as the head of the CFPB, putting her in charge of an Obama-era agency that became a lightning rod for Republican attacks over its aggressive enforcement. Kraninger, nominated by ... Donald Trump in June, was approved on a party-line 50-49 vote.... CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney ... muffled the agency ... during his tumultuous year-long tenure -- freezing data collection for six months, dramatically reining in enforcement actions, reorganizing the student loan and fair lending offices, and installing political appointees to run the consumer bureau's day- to-day operations.... Republicans quickly lined up behind Kraninger on the endorsement of Mulvaney — her boss at OMB -- after she was nominated. Mulvaney's supporters and critics alike see the appointment of one of his lieutenants as a way to ensure he keeps his hand in CFPB operations, especially after Kraninger said she 'cannot identify any actions that [Mulvaney] has taken with which I disagree.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Renae Merle of the Washington Post: "Kraninger, currently the associate director of general government at the Office of Management Budget, has no experience in consumer finance but now will become one of the country's most powerful banking regulators.... Without a deep understanding of the history and complexity of consumer finance, Kraninger could become a puppet for influential financial groups, Democrats and consumer groups who oppose her nomination have argued. Democrats have also questioned whether while working in the White House's budget office Kraninger helped craft the administration's 'zero tolerance' immigration policy that separated families of undocumented immigrants. Kraninger told lawmakers in July that she had played no role in 'setting the policy' but repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether she had supported or helped implement it." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Mark Hand of ThinkProgress: "The Senate voted Thursday, in a party-line vote, to approve President Donald Trump's nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), despite video evidence that the nominee strongly favors fossil fuels over renewable energy and rejects the overwhelming scientific evidence behind human-caused climate change. The nominee, Bernard McNamee, will be replacing former Commissioner Robert Powelson, who left the agency in August to lead a water company trade group. Powelson, a Republican appointee, led the charge against the president's plan to prop up financially struggling coal and nuclear plants." --s

Coral Davenport of the New York Times: "The Trump administration on Thursday detailed its plan to open nine million acres to drilling and mining by stripping away protections for the sage grouse, an imperiled ground-nesting bird that oil companies have long considered an obstacle to some of the richest deposits in the American West.In one stroke, the action would open more land to drilling than any other step the administration has taken, environmental policy experts said. It drew immediate criticism from environmentalists...."

Mark Hand: "The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal on Thursday that will weaken protections against greenhouse gas emissions from new electric power plants. The proposed rule is the latest in a long list of Trump administration policy initiatives meant to prop up the struggling coal industry.... When asked how the proposed rule for new coal-fired power plants helps protect human heath and the environment, [EPA Administrator Andrew] Wheeler inaccurately argued that coal is the cheapest form of electricity." --s ...

... Adam Raymond of New York: "Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, signed a proposal Thursday to roll back a 2015 regulation limiting the amount of carbon dioxide new coal-fired power plants could emit.The change is being welcomed by the coal industry, but it's unlikely to result in the construction of any new plants. Natural gas and renewables are too cheap, and the last new coal-fired power plant to come online in the U.S. cost an eye-popping $1.8 billion. Fact is, the energy sector is moving away from coal altogether...."

Rachel Bade & Burgess Everett of Politico: "Congress steered clear of a shutdown Thursday, but the parties are no closer to resolving the battle over ... Donald Trump's wall as Democratic leaders prepare to meet with Trump next week. Democrats are urging Republicans to sidestep a Christmastime fight over Trump's wall and simply extend current border security funding -- a proposal the GOP is already panning. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that she would not support Trump's border wall even if he offered up a solution to shield from deportation the thousands of young immigrants brought here as children known as Dreamers. Lawmakers, she argued, should simply punt on wall funding since both sides are in sharp disagreement." (Also linked yesterday.)

Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post: "Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) is coming under criticism for falsely claiming in an interview that billionaire philanthropist George Soros, known for his funding of liberal and pro-democracy groups, 'helped take the property' owned by fellow Jews.... 'George Soros is supposed to be Jewish, but you wouldn't know it from the damage he’s inflicted on Israel, and the fact that he turned on fellow Jews and helped take the property that they owned...' [Gohmert said].... Gohmert on Thursday was referencing a false claim that Soros helped the Nazis confiscate property from Jews during World War II.... On Thursday afternoon, Gohmert doubled down on his remarks, which he argued were 'not anti-Semitic' but rather 'pro-Jewish.'" Gohmert went on to make more false statements about Soros.

Josh Gerstein of Politico: "The email controversy that dogged Hillary Clinton through much of the 2016 presidential race could well be kicking around through the 2020 contest after a federal judge ordered additional fact-finding into whether Clinton's use of the private email system was a deliberate effort to thwart the Freedom of Information Act. In a scathing opinion issued Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said that despite FBI, inspector general and congressional investigations into Clinton's use of a private account for all her email traffic during her four years as secretary of state, the conservative group Judicial Watch should be permitted to demand documents and additional testimony about the practice. Lamberth, who has clashed with Clinton and her aides in cases dating back to her husband's administration, was unsparing in his assessment of the former secretary's actions. He blasted Clinton's email practices as 'one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency.'" ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Not to put to fine a point on it, but Lamberth is a cranky, partisan hack.

Rachel Abrams & John Koblin of the New York Times: "The success has allowed '60 Minutes' to operate independently from the larger [CBS] network news division to which it belongs. But that independence came at a cost: The show proved unable to prevent inappropriate conduct by some of its top executives, according to lawyers hired by the CBS Corporation board of directors to investigate the workplace culture of the program.... The executive producer of '60 Minutes,' Jeff Fager, was fired in September after he threatened a CBS News reporter looking into allegations about his behavior. The investigators wrote that the firing was justified, adding that Mr. Fager had 'engaged in certain acts of sexual misconduct' with colleagues and failed to stop misbehavior by others.They also said the misdeeds during Mr. Fager's run as executive producer ... were less severe than under his powerful predecessor, Don Hewitt, who died in 2009.... Investigators revealed that CBS continues to pay out a settlement to a woman who claimed that Mr. Hewitt sexually assaulted her on repeated occasions and destroyed her career. The settlement, reached in the 1990s, has been amended multiple times, including this year. In total, CBS has agreed to pay the former employee more than $5 million."

Nicole Chavez of CNN (11:12 pm Thursday: "CNN's New York offices and studios have been evacuated due to a phoned bomb threat, the company said. Several fire alarm bells rang inside CNN's New York newsroom, signaling an evacuation shortly after 10:30 p.m.Staffers evacuated the building and Don Lemon's 'CNN Tonight' was taken off the air.In the meantime, the network has gone to taped programming."

Election 2018

California. Gideon Resnick of the Daily Beast: "On Thursday afternoon, a month after the midterm elections, Republican Rep. David Valadao finally conceded in his race against Democrat TJ Cox. With California's 21st congressional district going blue, the Democrats have officially picked up 40 seats in this midterm cycle and won seven Republican-held seats in California -- all of which voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election."

Missouri. Matt Shuham of TPM: "Missouri's Republican secretary of state has launched an investigation of its outgoing attorney general and Sen.-Elect Josh Hawley (R-MO), over accusations that Hawley misused public funds in order to help his political career.... Last month, ADLF filed a complaint asking for an investigation following a report that Hawley had 'used public funds as Attorney General to support his candidacy for U.S. Senate.'... Hawley defeated incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in November." --s

North Carolina. Eric Bradner of CNN: "Democrat Dan McCready is withdrawing his concession in a North Carolina congressional race where investigators are probing allegations of election fraud. McCready got 905 fewer votes than Republican Mark Harris in the 9th District race. But the state elections board has refused to certify the results as it investigates potential misconduct with absentee ballots, making it the last undecided House contest in the country. The board could ultimately order another election." ...

... Eric Bradner, et al., of CNN: "A CNN review of absentee ballot envelopes has found irregularities with witness signatures in a second North Carolina county. Dozens of absentee ballots were witnessed by four people in Robeson County, which is adjacent to Bladen County -- the place investigations by the state elections board and state and local prosecutors had been focused. The people who witnessed multiple ballots are loosely connected to Leslie McCrae Dowless, the political operative who is being investigated for alleged election fraud."

... Amy Gardner & Beth Reinhard of the Washington Post: "When GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger lost his primary by a narrow margin in May, he suspected something was amiss.... Pittenger's concern stemmed from the vote tallies in rural Bladen County, where his challenger, a pastor from the Charlotte suburbs named Mark Harris, had won 437 absentee mail-in votes. Pittenger, a three-term incumbent, had received just 17.... Aides to Pittenger told the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party and a regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee that they believed fraud had occurred.... GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris's general-election campaign.... [The aides'] accounts provide the first indication that state and national Republican officials received early warnings about voting irregularities in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, now the subject of multiple criminal probes." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Wonders Never Cease. Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Kris Kobach, an ally of President Trump who served on a voter integrity panel, expressed worry Thursday that Republican fraud might have tainted a North Carolina/span> congressional election, becoming one of the most prominent members of the GOP to publicly express alarm about the race. 'Based on what I have read, I am very concerned that voter fraud did occur,' Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. He said it was unclear whether the alleged wrongdoing was broad enough to change the outcome of the election. Kobach's comments contrasted with many other Republican elected officials, including Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who have opted not to comment on the allegations roiling North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. The posture of Trump and other top Republicans for much of this week marked a departure from the recently concluded Florida recount, in which the president and fellow Republicans leveled unsubstantiated claims about Democratic malfeasance. Throughout his presidency, Trump has not been shy about alleging fraud in elections. Without presenting evidence, he told lawmakers last year that between 3 million and 5 million illegal ballots caused him to lose the popular vote. He also formed a now-defunct commission to probe alleged voter fraud, with Vice President Pence as chairman and Kobach as vice chairman." ...

... Eric Levitz of New York: "... the North Carolina GOP has openly declared that it does not actually care about the integrity of elections, only about insulating its power from the Tar Heel State's increasingly Democratic electorate. The party conveyed this message by calling on North Carolina's board of elections to certify the results of the congressional race in the state's Ninth District -- despite the fact that an ongoing investigation into alleged election fraud in that race has already produced overwhelming evidence of impropriety.... The party is actually telling its donors that, by insisting on a full investigation of [the] alleged acts of fraud (including those committed against a sitting Republican congressman in a GOP primary), the Democrats are effectively 'stealing the congressional race from [Republican] Mark Harris.'... Thus, it seems fair to say that the North Carolina GOP has now confessed that all its rhetoric about voter fraud was delivered in bad faith." Read on. Levitz lays into major media -- especially the New York Times -- for failing to explain or even note the anti-democratic nature of the GOP power grabs in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan &, well, everywhere.

Presidential Election 2020

Charles Pierce: "... the 2020 presidential election is already showing signs of encroaching idiocy. It is not a good sign that the elite political press already is demonstrating that it has learned absolutely, 100 percent jack-squat from its demonstrable malpractice in 2016. This should be no surprise. The elite political press learned nothing from its previous exercises in demonstrable malpractice. Of course, this time around, there likely will not be a Clinton to kick around, so there will have to be some adjustments in the old playbook." Pierce elaborates. Mrs. McC: And he is as impressed as I was with that stupid NYT story about Elizabeth Warren's DNA.

Way Beyond the Beltway

Louisa Lim & Julia Bergin of the Guardian: "For decades, Beijing's approach to shaping its image has been defensive, reactive and largely aimed at a domestic audience. The most visible manifestation of these efforts was the literal disappearance of content inside China.... Beijing's crude tools were domestic censorship, official complaints to news organisations' headquarters and expelling correspondents from China. But over the past decade or so, China has rolled out a more sophisticated and assertive strategy, which is increasingly aimed at international audiences.... Since 2003, when revisions were made to an official document outlining the political goals of the People's Liberation Army, so-called 'media warfare' has been an explicit part of Beijing's military strategy." A long read. --s

News Lede

Bloomberg: "U.S. jobs and wages rose by less than forecast in November while the unemployment rate held at the lowest in almost five decades, indicating some moderation in a still-healthy labor market."

Wednesday
Dec052018

Anatomy of a Eulogy

By Akhilleus

Reading Jon Meacham's eulogy of 41, it struck me that, in a single paragraph, he encapsulated the problem with holding HW up as an avatar of American political greatness and courage.

For Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the convenient, to hope rather than to fear, and to heed not our worst impulses, but our best instincts.

Let's set aside the absurd Lincoln comparison. 41 was no more Lincolnesque than so many of the Johnny-come-lately R's who try to burnish their record of racism, greed, and stupidity with some laughably spurious connection to Honest Abe.

Right over the convenient? Nope. When Bush had the opportunity to spill the beans on Iran Contra, an illegal, astoundingly unconstitutional move to sell weapons to our sworn enemies for political gain, he knuckled under and went along to get along. So much for courage.

Hope rather than fear? Forget that thousand points of light scam. The whole idea there was a Reaganesque "government is bad so it's all up to you" broadside. And leave us not forget that Poppy routinely went along with the up and coming troglodytes led by the lying scam artist Newt Gingrich, who preached fear, fear, fear, and hatred of anyone who didn't agree with our side. So much for hope.

As for heeding our best instincts as opposed to worst impulses, Bush went along with the government haters and did his infamously stupid John Wayne "Read My Lips" bullshit in order to stoke the fires of ignorance in hopes of getting re-elected. Also, deciding to invade Iraq so that he wouldn't look wimpy, he opened the door to a Middle East malaise that makes the 1970's problems look positively quaint. So much for best instincts.

Did he do some good things? Sure. Unlike Trump (and most of his son's history), he did a few good things. But to con the public into comparing this guy with Lincoln is the sort of canard that a real historian should be ashamed of. I hearby resolve never to read another bullshit book (or article) by Jon Meacham.

Fucker.

Wednesday
Dec052018

The Commentariat -- December 6, 2018

Afternoon Update:

I write the answers. My lawyers don't write answers. I write answers. I was asked a series of questions. I've answered them very easily, very easily. -- Donald Trump, November 16, on responding to the special counsel's written questions

Answering those questions was a nightmare. It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days. -- Rudy Giuliani, to Elaina Plott of the Atlantic, published December 6 ...

... ** The Big Dog Ate Rudy's Homework. Elaina Plott of the Atlantic: "Nobody knows how the White House plans to respond to the Mueller report -- including the people who work at the White House.... According to a half-dozen current and former White House officials, the administration has no plans in place for responding to the special counsel's findings -- save for expecting a Twitter spree.... [Rudy] Giuliani said it's been difficult in the past few months to even consider drafting response plans, or devote time to the 'counter-report' he claimed they were working on this summer.... Giuliani initially pushed back on the prediction that Trump would take center stage after the report drops. 'I don't think following his lead is the right thing. He's the client,' he told me. 'The more controlled a person is, the more intelligent they are, the more they can make the decision. But he's just like every other client. He's not more ... you know, controlled than any other client. In fact, he's a little less.'"

Apparently Donald Trump is fine with having "dangerous, criminal" "illegal immigrants" from Central America make his bed & clean his toilet. My hypocrisy meter done broke:

We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money. We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation. -- Victorina Morales, Donald Trump's housekeeper at his residence at the Trump golf club in Bedminster ...

... Miriam Jordan of the New York Times: "During more than five years as a housekeeper at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Victorina Morales has made Donald J. Trump's bed, cleaned his toilet and dusted his crystal golf trophies. When he visited as president, she was directed to wear a pin in the shape of the American flag adorned with a Secret Service logo. Because of the 'outstanding' support she has provided during Mr. Trump's visits, Ms. Morales [-- who is from rural Guatemala --] in July was given a certificate from the White House Communications Agency inscribed with her name. Quite an achievement for an undocumented immigrant housekeeper.... She said she was not the only worker at the club who was in the country illegally.... Throughout [Trump's] campaign and his administration, Ms. Morales, 45, has been reporting for work at Mr. Trump's golf course in Bedminster, where she is still on the payroll. An employee of the golf course drives her and a group of others to work every day, she says, because it is known that they cannot legally obtain driver's licenses.... Ms. Morales said she has been hurt by Mr. Trump's public comments since he became president, including equating Latin American immigrants with violent criminals."

Rebecca Morin of Politico: "... Donald Trump is blaming special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe for his relatively low approval ratings....'Without the phony Russia Witch Hunt, and with all that we have accomplished in the last almost two years (Tax & Regulation Cuts, Judge's, Military, Vets, etc.) my approval rating would be at 75% rather than the 50% just reported by Rasmussen,' Trump tweeted on Thursday. 'It's called Presidential Harassment!'... The president's average approval rating is 43.3 percent, according to Real Clear Politics."

Katy O'Donnell of Politico: "The Senate narrowly confirmed Kathy Kraninger for a five-year term as the head of the CFPB, putting her in charge of an Obama-era agency that became a lightning rod for Republican attacks over its aggressive enforcement. Kraninger, nominated by ... Donald Trump in June, was approved on a party-line 50-49 vote.... CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney ... muffled the agency ... during his tumultuous year-long tenure -- freezing data collection for six months, dramatically reining in enforcement actions, reorganizing the student loan and fair lending offices, and installing political appointees to run the consumer bureau's day- to-day operations.... Republicans quickly lined up behind Kraninger on the endorsement of Mulvaney -- her boss at OMB -- after she was nominated. Mulvaney's supporters and critics alike see the appointment of one of his lieutenants as a way to ensure he keeps his hand in CFPB operations, especially after Kraninger said she 'cannot identify any actions that [Mulvaney] has taken with which I disagree.'" ...

... Renae Merle of the Washington Post: "Kraninger, currently the associate director of general government at the Office of Management Budget, has no experience in consumer finance but now will become one of the country's most powerful banking regulators.... Without a deep understanding of the history and complexity of consumer finance, Kraninger could become a puppet for influential financial groups, Democrats and consumer groups who oppose her nomination have argued. Democrats have also questioned whether while working in the White House's budget office Kraninger helped craft the administration's 'zero tolerance' immigration policy that separated families of undocumented immigrants. Kraninger told lawmakers in July that she had played no role in 'setting the policy' but repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether she had supported or helped implement it."

Rachel Bade & Burgess Everett of Politico: "Congress steered clear of a shutdown Thursday, but the parties are no closer to resolving the battle over ... Donald Trump's wall as Democratic leaders prepare to meet with Trump next week. Democrats are urging Republicans to sidestep a Christmastime fight over Trump's wall and simply extend current border security funding -- a proposal the GOP is already panning. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that she would not support Trump's border wall even if he offered up a solution to shield from deportation the thousands of young immigrants brought here as children known as Dreamers. Lawmakers, she argued, should simply punt on wall funding since both sides are in sharp disagreement."

Amy Gardner & Beth Reinhard of the Washington Post: "When GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger lost his primary by a narrow margin in May, he suspected something was amiss.... Pittenger's concern stemmed from the vote tallies in rural Bladen County, where his challenger, a pastor from the Charlotte suburbs named Mark Harris, had won 437 absentee mail-in votes. Pittenger, a three-term incumbent, had received just 17.... Aides to Pittenger told the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party and a regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee that they believed fraud had occurred.... GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris's general-election campaign.... [The aides'] accounts provide the first indication that state and national Republican officials received early warnings about voting irregularities in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, now the subject of multiple criminal probes."

*****

Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "President Trump tried to calm global markets and ease concerns that his trade truce with China was already floundering on Wednesday, declaring in a series of tweets that the Chinese government has sent 'very strong signals' since Mr. Trump reached an accord with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Argentina last week. Confusion about what Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi actually agreed to at their meeting, combined with Mr. Trump's declaration on Tuesday that he was a 'Tariff Man,' roiled global markets on Tuesday, ending a brief rally that began on Monday after the two governments announced a 90-day truce." U.S. markets were closed Wednesday. ...

... MEANWHILE. Daisuke Wakabayashi & Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "A top executive and daughter of the founder of the Chinese tech giant Huawei was arrested on Saturday in Canada at the request of the United States, in a move likely to escalate tensions between the two countries at a delicate moment. The arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer, unfolded on the same night that President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China dined together in Buenos Aires and agreed to a 90-day trade truce. The two countries are set to begin tense negotiations in hopes of ending a trade war that has been pummeling both economies. Those talks now face an even steeper challenge.... Ms. Meng's detention raises questions about the Trump administration's overall China strategy. Beijing is now likely to pressure Canada to release her and to press the United States to avoid a trial." More on Huawei linked under Way Beyond.

Presidunce* Executioner. D. Parvaz of ThinkProgress: "Citing the number of people dying from fentanyl overdoses, President Donald Trump on Wednesday gleefully tweeted his support for China to start executing drug dealers. It's worth noting that the United States does not use the death penalty for drug traffickers, and that the policy of funding the 'war on drugs' in countries that do execute traffickers and dealers is as ineffective as it is inhumane.... China already leads the world in the number of executions.... President Trump ... has also mused that executing drug traffickers in the United States might be a good idea[.]" --s

A very short course in how to get away with murder: (1) Send Trump some money. (2) Murder somebody. ...

... Emoluments! The POTUS* Is Bought & Paid for. David A. Fahrenthold & Jonathan O'Connell of the Washington Post: "Lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved blocks of rooms at President Trump's D.C. hotel within a month of Trump's election in 2016 -- paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents obtained by The Washington Post. At the time, these lobbyists were reserving large numbers of D.C.-area hotel rooms as part of an unorthodox campaign that offered U.S. military veterans a free trip to Washington -- then sent them to Capitol Hill to lobby against a law the Saudis opposed, according to veterans and organizers. At first, Saudi lobbyists put the veterans up in Northern Virginia. Then, in December 2016, they switched most of their business to the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington. In all, the lobbyists spent more $270,000 to house six groups of visiting veterans at the Trump hotel, which Trump still owns." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: The reporters write, "Earlier this year, the Trump Organization donated about $151,000 to the U.S. Treasury, saying that was its amount of profit from foreign governments, without explaining how it arrived at that number." But I'd guess that number does not include any of the $270K the Trump International collected in the veterans scheme because the lobbying firm that put the veterans up at Trump Internation, Qorvis/MSLGroup, is an American company. The lobbying group served as a domestic cutout for the Saudis, who actually picked up the tab.

Asawin Suebsaeng & Lachlan Markay of the Daily Beast: "Since the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump's aides and advisers have tried to convince him of the importance of tackling the national debt. Sources close to the president say he has repeatedly shrugged it off, implying that he doesn't have to worry about the money owed to America's creditors -- currently about $21 trillion -- because he won't be around to shoulder the blame when it becomes even more untenable." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Trump's So Ignorant ... Steve M.: "We can regard this as Boomer selfishness, or as a sign of Trump's inability to care about anyone other than himself -- but it's also a sign that Trump is enabling Republicans' big con on the debt without actually being in on it. We know what Republican congressional leaders, right-wing pundits, and GOP donors want to do to federal coffers: By lowering taxes on the rich (and, to some extent, on the non-rich) without reducing spending, they hope to engender a debt crisis, which they'll hang around the necks of Democrats the next time there's a Democrat-dominated federal government. They want to make it impossible for Democrats ever to enact any new federal programs that might cost a significant amount of money.... Trump's belief that Medicare and Social Security are sacrosanct is probably the only political opinion he has that's truly at odds with all forms of conservatism.... Other Republicans pretend to support Medicare and Social Security, but they're just counting the days until they can slash the safety net.... [Trump] didn't understand the purpose of the tax-cut bill. But he signed it anyway, and to the folks who are in on the con, that's all that matters." ...

... AND let us not forget the part played by the GOP's masters:

... Josh Israel of ThinkProgress: "In the lead-up to the enactment of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act ... a coalition of powerful business interests formed with one major priority in mind: slashing the corporate tax rate. The Reforming America's Taxes Equitably (RATE) Coalition comprised dozens of companies and trade groups that all insisted lowering corporate taxes would mean more jobs. A ThinkProgress review found that about half of RATE Coalition's members have made layoffs since the law's enactment. In other words, not only did the expensive tax cut not bring more jobs, it couldn't even forestall significant job losses." --s

Peter Baker of the New York Times: "The nation bade farewell on Wednesday to George Herbert Walker Bush, the patriarch of one of the most consequential political dynasties of modern times and the president who presided over the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new era of American dominance in the world. As bells tolled and choirs sang and an honor guard accompanied the coffin, the nation's 41st president was remembered as a 'kinder and gentler' leader at a tumultuous moment whose fortitude steered the country through storms at home and abroad and whose essential decency set a standard for others to meet." ...

... Susan Glasser of the New Yorker (who is married to Peter Baker): "What does it tell you that the feel-good events in Washington these days are funerals?... Trump had to sit there knowing that every statement praising Bush's decency and modesty and courage would be taken as an implicit rebuke of him -- of course, many of them were a lot more explicit than implicit.... Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming, brought an acute understanding of Washington's foibles, and a reputation for lancing humor, to the task of remembering his friend. 'Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic,' Simpson observed, to knowing laughs. Later in his talk, standing at a lectern placed just a few feet in front of Trump, Simpson quoted his mother in observing that 'hatred corrodes the container it's carried in.' Trump, a man of seething hatreds, stared at him with arms folded. Meanwhile, Simpson observed of Bush, 'He never hated anyone.'" ...

... Presidents' Club Shuts Out President*. John Wagner & Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post: "... mourners from across the nation gathered in Washington to pay their respects and celebrate the life of former president George H.W. Bush at a state funeral at Washington National Cathedral. With President Trump and four living former U.S. presidents in attendance, Bush was remembered as 'America's last great soldier-statesman' by biographer Jon Meacham, one of four people delivering eulogies." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Joe Concha of the Hill: "Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said he was 'struck' by the reception of President Trump and first lady Melania Trump upon their arrival at the funeral for George H.W. Bush on Wednesday.... 'I have to say I was struck when President Trump and Melania Trump came to the front row, that it was as if a chill had descended on that front row,' Wallace said on Fox's 'America's Newsroom' during live coverage of the Bush state funeral.... 'You had seen a lot of chatty talk between the Clintons and the Obamas, the Carters. But when Donald Trump sat down, the greeting that he was given by Barack Obama and Michelle Obama was about as cool as it could have been.... Trump and the first lady greeted the Obamas and shook hands when sitting down next to them in the front row of the service for Bush, who passed away last Friday at the age of 94. There was no greeting between the Trumps and Clintons, who sat farther down the row." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Oh, Chris, so unfair. They made Trump sit with all the Dimocrats (because the Bush family can't stand him). I'm sure the cold shoulders had nothing to do with a few points Aaron Blake of the Washington Post made: "The Trumps are seated next to: 1) The president Trump said was illegitimate (Obama) 2) The president he said assaulted women (Clinton) 3) The first lady/SoS he said should be in jail (Hillary) 4) The president he said was the second-worst, behind Obama (Carter)." ...

By the Daily Show. To read the tweets, click on the picture to increase the size to a full screen.

... Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "From the moment he crossed the transept of the soaring Washington National Cathedral, tore off his overcoat and took his seat in the front pew, President Trump was an outsider. When the others sang an opening hymn, his mouth did not move. When the others read the Apostles' Creed, he stood stoically. And when one eulogist after another testified to George H.W. Bush's integrity and character and honesty and bravery and compassion, Trump sat and listened, often with his lips pursed and his arms crossed over his chest. Wednesday's state funeral was carefully orchestrated to be about one man and his milestones -- Bush.... But inevitably it became about Trump, too, for it was impossible to pay tribute to the 41st president without drawing implicit contrasts with the 45th.... Despite being crafted to honor Bush's legacy, their words also served to underscore the singular nature of Trump's presidency."

... Linda Greenhouse assesses President Bush's approach to Supreme Court nominations & its effect on future nominations: "Poles apart, the Souter and Thomas nominations offered templates for the presidencies that followed. Democrats have shied from confrontation, while Republicans have generally embraced and even sought it.... Addressing the Federalist Society in Washington last month, Senator [Mitch] McConnell ... was unabashed in describing the current Republican strategy -- to go as far to the right as a bare majority will sustain. Explaining why he abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, he said, 'No Republican president could get the kind of nominee we'd want with 60 votes.' Bipartisan appeal? A sin. The narrowest possible victory? A validation."

Reading between the Redactions. Mark Mazzetti & Adam Goldman of the New York Times: "Federal prosecutors in Virginia are investigating a secret Turkish lobbying effort that once involved Michael T. Flynn..., even as Mr. Flynn's role in the special counsel's investigation winds down, according to people familiar with the inquiry. Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, had been handling the case and at some point referred it back to prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., who had originally opened the investigation, the people said. A veteran national security prosecutor is overseeing the case, and a grand jury has been empaneled to hear evidence. Prosecutors for Mr. Mueller appeared to make reference to the investigation in documents released on Tuesday that enumerated Mr. Flynn's cooperation in the Russia inquiry. The heavily redacted documents created an air of mystery about Mr. Flynn's 'substantial help' in several unspecified but continuing investigations.... The Turkey case appears to fit as one of those inquiries because Mr. Flynn has direct knowledge of aspects under scrutiny. Prosecutors are examining Mr. Flynn's former business partners and clients who financed a campaign against Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in Pennsylvania whom the Turkish government has accused of helping instigate a failed coup."

Joel Clement in Scientific American: "At the Department of the Interior (DOI), with its mission to conserve and manage America's natural and cultural resources, the Trump administration's political appointees are stumbling over one another to earn accolades for disabling agency operations. I should know; I was one of dozens of senior executives targeted by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for reassignment in a staff purge just six months into the new administration.... In a new report, Science Under Siege at the Department of the Interior, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has documented some of the most egregious and anti-science policies and practices at the DOI under Secretary Zinke. The report describes suppression of science, denial of climate change, the silencing and intimidation of agency staff, and attacks on science-based laws that help protect our nation's world-class wildlife and habitats. It is a damning report...." --s

Charlotte Simmonds, et al. of the Guardian: "When Trump took office in 2016, he promised the energy industry a new era of 'American energy dominance'. This would only be possible by exploiting America's 640m acres of public land: mountains, deserts, forests and sites of Native American history that cover more than a quarter of the country.... Two years after Trump came to power, a new study produced by the Wilderness Society, a not-for-profit organization advocating for the protection of public lands, and shared exclusively with the Guardian, reveals the full extent of his government's efforts." A long read. --s

Presidential Election 2020. Astead Herndon of the New York Times: "... nearly two months after [Elizabeth] Warren released the ... results [of a DNA test purporting to prove her Native American heritage] and drew hostile reactions from prominent tribal leaders, the lingering cloud over her likely presidential campaign has only darkened. Conservatives have continued to ridicule her. More worrisome to supporters of Ms. Warren's presidential ambitions, she has yet to allay criticism from grass-roots progressive groups, liberal political operatives and other potential 2020 allies who complain that she put too much emphasis on the controversial field of racial science -- and, in doing so, played into Mr. Trump's hands." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: This is the stupidest non-issue since birtherism. The only reason Warren's ethnic heritage could be a real issue is if she had falsified it to gain employment advantage. But the Boston Globe did extensive reporting (subscriber-firewalled) on this possibility & found she did not do so. So case closed. Some Native Americans have dubbed Warren racist because "genetic testing has historically been used as a weapon against Native communities." That's stupid, too. Although I'm interested in my own genealogy, I haven't taken one of those commercial DNA tests, but if I ever get around to it, it won't be because I want to use it as "a weapon against" whatever ethnic groups may be part of my genetic makeup. White (and to my knowledge, black) Americans often boast of their real or supposed Native American heritage. The purpose of these boasts never seems to be to denigrate authentic, tribally-certified Native Americans. Neither are they claiming they share the Native Americans' experience. My grandmother (who was white and a racist) boasted of our own supposed Native American roots, even though those "roots" -- according to Grandmama -- dated to, um, the 1600s. As further "proof" of this romantic family tale, my grandmother pointed to one of my cousins who "has high cheekbones." (Yes, that's really stupid.) Everybody -- including Warren -- needs to get over her genes. P.S. I don't support Warren's presidential candidacy; I just think this whole brouhaha should go away, and the NYT should not be putting it on the front page along with all the news that's fit to print.

Adam Satariano of the New York Times: "Emails and other internal Facebook documents released by a British parliamentary committee on Wednesday show how the social media giant gave favored companies like Airbnb, Lyft and Netflix special access to users' data.... The committee said the documents show Facebook entering into agreements with select companies to allow them access to data after the company made policy changes that restricted access for others. Other emails show the company debating whether to give app developers that spent money advertising with it more access to its data. In other instances, Facebook discussed shutting off access to companies it viewed as competitors." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Damian Carrington of the Guardian: "Global carbon emissions will jump to a record high in 2018, according to a report, dashing hopes a plateau of recent years would be maintained. It means emissions are heading in the opposite direction to the deep cuts urgently needed, say scientists, to fight climate change. The rise is due to the growing number of cars on the roads and a renaissance of coal use and means the world remains on the track to catastrophic global warming. However, the report's authors said the emissions trend can still be turned around by 2020, if cuts are made in transport, industry and farming emissions.... Almost all countries are contributing to the rise, with emissions in China up 4.7%, in the US by 2.5% and in India by 6.3% in 2018. The EU's emissions are near flat, but this follows a decade of strong falls." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Beyond the Beltway

Minnesota. In the Spirit of the Season. CBS/AP: "The commander of a Minneapolis police precinct has been replaced following uproar over Christmas tree decorations that the mayor said amounted to a 'racist display.' The Christmas tree at the Fourth Precinct station on the city's north side was decorated with items such as Newport cigarettes, police crime tape, a can of malt liquor and a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen cup. Minneapolis Police spokesman John Elder confirmed Monday that inspector Aaron Biard had been removed as commander of the precinct.... Two Minneapolis officers were placed on paid leave Friday for their apparent involvement in the decorations. Mayor Jacob Frey called the decorations 'despicable' and said they amounted to a 'racist display.' A picture of the tree circulated online before the items were removed." Thanks to Akhilleus for the lead. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

New Hampshire. Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post: "New Hampshire's longtime secretary of state, Bill Gardner (D), narrowly won his bid for a 22nd term on Wednesday, fending off a challenge amid a wave of anger among state legislators over his participation in President Trump's controversial voter fraud commission. At a joint session of the New Hampshire state Senate and House of Representatives, Gardner won 209 votes to Colin Van Ostern's 205, with one lawmaker casting a 'scatter' vote for neither candidate. Gardner's win came in the second round of voting; the first round ended in a dramatic standoff, with Gardner taking 208 votes to Van Ostern's 207 -- both shy of the majority-plus-one needed for victory. The win means Gardner, 70, will continue serving in the job he has held since 1976."

North Carolina. Tal Axelrod of the Hill: "Over a thousand absentee ballots from likely Democratic voters may have been destroyed in the race for North Carolina's 9th Congressional District last month as allegations of fraud on behalf of the Republican candidate mount. 'You're looking at several thousand, possibly 2,000 absentee ballot requests from this most recent election. About 40 percent of those, it appears, at this point may not have been returned,' Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told CNN." ...

... Cash, Drugs & Wreck the Vote. Brianna Sacks, et al., of BuzzFeed News: "The allegations that Republicans tampered with absentee ballots in a close North Carolina election represent the most serious federal election tampering case in years, one that allegedly stole votes from elderly black voters in the state's rural south. Now two women intimately involved with McCrae Dowless's absentee ballot machine have revealed to BuzzFeed News its grim and chaotic workings, in which Dowless tracked votes on yellow paper and paid his workers, including family members, from stacks of cash, and that some were on opioids while they worked." ...

... Harry Enten of CNN: "The case for election fraud appears to be strong. That's because it's doesn't rely on just one or two pieces of evidence. Rather, it's a slew of evidence. This means that even if one part of the case were to fall apart, there would be still be reason to believe that the election wasn't on the level." Enten runs down the evidence, so far. ...

... Philip Bump of the Washington Post: "The man at the center of fraud probe in North Carolina may have been doing this for eight years.... According to campaign finance records and election data from the Federal Election Commission and the state of North Carolina, [Leslie McCrae] Dowless has worked on at least five campaigns since 2010 in which his candidates earned much more of the vote in Bladen County than the candidates earned elsewhere. In three races, the candidate earned less support in Bladen than outside the county. In the three races where the candidates paying Dowless lost, he received much less money in payment." ...

... Eli Rosenberg of the Washington Post: "Dallas Woodhouse, executive chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, spoke with great concern about the issue of election fraud." But that was in 2016, when Republican incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory lost to Democrat Roy Cooper. Now that there is strong evidence of extensive voter fraud by a GOP subcontractor -- under exactly the same circumstance -- "Woodhouse has repeatedly questioned and downplayed the inquiry [into the GOP's fraudulent activity] -- at one point going as far as to complain, without evidence, that it was part of a Democratic conspiracy to steal the election -- and regularly threatening legal action over the official inquiry into the integrity of the race." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: AND aren't we surprised our Dear Leader is not leading the charge to lock up the GOP crook responsible for the "rigged election"? AND if you're wondering how anyone could justify his own stunning hypocrisy ...

... Adam Peck of ThinkProgress: "It's too early to say definitively, but North Carolina Republicans could very well end up being responsible for the biggest case of election fraud in modern U.S. history. And therein lies an important distinction: what we are watching unravel in slow motion is a textbook case of election fraud. It is not, as many have either carelessly or intentionally claimed, voter fraud.... Republicans don't care about election fraud in North Carolina because they never cared about protecting the integrity of elections in the first place. Their obsession with voter fraud has nothing to do with ensuring ineligible voters don't cast ballots, it has everything to do with ensuring certain eligible voters don't cast ballots.... The deafening silence emanating from the Republican caucus, Fox News, and the halls of the Heritage Foundation are extremely telling, and completely understandable: this one case of fraud in North Carolina is exposing the party's entire election integrity platform as the sham that it is." --s

... Beth Reinhard of the Washington Post: "A Democratic member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is calling for an emergency hearing to examine allegations of election fraud in North Carolina's 9th District race, in which Republican Mark Harris leads by 905 votes. State election officials are investigating charges that a political operative working for the Harris campaign oversaw a crew of workers who illegally collected mail-in absentee ballots from voters. The operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, worked primarily in Bladen County. 'Real election fraud is playing out right before us,' said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), a senior oversight committee member." ...

... Charlotte Observer Editors: "In the week since the state Board of Elections declined to certify the results of North Carolina's 9th Congressional District election, journalists and others have begun to fill in the details of a troubling case of apparent ballot fraud. In Bladen County --and perhaps other counties -- individuals have interfered with the voting process by gaining access to others' absentee ballots, according to witnesses and records. Investigators also are looking into the burgeoning scandal. There may be no way, however, to know how widespread the fraud was, or whether it involved enough ballots to potentially change the outcome of the election — a 905-vote victory for Republican Mark Harris over Democrat Dan McCready. But we do know enough. Unless new evidence somehow clears the clouds hanging over this election, the Board of Elections should toss out the 9th District results."

A GOP Screw-Democracy Power Grab in Wisconsin. Mitch Smith of the New York Times: "After a rancorous, sleepless night of debate, Republican lawmakers early Wednesday pushed through a sweeping set of bills that will limit the power of Wisconsin's newly elected Democrats, including the incoming governor and attorney general. The legislation, which Democrats vehemently opposed and protesters chanted their anger over, passed through the Republican-held State Legislature after hours of closed-door meetings and some amendments. The votes fell largely along party lines; no Democrats supported the measures." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: What you're seeing here, in Michigan & elsewhere (the North Carolina legislature pulled this stunt two years ago just before Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took office) is the Republican revolution against the peaceful, regular transfer of power. Absent the assumption & fulfillment of peaceful transfer, no form of democratic government can function. Republicans have been chipping away at taking large chunks out of democratic mechanisms since before the century began (Bush v. Gore decision), and they will continue to do so unless voters beat them down to a tiny faction of extremists. Should we have two political parties? Yes. But one of them cannot be what the GOP has become. It is not just their ideology; it is also their methodology. (BTW, if you want to know how the power grab worked out for North Carolina, read the NYT story linked in this paragraph.) ...

... Amanda Terkel of the Huffington Post: "Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate rushed to approve 82 of Gov. Scott Walker's [R] appointees, a month after voters chose not to reelect the Republican.... The appointees include two members of the board that oversees the state's public universities. One of those positions has been vacant for more than a year, but Walker just nominated his choice this week. He also made one of his top aides, Ellen Nowak, who is currently Department of Administration secretary, the new head of the state Public Service Commission.... [Gov.-Elect Tony] Evers' [D] spokeswoman told the Wisconsin State Journal that more than 30 of the nominees have had no public hearing.... Walker no doubt knows what he did is not a good look. In 2010, he urged outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle not to 'finalize any permanent civil service personnel' during his last two months in office." ...

... Update. The GOP Fraudsters. Francis Wilkinson in Bloomberg: "The daily crisis that is Trump's presidency often obscures the extended crisis that is the Republican Party. In Michigan and Wisconsin Republican legislators are seeking to steal not votes but their meaning. Having lost statewide elections in November, the Republicans, many representing intricately gerrymandered districts, intend to rob incoming Democrats of the powers of their offices, voters be damned. They are smashing the peaceful transition of power without which democracy instantly fails.... The sick irony of the emerging scandal in North Carolina is that if GOP election fraud is indeed proved to have taken place, Republicans will soon have the evidence they lacked for so long. Future voter suppression will be justified on the grounds that Republicans must protect the sanctity of the vote from themselves.... As Republicans in Michigan and Wisconsin are proving, even clear election victories are not guaranteed to secure majority rule or a consensus that the winning candidates have the power to govern." --s

Way Beyond

Britain. Alex Hern of the Guardian & Press Association: "BT [British Telecom] has confirmed it is removing Huawei equipment from key areas of its 4G network as concerns are raised about the Chinese firm's presence in critical telecoms infrastructure. Governments in the US, New Zealand and Australia have already moved to block the use of Huawei's equipment as part of the future rollout of 5G networks. Earlier this week the head of MI6 also suggested the UK needed to decide if it was 'comfortable' with Chinese ownership of the technology being used.... In a statement, the UK telecoms group has confirmed it is in the process of removing Huawei equipment from the key parts of its 3G and 4G networks to meet an existing internal policy not to have the Chinese firm at the centre of its infrastructure." --s

North Korea. Benjamin Haas of the Guardian: "North Korea has significantly expanded and upgraded long-range missile sites, according to satellite images published by CNN, highlighting the lack of progress in negotiations with the US in the months since Kim Jong-un met Donald Trump. The images showed upgrades at the North's Yeongjeo-dong and revealed another site that was previously not publicly known, both in the country's mountainous interior." --s

News Lede

ABC News: "Search and rescue operations are underway off the coast of Japan for a U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 refueling tanker and an F/A-18 fighter jet involved in a mishap, according to the Marines. Two people have been found by Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces, which is leading search and rescue efforts with both surface ships and aircraft, a spokesperson for III Marine Expeditionary Force in Japan. The first person was in good condition, while the second person's condition was unclear and they were taken to a local medical facility for evaluation. There were five personnel on board the KC-130 and two on board the F/A-18 at the time of the incident, a Marine official told ABC News."