The Ledes

Sunday, January 20, 2019.

Hill: "A fire Sunday morning in Northeast Washington, D.C., damaged studios for Fox News, C-SPAN and MSNBC, and forced 'Fox News Sunday' to relocate its broadcast to a local affiliate's studio. Washington, D.C., Fire and EMS tweeted that an electrical fire broke out in the 8th floor television studio, but that nobody was injured. Steve Scully, the political editor for C-SPAN, tweeted shortly after 7 a.m. that  the Fox News and C-SPAN studios sustained 'extensive damage,' and MSNBC's studio took on 'extensive smoke and water damage.'"

New York Times: "Heavy snowfall, high winds and a dangerous mix of rain and sleet were expected to hit swaths of the Northeast on Sunday, prompting officials to warn of icy roadways and power outages from a vast winter storm that had been pummeling the Great Plains and the Great Lakes. The storm, which complicated travel on Saturday and busted plans for the three-day weekend across much of the country, had already caused problems from Kansas, where the governor declared an emergency, to Chicago, where a United Airlines plane slid off a concrete surface. Flights have been canceled by the thousands, and rapidly dropping temperatures on Sunday in parts of the Northeast would freeze anything wet, creating 'extremely dangerous' conditions on the roadways."

USA Today: "John Coughlin, a two-time U.S. pairs champion who was suspended Thursday evening by the U.S. Center for SafeSport and U.S. Figure Skating, died Friday, according to a Facebook post from his sister.... Kansas City police confirmed Coughlin's suicide.... Coughlin, 33, was a fixture at skating competitions and rinks around the country as a coach, TV commentator and a rising star within both USFS and the International Skating Union, the sport’s worldwide federation.”

The Wires
The Ledes

Saturday, January 19, 2019.

AP: " Forensic experts attempted to separate and count charred heaps of corpses in central Mexico on Saturday after a massive fireball erupted at an illegal pipeline tap, killing at least 66 people. More than 85 other people on Saturday were listed as missing as relatives of the deceased and onlookers gathered around the scene of carnage. Just a few feet from where the pipeline passed through an alfalfa field, the dead seem to have fallen in heaps, perhaps as they stumbled over each other or tried to help one another in the moments after a geyser of gasoline shot into the air Friday. The leak was caused by an illegal pipeline tap in the small town of Tlahuelilpan, about 62 miles (100 kilometers) north of Mexico City, according to state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex."

Public Service Announcement

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.

Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: If you're a shut-out Trump Shutdown victim tooling around the Internets with nothing to do today, let's assume that some day some time, Trump will de-furlough you and you can get back to work enthusiastically serving the American people in your appointed capacity. In case Trump has rendered you a bit rusty in the area of job skills, Conan here provides some useful tools that may help you get to work on time, even on casual Friday:

ABC News: "Breathtaking drone video of a pod of friendly, playful dolphins joining a surfer as he took to the waves near the coast of Ventura, California, is making the rounds on social media and bringing smiles -- and wow's -- to viewers. ABC station KABC-TV's meteorologist Kimi Evans met the drone's owner Craig Badger, who shared the footage, and spoke to surfer Alden Blair.... The video has been seen more than 3 million times on social media." ...

NBC Suits Are Such Geniuses. New York Times: "After a drawn-out negotiation period, NBC and Megyn Kelly have formally agreed to part ways. The network and the onetime cable news star reached a final agreement on Friday, nearly three months after she wondered aloud on-air why it was inappropriate for white people to dress up in blackface for Halloween. NBC and a representative for Ms. Kelly declined to reveal the details of the exit package. But according to two people familiar with the negotiations, Ms. Kelly was paid the outstanding balance on her contract, a figure that amounts to roughly $30 million. At the time of the separation, Ms. Kelly was in the middle of a three-year, $69 million contract with the network."

New York Times: "The Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the novelist MacKenzie Bezos announced on Twitter Wednesday that they are getting divorced after 25 years of marriage. In a statement posted on Mr. Bezos’s Twitter account, the couple said they had been separated for a long period of time, but planned to remain involved as 'parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects.' According to a 1999 profile in Wired, the two met when they both worked at D.E. Shaw, a New York-based hedge fund, before moving in 1994 to Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered. They have four children.... As is the case in any celebrity split, the financial details of the divorce are sure to be complicated despite the couple’s vow to “remain cherished friends.” According to Forbes, which publishes an annual list of billionaires, his net worth is estimated at $137 billion and he is the richest man in the world. While much of his wealth is tied up in Amazon stock, Mr. Bezos, 54, the company’s chief executive, is also the owner of several companies, including The Washington Post and Blue Origin, a space travel company."

Here's a list of the Golden Globe winners, via Market Watch. CNN has posted highlights on a liveblog & currently has a whole buncha links to related stories on CNN Entertainment. And if you're in it for the red carpet, there's this:

New York Times : "Archaeologists have discovered a well-preserved, 4,400-year-old tomb of a royal priest and his family in Egypt, in a 'one of a kind' find, the Egyptian authorities announced on Saturday. The tomb was unearthed in Saqqara, a city south of Cairo and a vast necropolis from ancient Egypt. The discovery dates from the rule of Neferirkare Kakai, the third king of the fifth dynasty of ancient Egypt, according to Khaled al-Anani, Egypt’s minister of antiquities. The fifth dynasty governed for less than two centuries, from 2,500 B.C. to about 2,350 B.C., according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tomb had remained untouched, said Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of Egypt’s supreme council of antiquities, according to Reuters."

"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."

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

Monday
Jan072019

The Commentariat -- January 8, 2019

Late Morning/Afternoon Update:

Sharon LaFraniere & Ken Vogel of the New York Times: "Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with an associate tied to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign, prosecutors alleged, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday. The accusations came to light in a document filed by Mr. Manafort's defense lawyers that was supposed to be partly blacked out but contained a formatting error that accidentally revealed the information.... In one portion of the filing that Mr. Manafort's lawyers tried to redact, they instead also revealed that Mr. Manafort 'may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan' with the Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, 'on more than one occasion.' Investigators have been questioning witnesses about whether Russia tried to influence the Trump administration to broker a resolution to hostilities between Russia and Ukraine."

Pomp & No Circumstance. Annie Karni & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "President Trump has invited representatives from cable and broadcast news channels to an off-the-record lunch at the White House ahead of his prime time speech Tuesday night, an address in which he is expected to frame his deman for border wall funding as a response to a national security and humanitarian crisis.... The president appears to be preparing for the event as if he is delivering a miniature State of the Union message -- typically, television anchors meet with the president over lunch ahead of his annual address to Congress."

Carlotta Gall of the New York Times: "President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey denounced the White House national security adviser John R. Bolton for comments he made ahead of his arrival in the Turkish capital and refused to meet him on Tuesday, making any agreement between the two NATO partners over a United States withdrawal from Syria increasingly difficult. Mr. Erdogan said Mr. Bolton had made a 'grave mistake' when he said that Turkey must agree to protect Syria's Kurds in the event of an American withdrawal.... Mr. Bolton was in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Tuesday for meetings with his national security counterpart Ibrahim Kalin but left after he was denied a meeting with Mr. Erdogan, the pro-government English-language newspaper Daily Sabah reported."

Russ Choma & Rebecca Leber of Mother Jones: "When Mother Jones first reported in December 2017 that the Environmental Protection Agency had hired a hyperpartisan GOP opposition research firm [Definers Public Affairs] known for its aggressive tactics to handle the agency]s news-clipping work, the politically appointed flacks in the agency's press office insisted the decision was about saving money and that the hiring had been handled through normal procurement channels.... Now, thanks to another batch of internal emails, we have even more evidence that the motivation for hiring Definers came from the top agency political appointees who were ticked off at the old service because it was collecting too many news clips that portrayed then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt negatively." --s

John Wagner & Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post: "Vice President Pence argued Tuesday that the United States is facing an 'undeniable crisis' at its southern border and urged Democrats to negotiate an end to the impasse over President Trump's demand for border wall funding that has led to a partial government shutdown. Pence appeared on three network morning shows, offering a preview of a prime-time address from the Oval Office planned by Trump on Tuesday night in a bid to gain leverage, with the shutdown now in its third week. Democrats announced that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would deliver a joint response. During his interviews, Pence did not rule out the possibility that Trump would declare a national emergency that could empower him to construct a border wall without congressional approval. But the vice president said repeatedly that the administration is seeking a negotiated solution with Congress." ...

... Caitlin Oprysko of Politico: "The vice president avoided direct answers to questions from ABC and others about repeated misstatements from Trump and others that overstate the national security threat at the border.... 'How can the American people trust the president when he says this is a crisis, when he says things over and over again that aren't true?' [Jonathan] Karl [of ABC News] asked. 'Well, look, the American people aren't as concerned about the political debate as they are concerned about what's really happening at the border,' Pence responded. The vice president also repeated Trump's misleading insistence that a renegotiated free trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada fulfills to his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for a border wall, arguing that the new deal is structured 'in a way that it will benefit the United States in jobs and tax revenues.' Fact checkers have rated those claims false, even if the deal had been ratified and gone into effect, which it has not."

Devlin Barrett & Matt Zapotosky of the Washington Post: "A Russian lawyer whose role at a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower has come under scrutiny from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was charged Tuesday in a separate case with obstructing justice in a money-laundering investigation. Natalia Veselnitskaya became a central figure in the Mueller probe when it was revealed that in June 2016, she met with Donald Trump Jr., after an intermediary indicated she had dirt on Hillary Clinton. But the charges unsealed Tuesday say she made a 'misleading declaration' to the court in a civil case. Veselnitskaya ... represented Prevezon Holdings in a civil case in which the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan sought millions of dollars in forfeiture from the company and others. The department had alleged in a civil complaint that a Russian criminal organization ran an elaborate tax refund scheme.... Those involved made about $230 million in tax refunds, prosecutors said, and filtered the money through shell companies and eventually into Prevezon, a Cyprus-based real estate corporation. Prevezon, prosecutors said, laundered the funds into real estate, including by investing in high end commercial property and luxury apartments in Manhattan. The parent company of the victim firms hired attorneys to investigate after learning of the sham lawsuits, including Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, and they uncovered the fraud scheme, in which Russian government officials were complicit, prosecutors said." ...

     ... Mrs. McC: Hmmm, "luxury apartments in Manhattan." Do you suppose any of said "luxury apartments" was sold by "Individual A"? ...

... Benjamin Weiser of the New York Times: "... a federal indictment returned in Manhattan seemed to confirm that Ms. Veselnitskaya had deep ties to senior Russian government officials.... Ms. Veselnitskaya, 43, is believed to be in Russia.... The new indictment again raises questions about whom Ms. Veselnitskaya was representing when she met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and others at Trump Tower in Manhattan during the campaign." Includes a facsimile of the indictment.

Darren Samuelsohn & Rachel Bade of Politico: "The Justice Department is trying to delay acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker from delivering testimony to the new Democratic-led House until next month, potentially pushing his high-profile appearance until after a permanent replacement has already been confirmed, according to two sources familiar with the situation. Whitaker had initially committed to Democratic leaders that he'd give testimony in January to the House Judiciary Committee. But those plans have since stalled, with Justice Department officials citing the ongoing government shutdown and Whitaker's busy travel schedule as reasons for pushing back the hearing, the sources said."

Dissing Our Friends. Steven Erlanger of the New York Times: "The Trump administration downgraded the diplomatic status of the European Union's delegation to the United States last year without making a formal announcement or informing the bloc about the change, a European official said on Tuesday. After protest from Brussels and discussion between the European Union and the Trump administration, the reclassification of the delegation and the consequent demotion of the ambassador, David O'Sullivan, is understood to have been reversed, at least temporarily, the official said. Mr. Trump has been critical of multilateral institutions, and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, delivered a provocative speech in Brussels on Dec. 4 in which he questioned the value of multinational organizations and institutions like the United Nations and the European Union."

*****

Catherine Lucey & Lisa Mascaro of the AP: "With the shutdown lurching into a third week, many Republican watched nervously from the sidelines as hundreds of thousands of federal workers went without pay and government disruptions hit the lives of ordinary Americans. White House officials affirmed Trump's funding request in a letter to Capitol Hill after a meeting Sunday with senior congressional aides led by Vice President Mike Pence at the White House complex yielded little progress. The letter from Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought[*] sought funding for a 'steel barrier on the Southwest border.' The White House said the letter, as well as details provided during the meeting, sought to answer Democrats' questions about the funding request. Democrats, though, said the administration still failed to provide a full budget of how it would spend the billions requested for the wall from Congress. Trump campaigned on a promise that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has refused." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

     ... * Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Yet another "acting" official. ...

... Felicia Sonmez, et al., of the Washington Post: "President Trump is ramping up his efforts to make a public case for his border wall as the partial government shutdown is now in its third week, planning a prime-time address Tuesday night and a visit to the border Thursday. Trump announced the news of the presidential address in a Monday tweet. 'I am pleased to inform you that I will Address the Nation on the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border,' he said. 'Tuesday night at 9:00 P.M. Eastern.'... Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced that Trump will travel to the border with Mexico on Thursday." (This is an update to a story linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Brian Stelter & Oliver Darcy of CNN: "The major television networks will provide wall-to-wall coverage of ... Donald Trump's prime time address on border security on Tuesday. NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox broadcast network all said on Monday that they had agreed to the White House's request for air time. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC will all carry the address live, as well.... But for a few hours, it was unclear what the networks would do.... A broadcast network executive said 'time has been requested for 9 p.m. Networks are deliberating.' The broadcasters have been known to resist presidential requests for air time for a variety of reasons, including the perceived urgency of the subject and the popularity of the shows that would be interrupted. With Trump, there were other factors to consider, including his record of deception and his tendency to ramble off script in long speeches. Many Trump critics posted messages on social media urging the networks not to air an address that could be filled with falsehoods. Some said that a prominent Democrat should be given equal time. It is unclear if any sort of Democratic rebuttal is in the works." ...

... Eliana Johnson of Politico: "Fighting a virtual one-man messaging battle for his border wall..., Donald Trump is growing frustrated that he doesn't have more public defenders in his shutdown fight with Congressional Democrats.... A president who demands constant praise has a diminishing number of public defenders these days. The result is a manic, one-man public-relations effort to sell the shutdown.... Trump has griped to associates that hasn't seen enough administration officials on the airwaves defending him during the shutdown fight.... He is also angry that he didn't get more backup for his mid-December decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.... Meanwhile the White House's once-daily televised press briefing -- a reliable forum for the administration to broadcast its message -- has also all but ceased." ...

... Donnie's Imaginary Friends -- Update on a Whopper. Peter Baker of the New York Times: "As he makes his case for building a border wall, President Trump says that his predecessors have secretly confided in him that they should have done it themselves. The only problem: All of the living presidents say that's not true. Former President Jimmy Carter said on Monday that he never had such a conversation with Mr. Trump, making him the last of the veterans of the Oval Office to dispute the assertion. 'I have not discussed the border wall with President Trump and do not support him on the issue,' Mr. Carter said in a statement. Aides to the other living presidents -- Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama -- have all likewise denied Mr. Trump's claim. Former President George Bush, who died in November, was in failing health throughout Mr. Trump's administration and did not have any discussion with the current president about substantive issues, according to people close to him. This would not be the first time Mr. Trump has bragged about conversations that never happened.... Mr. Trump has not interacted with any of his predecessors in any meaningful way since his inauguration." ...

... Erica Werner, et al., of the Washington Post: "Democrats moved on two fronts Monday to goad Republicans into reopening the federal government, lining up House bills to fund shuttered agencies and preparing to block action in the Senate until the shutdown is resolved. The moves amounted to an increasingly calculated and confrontational strategy from congressional Democrats as the shutdown over President Trump's demand for money for a wall on the Mexican border entered its third week.... In a joint statement Monday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats must be given equal airtime to rebut Trump, who, '"if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation.'" ...

     ... How to Get the Turtle to Peek out of His Shell. Greg Sargent: "President Trump would almost certainly not be able to continue shutting down the government over his megalomaniacal border wall obsession if it weren't for Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader is refusing a Senate vote on the bills that House Democrats have passed funding the government -- shielding Trump from possibly having to veto a bipartisan measure reopening it, which would be politically disastrous for him.... Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) tweeted over the weekend that Senate Democrats should block any and all measures in the Senate that are unrelated to funding the government until the Senate votes on reopening it. Since then, several progressive groups and a handful of Democratic senators have endorsed the strategy.... 'McConnell and Senate Republicans have to stop contracting out their votes to Donald Trump,' Van Hollen [told me]. 'They have an important constitutional role, and we should not have business-as-usual in the Senate until we open the entire federal government.'" (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Sarah Ferris of Politico: "Several dozen House Republicans might cross the aisle this week to vote for Democratic bills to reopen shuttered parts of the federal government, spurring the White House into a dramatic effort to stem potential GOP defections. White House officials and Republican congressional leaders worry that GOP support for the shutdown is eroding, weakening ... Donald Trump’s hand...." ...

... Josh Israel & Ryan Koronowski of ThinkProgress dig up the hypocrisy of countless Confederates in their position on the Trump shutdown. --s ...

... Damian Paletta, et al., of the Washington Post: "The White House on Monday directed the Internal Revenue Service to pay tax refunds to millions of Americans during the federal shutdown, marking its most dramatic reversal yet of past legal precedent as officials scramble to contain public backlash from the funding lapse. Last year, and during previous administrations, the IRS said it would not pay tax refunds during a government shutdown. But Trump administration lawyers ruled Monday that the refunds could be processed after all, a move that some Democrats called legally dubious.... But it is also the latest in a string of sudden shifts and legal reversals that have shown the White House reverse precedent in the face of public pressure. Senior administration officials changed rules to pay Coast Guard salaries in December, restart an IRS program to clear mortgage applications, and reopen some national parks. They are now searching for ways to prevent the nation's food assistance program from running out of money.... Sam Berger, who worked in the general counsel's office ... during a shutdown under the Obama administration, said the decision reverses years of precedent and runs contrary to the Antideficiency Act, the law establishing that federal agencies cannot spend money that has not been authorized by Congress. 'What we're seeing now is an effort by the administration to ignore legal views, to basically put aside the law and limit the political impact of what's going on,' he said." ...

[In 2017] over 3,700 known or suspected terrorists tried to enter into this country ... at the southern border because there's no wall, there's no physical barrier. There's no way to actually control ports of entry.....It's a problem of national security. It's a problem of terrorists.... We have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that's probably the easiest place to come through. They drive right in and they make a left. -- Donald Trump, in remarks last week ...

... Julia Ainsley of NBC News: "U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data provided to Congress in May 2018 and obtained by NBC News. The low number contradicts statements by Trump administration officials, including White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said Friday that CBP stopped nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2018.... The White House has used the 4,000 figure to make its case for building a wall on the southwest border and for closing the government until Congress funds it. They have also threatened to call a national emergency in order to get over $5 billion in funding for the wall." ...

     ... "The Number of the Beast." Mrs. McCrabbie: Mrs. Huckleberry, et al., were off by a factor of 666 (4,000/6), which is just too perfect, what with the Revelation that 666 is "the number of the Beast." I wonder if any of Trump's evangelical acolytes are good enough at arithmetic to notice his press secretary is sending them the coded message, "Trump is the Anti-Christ." ...

... Kevin Drum: "Six. And this is merely people who were on a watchlist. Given what we know about the terrorist watchlist, this means the most likely number of real threats stopped at the southern border was zero or one. But it gets worse. These were people stopped at legal ports of entry, so a wall obviously wouldn't have affected them anyway.... At this point, anything officially released by the White House should simply be considered a lie unless it’s confirmed with someone reliable." ...

... Rafi Schwartz of Splinter: "Incidentally, NBC reported, there were nearly twice as many people from the database stopped at the northern border -- 41 of whom weren't citizens or lawful residents. In any case, you'd think that after years of barfing up obvious falsehoods for the president, [Sarah] Sanders would know not to make bogus claims that, oh, I dunno, might be easily disproven. Which means either she's getting worse at lying for a living, or just doesn't care anymore. Maybe both." ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: Trump, a former real estate developer, should know that the first major step in developing a property is, um, acquiring it. It's a lesson that seems to have slipped his mind. As Gerald Dickinson writes in the Hill, "Only about one-third of the land the wall would sit on is owned by the federal government or by Native American tribes. States and private property owners, especially along the Texas-Mexico border, own the rest. Trump would have to engineer a monumental settlement with thousands of landowners who control thousands of acres of land along the border. Otherwise, the administration will have to face hundreds, if not thousands, of lengthy eminent domain disputes before anything is built across approximately 2,000 miles of the international border. Beyond the turf wars, the wall is sure to raise considerable litigation over environmental impacts." Based on the government's past experiences acquiring vast land tracts, Dickinson predicts "years and years of litigation and long and drawn out settlements with landowners." ...

     ... Well, you say, Trump isn't planning to use "regular" eminent domain to take the land. As Dickinson notes in another Hill op-ed, Trump "said he would grab the land 'under the military version' of eminent domain 'fairly quickly.'..." Oh yeah? As Dickinson writes, "it took 15 years for the Army Corps of Engineers to seize the land for the famous Truman Dam." AND, speaking of Truman, as Harry Truman himself learned from the Supreme Court when he tried to national steel mills during the Korean conflict, "the president does not have the power to order the military to seize private property and that the power is the 'job for the Nation's lawmakers, not for its military authorities.'" ...

     ... ** AND This. Joe Romm of ThinkProgress: "The shutdown is because Trump demands extending the existing border walls and barriers to vast areas that make no sense largely because they are in the Rio Grande floodplain. Building barriers in that floodplain was such a problematic idea that a 1970 treaty between United States and Mexico explicitly bans them.... [T]he overwhelming majority of the border, where there isn't some form of barrier, runs straight down the middle of 1,254 snaking miles of the enormous Rio Grande River. But the Rio Grande routinely floods.... If Trump flagrantly violates the treaty to build his wall, not only will it lead to court challenges, but it will worsen relations with the very country we need to work with if the United States is to improve the border situation." --s ...

... Aditi Shrikant of Vox: "The partial government shutdown is dragging on over the $5 billion ... Donald Trump wants for his wall along the US-Mexico border, a political crisis that may be weakening security at a much more common point of entry for immigrants: airports. According to CNN, hundreds of Transportation Security Administration officers who were expected to work have called in sick. 'This will definitely affect the flying public who we [are] sworn to protect,' President of the National TSA Employee union Hydrick Thomas told CNN. Their absence will not only increase airport frustrations for travelers, but could also lead to skimping on safety precautions.... According to WNYC, TSA is one of the lowest-paying federal agencies, with the typical starting salary of a TSA agent being $17,000 (other estimations say it may be closer to $25,000). And with Trump declaring the shutdown could last for 'months' or even 'years,' it's easy to see why many calling in or looking for other options." ...

... Jonathan Chait: "The Trump administration's shutdown of the federal government over the last two weeks is a synecdoche for the way it has run the federal government over the last two years. They blundered into it almost by accident, without any understanding of what they are doing nor any plan for success.... Nobody in the administration had a clear understanding of just what a shutdown would entail. Two devastating reports in the Washington Post over the weekend detail the horrifying scope of their ignorance. The administration did not realize that 38 million Americans lose their food stamps under a shutdown, nor did it know that thousands of tenants would face eviction without assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.... Facing an economic cataclysm, Trump appears to have no endgame in mind.... All [Democrats] can do in the meantime is continue to send Trump bills to reopen the government immediately, and wait for the president to realize the political blood on the floor is his own."

From the Alternative Reality of Donald J. Trump. Missy Ryan of the Washington Post: "President Trump on Monday pushed back against media reports that he had altered the timeline for removing U.S. troops from Syria, denying his administration had issued a series of contradictory statements about plans for ending America's role in the war. 'We will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!' the president said in a message on Twitter, referring to the Pentagon's ongoing operation to defeat the Islamic State. His comment, which differed from earlier promises of a swift departure for the more than 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria, was the latest iteration of an envolving roadmap for concluding the military mission there. Trump's statement came a day after national security adviser John Bolton, speaking to reporters during a tour of the Middle East, said the troop departure would occur only after Islamic State militants are fully routed. Both his comments and Trump's conflict with officials' initial statements following the president's unexpected Dec. 19 announcement that all troops would come home in short order. Trump also declared victory against the Islamic State, contradicting military assessments." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Mark Landler & Helene Cooper of the New York Times: "John R. Bolton found himself last weekend in a familiar but dangerous spot: cleaning up after his boss announced the withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria -- a decision that rattled allies and threw America's Middle East policy into turmoil. But Mr. Bolton is at least partly responsible for the conditions that led to President Trump's sudden move. As the president's national security adviser, Mr. Bolton has largely eliminated the internal policy debates that could have fleshed out the troop decision with timetables, conditions and a counterterrorism strategy for after the troops leave. Under Mr. Bolton's management, senior administration officials said, the National Security Council staff had 'zero' role in brokering a debate over America's future in Syria.... Faced with the president's abrupt declaration..., Mr. Bolton felt compelled to talk his boss into slowing down the process, these officials said. Then Mr. Bolton had to cobble together a withdrawal strategy that would normally have taken shape over weeks or months and laid the groundwork for Mr. Trump's decision -- not hastily followed it. Mr. Trump pushed back on reports that he and his adviser were out of sync..., firing at a report in The New York Times rather than at Mr. Bolton."

The Talented Mr. Mulvaney. He Can Do Anything Better than Anyone. Maggie Haberman & Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, as recently as late last year explored the possibility of becoming president of the University of South Carolina, four people familiar with the discussions said. Mr. Mulvaney, a congressman from South Carolina for six years before joining the Trump administration, initiated a discussion with a senior official at the university late last year about the position, which is going to become open this summer. By then, Mr. Mulvaney already had two other jobs -- he led the federal Office of Management and Budget, as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But he was weeks away from getting a third job that he had lobbied President Trump for over several months: White House chief of staff. Mr. Mulvaney got the job in an 'acting' capacity -- a move Mr. Trump said over the weekend gave him 'flexibility' with various appointments.... But chief of staff is not a cabinet-level position requiring Senate confirmation, so it is unclear why the 'acting' designation has remained."

"All the Best People" Are Saying, "Hell, No." Eliana Johnson & Daniel Lippman of Politico: "... Donald Trump is having a tough time hiring a Pentagon chief after the abrupt departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis late last month. Jon Kyl, the retired Arizona Republican senator, became the second person to wave off Trump's overtures last week, telling the White House he is not interested in the job. Ret. Gen. Jack Keane also turned down the job shortly after Mattis' resignation. (Keane, who frequently advises Trump, had refused the position once before, during the 2016 presidential transition.)"

Juan Cole: "The response of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) to the proposed the Senate bill permitting state and local sanctions on persons and companies that boycott Israel was 'They forgot which country they are representing.'She wasn't harsh enough. The senators who pushed this bill, foremost among them Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) have betrayed the Constitution. And so have the American Israel Public Affairs Committee staffers, who are attempting to gut the US Constitution on behalf of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.... Economic boycotts have been part and parcel of American political striving for liberty from the beginning. I have three words for you: Boston Tea Party.... Two Federal judges have already found state laws that attempt to punish companies or individuals for boycotting Israel unconstitutional, one in Kansas and one in Arizona.... Unless Trump manages to so corrupt the Supreme Court that it ceases even trying to uphold the constitution, both S. 1 and the fascist state laws it seeks to safeguard will all be struck down. The senators know this.... They are not only betrayers of the constitution, they are whores." --s

Uh-Oh. Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who underwent cancer surgery last month, was missing from the bench on Monday for the Supreme Court's first arguments since the court returned from its four-week holiday break.... Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. announced his colleague's absence at the start of Monday's session, saying that 'Justice Ginsburg is unable to be present today.' He added that she would take part in the court's consideration of the day's two cases based on the briefs submitted by the parties and transcripts of the arguments." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Mark Sherman of the AP: "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is missing arguments for the first time in more than 25 years as she recuperates from cancer surgery last month, the Supreme Court said." (Also linked yesterday.)

Beyond the Beltway

Arizona. Liam Stack of the New York Times: "The chief executive of the corporation that runs a private nursing home in Arizona where a woman in a vegetative state was sexually assaulted and later gave birth to a child resigned on Monday, the company said in a statement. The company, Hacienda HealthCare, said the resignation of the executive, Bill Timmons, was unanimously accepted by its board of directors. David Leibowitz, a company spokesman, said Mr. Timmons had been chief executive for 28 years.... Hacienda HealthCare has been under intense scrutiny since the Phoenix Police Department said last week that it had opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the conception of the child, who was born last month.... Records posted to the Medicare website indicate that the care center received a 'below average' rating from health inspectors in 2017. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rated its quality of resident care as 'much below average.'

California. Creepy News. Neal Broverman of the Advocate: "The body of another young black man has been found at the West Hollywood apartment of Ed Buck -- a prominent Democratic donor who allegedly has a fetish for drugging sex workers.... Buck, a white man in his 60s, was investigated previously by authorities after the death of Gemmel Moore, who died of a methamphetamine overdose in Buck's home in July 2017. Since Moore's death was classified as an accidental overdose, numerous young black gay men have alleged that Buck has a fetish for shooting drugs into black men he picks up off the street or on hookup sites. Moore had written about Buck injecting him with dangerous drugs before his death."

New York. Katie Thomas of the New York Times & Charles Ornstein of ProPublica: "Dr. José Baselga, who resigned his position as the top doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center after failing to disclose millions of dollars in payments from drug companies, is now going to work for one of them. AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish drug maker, announced on Monday that it had hired Dr. Baselga as its head of research and development in oncology.... Dr. Baselga stepped down in September from his role as chief medical officer at the cancer center after The New York Times and ProPublica reported that he had failed to accurately disclose his conflicts of interest in dozens of articles in medical journals. He later resigned from the boards of the drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb and the radiation equipment manufacturer Varian Medical Systems. Although Memorial Sloan Kettering has said that Dr. Baselga was not fired, hospital leaders have indicated that he was forced out."

Way Beyond

Bibi Takes a Page out of Donald's Big Book of Cheap Tricks. David Halbfinger of the New York Times: "For seven minutes on live television -- enormously valuable exposure with elections only three months away -- [Israeli PM Benjamin] Netanyahu railed against a corruption investigation into his dealings with several Israeli media tycoons that is widely expected to culminate soon in an indictment on bribery and other criminal charges. The investigation was 'biased,' Mr. Netanyahu complained.... He scoffed at the idea that one of the main accusations against him — buying positive news coverage, in exchange for government benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars -- could amount to bribery: 'A joke,' he said. 'An absurdity!' And then he suggested one of his chief rivals in the April elections, the centrist candidate Yair Lapid, was guilty of the same thing; called himself and his family victims of a 'terrible witch hunt' orchestrated by the political left; and claimed that those leftist adversaries wanted him to sacrifice Israel's security, but that he would 'never do such a thing.' At least one television channel cut away midspeech."

Sunday
Jan062019

The Commentariat -- January 7, 2019

Afternoon Update:

Catherine Lucey & Lisa Mascaro of the AP: "With the shutdown lurching into a third week, many Republicans watched nervously from the sidelines as hundreds of thousands of federal workers went without pay and government disruptions hit the lives of ordinary Americans. White House officials affirmed Trump's funding request in a letter to Capitol Hill after a meeting Sunday with senior congressional aides led by Vice President Mike Pence at the White House complex yielded little progress. The letter from Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought[*] sought funding for a 'steel barrier on the Southwest border.' The White House said the letter, as well as details provided during the meeting, sought to answer Democrats' questions about the funding request. Democrats, though, said the administration still failed to provide a full budget of how it would spend the billions requested for the wall from Congress. Trump campaigned on a promise that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has refused." ..

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Yet another "acting" official. ...

... Washington Post Breaking News: Trump plans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday, Sarah Sanders announced in a tweet. Mrs. McC: This way he can get on the teevee again & tell more lies. ...

... How to Get the Turtle to Peek out of His Shell. Greg Sargent: "President Trump would almost certainly not be able to continue shutting down the government over his megalomaniacal border wall obsession if it weren't for Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader is refusing a Senate vote on the bills that House Democrats have passed funding the government -- shielding Trump from possibly having to veto a bipartisan measure reopening it, which would be politically disastrous for him.... Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) tweeted over the weekend that Senate Democrats should block any and all measures in the Senate that are unrelated to funding the government until the Senate votes on reopening it. Since then, several progressive groups and a handful of Democratic senators have endorsed the strategy.... 'McConnell and Senate Republicans have to stop contracting out their votes to Donald Trump,' Van Hollen [told me]. 'They have an important constitutional role, and we should not have business-as-usual in the Senate until we open the entire federal government.'"

From the Alternative Reality of Donald J. Trump. Missy Ryan of the Washington Post: "President Trump on Monday pushed back against media reports that he had altered the timeline for removing U.S. troops from Syria, denying his administration had issued a series of contradictory statements about plans for ending America's role in the war. 'We will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!' the president said in a message on Twitter, referring to the Pentagon's ongoing operation to defeat the Islamic State. His comment, which differed from earlier promises of a swift departure for the more than 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria, was the latest iteration of an envolving roadmap for concluding the military mission there. Trump's statement came a day after national security adviser John Bolton, speaking to reporters during a tour of the Middle East, said the troop departure would occur only after Islamic State militants are fully routed. Both his comments and Trump's conflict with officials' initial statements following the president's unexpected Dec. 19 announcement that all troops would come home in short order. Trump also declared victory against the Islamic State, contradicting military assessments."

Uh-Oh. Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who underwent cancer surgery last month, was missing from the bench on Monday for the Supreme Court's first arguments since the court returned from its four-week holiday break.... Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. announced his colleague's absence at the start of Monday's session, saying that 'Justice Ginsburg is unable to be present today.' He added that she would take part in the court's consideration of the day's two cases based on the briefs submitted by the parties and transcripts of the arguments." ...

... Mark Sherman of the AP: "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is missing arguments for the first time in more than 25 years as she recuperates from cancer surgery last month, the Supreme Court said."

Judiciary for Sale. Lachlan Markay of The Daily Beast: "A top conservative judicial activist used a sprawling web of interconnected groups to not only help fund ... Donald Trump's inauguration but to help pave the way for the confirmation of his Supreme Court nominees....Previously unreported documents obtained by The Daily Beast provide the first glimpse into the finances of a key node in that network, traced to Federalist Society president Leonard Leo, a major player in Washington's wars over the makeup of the federal judiciary. Those documents ... underscore the degree to which anonymous, high-dollar donors have bankrolled the advocacy behind Trump's highly successful efforts to reshape the federal judiciary.... [T]he full extent of the network Leo built is only now becoming clear." Read on to see how much judges cost these days. --s

*****

Michael Tackett & Catie Edmondson of the New York Times: "President Trump's evolving definition of a border wall animated negotiations to end a partial government shutdown on Sunday, while House Democrats moved to increase pressure on the president by vowing to pass individual bills to reopen targeted departments that handle critical functions like tax refunds and food stamps.'I informed my folks to say that we'll build a steel barrier,' Mr. Trump told reporters after returning to the White House from a senior staff meeting at Camp David. He added of the Democrats, 'They don't like concrete, so we'll give them steel.'... But Mr. Trump also said that, if no deal could be reached over his demand for $5.7 billion for the border wall, he was still considering using 'emergency' authority to build the barrier with other government funds. For their part, Democrats said there was no progress as the shutdown entered its 16th day, and said again that the government must be reopened before negotiations on border security money could begin." ...

... Boris Sanchez of CNN: "... Donald Trump is inclined to declare a national emergency to secure military funding for his long-promised southern border wall if talks between administration officials and top lawmakers from both parties continue to stall, a White House official told CNN on Saturday. While not the administration's preferred plan, the use of emergency powers to fund the wall 'provides a way out' amid a series of contentious meetings and disagreements among Department of Homeland Security officials and Democratic lawmakers over basic facts related to border security, the official said. 'We can only stay like this for so long,' said the official, who attended both meetings with congressional officials at the White House led by Trump this week, explaining that factual disputes have hung up discussions.... On several occasions, discussions became combative during presentations by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. According to the White House official, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi twice cut into Nielsen's presentations to dismiss DHS statistics on border security as inaccurate.... 'In presentations made, they have repeatedly used statistics not supported by fact. They're trying to cast every single migrant as a terrorist or someone with a violent criminal history. The secretary has proven herself to not be credible on these issues,' a Pelosi aide told CNN." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Justin Sink & Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News: "Trump on Sunday renewed his threat to bypass negotiations with Democratic lawmakers and instead declare a national emergency on the southern border with Mexico. While the possible move was revealed just days ago, White House lawyers and key budget staff have been looking into it for weeks, a person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity. Some advisers close to Trump are recommending that he declare a national emergency, despite wide recognition that it would be immediately challenged in court -- Democratic lawmakers said so last week after Trump floated the idea publicly.... The president reiterated that he had no interest in resurrecting a deal that would trade wall funding for legal protections for undocumented children -- one of the few issues that could move Democrats toward compromise." ...

     ... See Bruce Ackerman's NYT column, linked yesterday, on why a presidential attempt to usurp Congress's powers would be unconstitutional, particularly in this case where the "national emergency" is fake. ...

... BUT. Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center in the Atlantic: "Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a 'national emergency' -- a decision that is entirely within his discretion -- more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power.... Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest. This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country's best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down." ...

... AND. Masha Gessen of the New Yorker: "Trump apparently imagines that such a move would allow him to govern the way he thinks he wants to: by barking commands rather than by throwing tantrums. Technically, he probably wouldn't need to declare a national emergency -- there are thirty states of emergency effective in the U.S. right now, many of them in effect for many years. (Presidents renew states of emergency annually, and though Congress is legally required to meet every six months to reassess a state of emergency, this has not happened since the relevant law was passed, in 1976.)"

It's a sign of the times when satire seems to be the solution. -- Forrest M., in today's Comments:

... Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker: "In a bold gambit to end the government shutdown, the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said on Saturday that she would bypass Donald J. Trump and negotiate directly with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. 'I owe it to the American people to bring this shutdown to the swiftest possible conclusion, and so I'm avoiding the middleman,' she said."

Jonathan Blitzer of the New Yorker: "There is an immigration crisis at the border -- it's just not the one the President keeps talking about. In the last half decade, while immigration at the U.S. border has dropped significantly compared with earlier years, the profile of migrants has changed in ways that the U.S. immigration system has never been designed to address. Instead of young men and seasonal workers, most of whom migrated from Mexico, the majority of people now arriving are asylum-seeking families and children from Central America." Mrs. McC: If you want to understand what's going on at the U.S.-Mexico border (and Donald Trump does not), Blitzer provides a helpful sketch. Trump wants to build a multi-billion-dollar wall to keep out immigrants who have a legal right to enter at the gate. That's how stupid this shutdown is.

Tweet, Retreat. Repeat = "Government" by Trump.

David Sanger, et al., of the New York Times: "President Trump's national security adviser, John R. Bolton, rolled back on Sunday Mr. Trump's decision to rapidly withdraw from Syria, laying out conditions for a pullout that could leave American forces there for months or even years. Mr. Bolton, making a visit to Israel, told reporters that American forces would remain in Syria until the last remnants of the Islamic State were defeated and Turkey provided guarantees that it would not strike Kurdish forces allied with the United States. He and other top White House advisers have led a behind-the-scenes effort to slow Mr. Trump's order and reassure allies, including Israel.... [Bolton's] remarks also reflected the disarray that has surrounded the president's decision, which took his staff and foreign allies by surprise and drew objections from the Pentagon that it was logistically impossible and strategically unwise. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned within hours of the announcement, and the Pentagon chief of staff, Kevin M. Sweeney, said on Saturday evening that he was also leaving.... The move to reverse course on Mr. Trump's promised swift withdrawal picked up in recent days, even as Mr. Bolton worked to avoid openly confronting the president the way Mr. Mattis did." ...

... Zeke Miller of the AP: "... Donald Trump's national security adviser said Sunday that the American military withdrawal from northeastern Syria is conditioned on defeating the remnants of the Islamic State group and on Turkey assuring the safety of U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters. John Bolton said there is no timetable for the pullout, but insisted the military presence is not an unlimited commitment.... Bolton's comments were the first public confirmation that the drawdown has been slowed. Trump had faced widespread criticism from allies about his decision, announced in mid-December, that he was pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. Officials said at the time that although many details of the withdrawal had not yet been finalized, they expected American forces to be out by mid-January. 'We're pulling out of Syria,' Trump said Sunday at the White House. 'But we're doing it and we won't be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.'" (Also linked yesterday.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: So that would be never. ...

... Carol Lee of NBC News: "... Donald Trump will not withdraw American troops from northern Syria until the Turkish government guarantees it won't then attack Syrian Kurdish forces that have been critical allies in the fight against ISIS, national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday. Bolton said a commitment from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that protects the Kurds after American forces exit is something Trump is demanding, and that it's just one of several conditions that have to be met before U.S. troops leave.... Since Trump abruptly announced on Dec. 19 that all U.S. forces in Syria would exit immediately, administration officials have shifted the timing to say it would happen more slowly." (Also linked yesterday.)

Trump, Bolton, Pompeo rely on AltWorld to decide US foreign policy. Mrs. McC: Okay, this is a portion of an unmarked photo accompanying Zeke Miller's story, so I don't know what these yahoos are really watching, but obviously, it isn't the real world.

Mike Allen & Jim VandeHei of Axios: "With the departure of White House chief of staff John Kelly, the misinformation emanating from President Trump has only escalated.... Although Kelly was thwarted in many of his efforts to control the president, one place he made authentic inroads was clamping down on the paper flow to the Oval Office. 'Anyone who circumvented that process was going to have a serious problem,' said a former official who saw the transformation up close. 'It has devolved into anarchy,' added another alumnus of Trump's White House.... Wednesday was Kelly's last formal day in the White House, but his influence had declined since he announced his departure on Dec. 8. Since then, Trump has made several unusually specific factual assertions that were quickly shown to be inaccurate, suggesting more unvetted information may be reaching him than had been the case in the heyday of Kelly's control[.]" (Also linked yesterday.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: At the top of Allen & VandeHei's list is Trump's claim that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan because "'because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.' A Wall Street Journal editorial scolded: 'We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President.'" Since these & some other remarks Trump made about Poland/Belarus & Montenegro are Russian talking points, both Chuck Rosenberg & Joyce Vance said on MSNBC that it's highly likely Bob Mueller will want to know why Trump is parroting Russia's propaganda playbook.

Trump Is Nastiest to Those Who Work for Him. Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post: "President Trump on Sunday said he's in no rush to name permanent members of his Cabinet after a series of departures.... 'Well, I'm in no hurry,' Trump told reporters outside the White House before departing for Camp David. 'I have "acting." And my actings are doing really great.... I sort of like "acting,"' Trump said. 'It gives me more flexibility; do you understand that? I like "acting."'" Mrs. McC: In other words, he wants these people, most of whom work their tails off, to be aware at every moment just how expendible they are.

Peter Goodman of the New York Times: "Across the industrial United States, including in the crucial political battleground state of Michigan..., complaints [about Donald Trump's tariffs] are intensifying as the trade war disrupts factory operations that depend on imported parts. The tariffs have also begun to hurt China, contributing to anxieties about a slowdown in the world's second largest economy. Those worries have filtered back to the United States, amplifying concerns about the global economy, sending stock markets plunging, and putting pressure on American companies, like Apple, that sell goods in China.... Weakening factory orders in the United States, China and Europe have deepened the sense that global growth is slowing.... [U.S.] companies that import electronics and other parts are scrambling to remain profitable while exploring alternatives, such as moving plants beyond reach of the duties."

Wallace Plays Whack-a-Hack, Wins. Tommy Christopher of Mediaite: "White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders ran into a buzzsaw Sunday morning when Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace challenged the Trump administration's repeated false claims about terrorism and the southwestern border of the United States.... Wallace attacked a central theme of Trump's push for a wall, the lie that tons of terrorists are streaming over the border with Mexico. He played a clip of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen claiming, at this week's Rose Garden press conference, that 'CBP has stopped over 3,000 what we call special interest aliens trying to come into the country on the southern border....'... Wallace said ... that 'the state department says, quote, "there were no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico,"' citing a report that was released in September. 'We know that roughly nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is southern border,' Sanders began, but Wallace cut her off.... 'I know the statistic...,' Wallace said. 'Do you know what those 4,000 people come where they are captured? Airports.'" And so forth. (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... We know that roughly -- nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally. -- Sarah Sanders, to Chris Wallace, Sunday ...

... Matt Shuham of TPM: Sanders' "claim is wrong in multiple ways: The individuals Sanders is referring to, according to DHS spokespeople, were prevented from entering the United States -- many before even obtaining a visa or boarding a plane. A DHS official told TPM in October: 'CBP prevented 10 known or suspected terrorists from traveling to or entering the United States every day in fiscal year 2017.' And while Sanders referred to 'known or suspected terrorists' ... she was responding to a clip of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen using the term 'special interest aliens' (SIAs), which refers to a broad group of people specified only by their country of origin, most of whom have no connection to terrorism at all."

Eric Schmitt of the New York Times: "An American airstrike in Yemen last week killed one of the suspected plotters of the deadly Qaeda bombing of the United States Navy destroyer Cole in 2000, President Trump and military officials confirmed on Sunday. On Friday, the military's Central Command said it had conducted a strike on Tuesday in the Marib Province of Yemen that targeted the militant, Jamal al-Badawi, but added that it was still assessing whether he had been killed. By Sunday, the military was confident that Mr. Badawi was dead, Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the command, said in an email."

Rukmini Callimachi of the New York Times: "A 34-year-old man from Houston [-- Warren Christopher Clark --] who is said to have sent a résumé and cover letter seeking a job with the Islamic State has been seized on a battlefield in Syria, an American-backed militia fighting the militants said Sunday.... Mr. Clark's résumé ends in June 2015, indicating that he probably joined the Islamic State after that.... The militia that announced Mr. Clark's capture, the Syrian Democratic Forces, said he had been seized along with a man they described as another American, Zaid Abed al-Hamid. The militia said it had also detained other foreign fighters, including citizens of Ireland and Pakistan."

Adam Cancryn of Politico: "The threat of subpoenas, investigations and oversight hearings will dominate the new House Democratic majority agenda, targeting the White House's most controversial policies and personnel, spanning immigration, the environment, trade and of course, the biggest question of them all: Russian collusion.... Here are some of the biggest targets for House Democrats so far[.]"

OMG! Steve M. "On Wednesday, Tucker Carlson delivered a monologue on his Fox show that was not just white-nationalist populist but economically populist. It had many of the things Carlson's audience expects from him -- sexism, anger at immigrants -- but there was also this: 'We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule.... They're just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can't solve our problems. They don't even bother to understand our problems.... Not all commerce is good. Why is it defensible to loan people money they can't possibly repay? Or charge them interest that impoverishes them? Payday loan outlets in poor neighborhoods collect 400 percent annual interest....'... And then yesterday, in response to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's call for a return to top margin tax rates of 70% (i.e., the rates we had before the Reagan presidency), Ann Coulter tweeted this: 'Ocasio-Cortez wants a 70-80% income tax on the rich. I agree! Start with the Koch Bros. -- and also make it WEALTH tax.'... This is what right-wing populism might look like in America if it weren't completely co-opted by mainstream Republican corpocratic thinking.... I think this is a minority strain of conservatism that will never be dominant. But we'll see." (Also linked yesterday.)

Presidential Election 2020

Jonathan Martin & Alexander Burns of the New York Times: "Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is in the final stages of deciding whether to run for president and has told allies he is skeptical the other Democrats eyeing the White House can defeat President Trump, an assessment that foreshadows a clash between the veteran Washington insider and the more liberal and fresh-faced contenders for the party's 2020 nomination."

Annie Linskey & Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post: "Sen. Elizabeth Warren's first presidential campaign foray to [Iowa] ... merged the economic views she has honed for years and the lesson learned by successful Democratic candidates in the midterm elections two months ago. She aimed directly at voters tempted by President Trump's angry populism in 2016but avoided mentions of Trump himself almost entirely. 'Our 2020 issue will be how we talk about what we stand for,' Warren said, when asked why she was not taking on Trump, something she has not been shy about doing in the past.... For Warren, virtually every position she advocated was, in policy terms, a repudiation of the president and the course he has set for the nation in his first two years. That was true from specifics -- her demand that presidential candidates release their taxes, which the president has refused to do -- to the generic -- her repeated lament that the middle class has been hollowed out as economic and political fairness has been lost."

Election 2018. Scott Shane & Alan Blinder of the New York Times: "The 'Dry Alabama' Facebook page, illustrated with stark images of car wrecks and videos of families ruined by drink, had a blunt message: Alcohol is the devil's work, and the state should ban it entirely. Along with a companion Twitter feed, the Facebook page appeared to be the work of Baptist teetotalers who supported the Republican, Roy S. Moore, in the 2017 Alabama Senate race. 'Pray for Roy Moore,' one tweet exhorted. In fact, the Dry Alabama campaign, not previously reported, was the stealth creation of progressive Democrats who were out to defeat Mr. Moore -- the second such secret effort to be unmasked.... They thought associating Mr. Moore with calls for a statewide alcohol ban would hurt him with moderate, business-oriented Republicans and assist the Democrat, Doug Jones, who won the special election by a hair-thin margin.... The discovery of Dry Alabama, the second so-called false flag operation by Democrats in the fiercely contested Alabama race, underscores how dirty tricks on social media are creeping into American politics."

Beyond the Beltway

Florida. Election Officials Defy GOP Political Leaders. Langston Taylor of the Tampa Bay Times (via the Miami Herald): "Despite hedging from Florida's Republican leaders, an amendment that allows eligible former felons to register to vote will go into effect on Tuesday, state elections officials say. Considered to be one of the most significant voting rights acts in state history, Amendment 4 passed last year with 64 percent of the vote. Experts believe that the pool of those whose voting rights have been restored is at least 1.2 million people.... Elections supervisors reached by the Times said that, beginning Tuesday, they won't hesitate to implement Amendment 4 and will register those who, under the law, have regained their right to vote. 'By law, the amendment goes into effect Jan. 8, and the language was very clear that it restores voting rights to all who have completed their terms of sentence, except those convicted of murder or sexual offenses,' said Gerri Kramer, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.... That elections supervisors are saying they will implement Amendment 4 helps dispel some of the confusion that arose last month.... At the time, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the new chairman of the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee, said the amendment 'may or may not' need legislative action for implementation. Later in December, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis told the Palm Beach Post the law should be put on hold until the Legislature passes 'implementing language.'" (Also linked yesterday.)

Saturday
Jan052019

The Commentariat -- January 6, 2019

Late Morning/Afternoon Update:

Boris Sanchez of CNN: "... Donald Trump is inclined to declare a national emergency to secure military funding for his long-promised southern border wall if talks between administration officials and top lawmakers from both parties continue to stall, a White House official told CNN on Saturday. While not the administration's preferred plan, the use of emergency powers to fund the wall 'provides a way out' amid a series of contentious meetings and disagreements among Department of Homeland Security officials and Democratic lawmakers over basic facts related to border security, the official said. 'We can only stay like this for so long,' said the official, who attended both meetings with congressional officials at the White House led by Trump this week, explaining that factual disputes have hung up discussions.... On several occasions, discussions became combative during presentations by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. According to the White House official, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi twice cut into Nielsen's presentations to dismiss DHS statistics on border security as inaccurate.... 'In presentations made, they have repeatedly used statistics not supported by fact. They're trying to cast every single migrant as a terrorist or someone with a violent criminal history. The secretary has proven herself to not be credible on these issues,' a Pelosi aide told CNN." ...

     ... See Bruce Ackerman's NYT column, linked below, on why a presidential attempt to usurp Congress's powers would be unconstitutional, particularly in this case where the "national emergency" is fake.

Mike Allen & Jim VandeHei of Axios: "With the departure of White House chief of staff John Kelly, the misinformation emanating from President Trump has only escalated.... Although Kelly was thwarted in many of his efforts to control the president, one place he made authentic inroads was clamping down on the paper flow to the Oval Office. 'Anyone who circumvented that process was going to have a serious problem,' said a former official who saw the transformation up close. 'It has devolved into anarchy,' added another alumnus of Trump's White House.... Wednesday was Kelly's last formal day in the White House, but his influence had declined since he announced his departure on Dec. 8. Since then, Trump has made several unusually specific factual assertions that were quickly shown to be inaccurate, suggesting more unvetted information may be reaching him than had been the case in the heyday of Kelly's control[.]" ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: At the top of Allen & VandeHei's list is Trump's claim that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan because "'because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.' A Wall Street Journal editorial scolded: 'We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President.'" Since these & some other remarks Trump made about Poland/Belarus & Montenegro are Russian talking points, both Chuck Rosenberg & Joyce Vance said on MSNBC that it's highly likely Bob Mueller will want to know why Trump is parroting Russia's propaganda playbook.

Ha! Zeke Miller of the AP: "... Donald Trump's national security adviser said Sunday that the American military withdrawal from northeastern Syria is conditioned on defeating the remnants of the Islamic State group and on Turkey assuring the safety of U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters. John Bolton said there is no timetable for the pullout, but insisted the military presence is not an unlimited commitment.... Bolton's comments were the first public confirmation that the drawdown has been slowed. Trump had faced widespread criticism from allies about his decision, announced in mid-December, that he was pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. Officials said at the time that although many details of the withdrawal had not yet been finalized, they expected American forces to be out by mid-January. 'We're pulling out of Syria,' Trump said Sunday at the White House. 'But we're doing it and we won't be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.'" ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: So that would be never. ...

... Carol Lee of NBC News: "... Donald Trump will not withdraw American troops from northern Syria until the Turkish government guarantees it won't then attack Syrian Kurdish forces that have been critical allies in the fight against ISIS, national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday. Bolton said a commitment from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that protects the Kurds after American forces exit is something Trump is demanding, and that it's just one of several conditions that have to be met before U.S. troops leave.... Since Trump abruptly announced on Dec. 19 that all U.S. forces in Syria would exit immediately, administration officials have shifted the timing to say it would happen more slowly."

Trump, Bolton, Pompeo rely on AltWorld to decide US foreign policy. Mrs. McC: Okay, this is a portion of an unmarked photo accompanying Zeke Miller's story, so I don't know what these yahoos are really watching, but obviously, it isn't the real world.

Wallace Plays Whack-a-Hack. Tommy Christopher of Mediaite: "White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders ran into a buzzsaw Sunday morning when Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace challenged the Trump administration's repeated false claims about terrorism and the southwestern border of the United States.... Wallace attacked a central theme of Trump's push for a wall, the lie that tons of terrorists are streaming over the border with Mexico. He played a clip of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen claiming, at this week's Rose Garden press conference, that 'CBP has stopped over 3,000 what we call special interest aliens trying to come into the country on the southern border....'... Wallace said ... that 'the state department says, quote, "there were no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico,"' citing a report that was released in September. 'We know that roughly nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is southern border,' Sanders began, but Wallace cut her off.... '“I know the statistic...," Wallace said. 'Do you know what those 4,000 people come where they are captured? Airports.'" And so forth. ...

OMG! Steve M. "On Wednesday, Tucker Carlson delivered a monologue on his Fox show that was not just white-nationalist populist but economically populist. It had many of the things Carlson's audience expects from him -- sexism, anger at immigrants -- but there was also this: 'We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule.... They're just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can't solve our problems. They don't even bother to understand our problems.... Not all commerce is good. Why is it defensible to loan people money they can't possibly repay? Or charge them interest that impoverishes them? Payday loan outlets in poor neighborhoods collect 400 percent annual interest....'... And then yesterday, in response to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's call for a return to top margin tax rates of 70% (i.e., the rates we had before the Reagan presidency), Ann Coulter tweeted this: 'Ocasio-Cortez wants a 70-80% income tax on the rich. I agree! Start with the Koch Bros. -- and also make it WEALTH tax.'... This is what right-wing populism might look like in America if it weren't completely co-opted by mainstream Republican corpocratic thinking.... I think this is a minority strain of conservatism that will never be dominant. But we'll see."

Florida. Election Officials Defy GOP Political Leaders. Langston Taylor of the Tampa Bay Times (via the Miami Herald): "Despite hedging from Florida's Republican leaders, an amendment that allows eligible former felons to register to vote will go into effect on Tuesday, state elections officials say. Considered to be one of the most significant voting rights acts in state history, Amendment 4 passed last year with 64 percent of the vote. Experts believe that the pool of those whose voting rights have been restored is at least 1.2 million people.... Elections supervisors reached by the Times said that, beginning Tuesday, they won't hesitate to implement Amendment 4 and will register those who, under the law, have regained their right to vote. 'By law, the amendment goes into effect Jan. 8, and the language was very clear that it restores voting rights to all who have completed their terms of sentence, except those convicted of murder or sexual offenses,' said Gerri Kramer, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.... That elections supervisors are saying they will implement Amendment 4 helps dispel some of the confusion that arose last month.... At the time, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the new chairman of the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee, said the amendment 'may or may not' need legislative action for implementation. Later in December, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis told the Palm Beach Post the law should be put on hold until the Legislature passes 'implementing language.'"

*****

David Leonhardt of the New York Times Has Had Enough: "The presidential oath of office contains 35 words and one core promise: to 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.' Since virtually the moment Donald J. Trump took that oath two years ago, he has been violating it.... The cost of removing a president from office is smaller than the cost of allowing this president to remain. He has already shown, repeatedly, that he will hurt the country in order to help himself. He will damage American interests around the world and damage vital parts of our constitutional system at home. The risks that he will cause much more harm are growing." Leonhardt breaks down Trump's offenses into four "articles of impeachment": "Trump has used the presidency for personal enrichment.... Trump has violated campaign finance law.... Trump has obstructed justice.... Trump has subverted democracy." Thanks to MAG for the link.

Michael Tackett & Catie Edmondson of the New York Times: "As a partial government shutdown entered its third week, negotiations between Vice President Mike Pence and congressional aides from both parties yielded little progress on Saturday while the impact on government services and on federal workers was worsening by the day." ...

... Seung Min Kim, et al., of the Washington Post: "Inside the meeting..., Pence refused to budge from the more than $5 billion President Trump has demanded from Congress to pay for a portion of his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to two Democratic officials briefed on the negotiations.... Pence was deputized by Trump to oversee Saturday's talks, but he did not have the president's blessing to float new or specific numbers as he did last month in a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).... Trump is annoyed by news reports about the negotiations that make it seem that he is backing away from his demands and wants to avoid stories about new numbers for wall funding being discussed, Trump aides said.... Trump exasperated members of both parties with his comments Friday, but Trump spent that evening boasting to friends that he was in a strong negotiating position because he was able to capture attention and make a flurry of points that he feels his core voters appreciate, White House officials said." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Once again, if the shutdown weren't hurting so many people, this would be hilarious. Remember how, at the initial meeting in December with Chuck & Nancy, pence never said a word? Apparently that was by design. Trump sent pence out to "negotiate" Saturday but ordered him to do nothing. There's no point in Democrats even talking to the designated bump-on-a-log. ...

... Josh Marshall: "... the President hasn't actually given Pence the authority to discuss specific numbers of even specific proposals. And this is compounded by the fact that no one would put much stock in such offers even if Pence were nominally empowered to make them because the President routinely overrules them in tweets.... At the moment, the President's main angle seems to be haranguing supporters and aides about how strong a position he's in." ...

... Jan Wolfe & Joel Schectman of Reuters: "U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would pass new legislation to try to reopen parts of the government next week after talks between the Trump administration and Democratic negotiators on Saturday failed to end a two-week partial government shutdown.... Pelosi said House Democrats would seek to reopen government agencies next week through piecemeal appropriation bills, starting with the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service. 'This action is necessary so that the American people can receive their tax refunds on schedule,' she said.... A Democratic aide familiar with the meeting said Democratic staffers urged the administration to reopen the government, arguing that progress on the contentious issue of border security would be difficult while the government was closed. The aide said the administration instead 'doubled down on their partisan proposal that led to the Trump shutdown in the first place.'... Trump reiterated his demand for a border wall in a series of tweets on Saturday. 'The Democrats could solve the Shutdown problem in a very short period of time,' Trump said. 'All they have to do is approve REAL Border Security (including a Wall), something which everyone, other than drug dealers, human traffickers and criminals, want very badly!'" ...

... Ryan Koronowski of ThinkProgress: "[Mitch]McConnell's role as the wrench in the senatorial works and defender of Trump's shutdown is a curious one..., given his previous derision toward shutting down the government. In 2013, he went so far as to argue shutdowns were antithetical to 'conservative policy.'... In November 2018, McConnell dismissed the idea that the government would shut down in December. 'No, we're not going to do that,' he told reporters who asked about Trump's demand for wall funding. Less than two months later, nobody in Congress is doing more to keep the government closed than McConnell himself." --s ...

... Peter Baker & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "Two weeks into the showdown over a border wall, Mr. Trump is now crafting his own narrative of the confrontation that has come to consume his presidency. Rather than a failure of negotiation, the shutdown has become a test of political virility, one in which he insists he is receiving surreptitious support from unlikely quarters. Not only are national security hawks cheering him on to defend a porous southern border, but so too are former presidents who he says have secretly confessed to him that they should have done what he is doing. Not only do federal employees accept being furloughed or forced to work without wages, they have assured him that they would give up paychecks so that he can stand strong. Never mind how implausible such assertions might seem. The details do not matter to Mr. Trump as much as dominating the debate.... He has told people that 'my people' love the fight, and that he believes he is winning." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Wait Till You Read the Real Reason for "Wall." Julie Davis & Peter Baker of the New York Times: "Before it became the chief sticking point in a government shutdown drama that threatens to consume his presidency at a critical moment, President Trump's promise to build a wall on the southwestern border was a memory trick for an undisciplined candidate. As Mr. Trump began exploring a presidential run in 2014, his political advisers landed on the idea of a border wall as a mnemonic device of sorts, a way to make sure their candidate -- who hated reading from a script but loved boasting about himself and his talents as a builder -- would remember to talk about getting tough on immigration, which was to be a signature issue in his nascent campaign.... To many conservative activists who have pressed for decades for sharp reductions in both illegal and legal immigration -- and some of the Republican lawmakers who are allied with them -- a physical barrier on the border with Mexico is barely relevant...."

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: So Trump shut down the government because three years ago he didn't have the discipline to read his campaign speech notes. "Because it's a slogan a dimwitted candidate can remember" is the most absurd reason for a government policy I've ever heard. ...

... Bruce Ackerman in a New York Times op-ed: "President Trump on Friday said that he was considering the declaration of a 'national emergency' along the border with Mexico, which he apparently believes would allow him to divert funds from the military budget to pay for a wall, and to use military personnel to build it.... Not only would such an action be illegal, but if members of the armed forces obeyed his command, they would be committing a federal crime." Ackerman explains why. ...

... Ellen Knickmeyer & Stephen Braun of the AP: "... despite the federal government shutdown, a historic clock tower at the Trump International Hotel [in Washington, D.C.,] remained open Friday for its handful of visitors, staffed by green-clad National Park Service rangers. The Trump administration appears to have gone out of its way to keep the attraction in the federally owned building that houses the Trump hotel open and staffed with National Park Service rangers, even as other federal agencies shut all but the most essential services.... A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the GSA, seeking documents explaining why the tower was open, how it continues to be funded, and any communications between the agency and the Trump Organization, the president's company.... 'We have not seen a satisfactory basis for why one park service property is opened when no others are,' [Noah] Bookbinder[, CREW's executive director,] said." ...

... Ha Ha. Peter Whoriskey of the Washington Post: "Federal agencies have been told to suspend pay raises for top Trump administration officials after an uproar from critics who said it was unseemly to reward top political appointees while hundreds of thousands of workers are going without pay during the partial government shutdown. The raises had been set to go into effect on Sunday, after a long-standing pay freeze for senior officials lapsed. The turnabout on the pay hike came late Friday in a memo from Margaret Weichert, the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management. The pay freeze for senior officials, she said, should be extended.... The Weichert memo followed a Washington Post story on Friday afternoon reporting that scores of senior Trump political appointees were poised to receive annual raises of about $10,000 a year.... 'It looks like Trump has protected his own appointees, and everyone else gets screwed,' said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), whose Northern Virginia district has 77,000 federal workers." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: And another "acting" department head. ...

... Scott Martelle of the Los Angeles Times: "Nothing untoward has happened to the president, and I hope nothing does, but the revelations that Trump National [in Bedminster, N.J.,] managers knowingly hired people who had entered the country illegally..., and then hid their status from even the Secret Service is the kind of security lapse that normally would have conservatives fuming. And then there's the blatant hypocrisy of the president profiting from the labor of such workers even as he rails against them as a threat to public safety. In fact, Trump has profited before from the labor of people working in the U.S. without permission, including clients of his modeling agency and Polish laborers who demolished a store to make way for his flagship Trump Towers project in Manhattan (Trump paid nearly $1.4 million in a legal settlement for that one). I'm still waiting for Trump to tell us which of the migrants working for him after entering the country illegally -- and whose names were withheld from the Secret Service -- were the rapists and the gang members." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Trump doesn't see anything hypocritical about his hiring undocumented workers. It's all about racism, not immigration per se. George Washington & Thomas Jefferson never dreamed of giving equal rights to their African-American slaves, but they were good with slave labor. Trump is very Washingtonian or Jeffersonian in that regard. He's good with underpaid workers. As one commentator said on MSNBC this evening, "Democrats would be stupid to fund the wall; it's a symbol of racism." Yes, it is. ...

... Eric Lach of the New Yorker: At his impromptu press conference Friday, Trump "hemmed, hawed, bragged, made arguments out of thin air, and seemed to be enjoying himself. When he was asked about the government workers who don't know when their next paycheck will arrive, he had no difficulty imagining that they loved him and what he was doing. 'This really does have a higher purpose than next week's pay,' Trump said. Putting himself in their shoes for a moment, he said, 'I think they'd say, "Mr. President, keep going. This is far more important."'" Mrs. McC: We should quit complaining that Trump lacks empathy for the federal employees he's furloughed or forced to work without pay. It turns out Trump does understand the common man! He completely gets it.

Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post: National Security Advisor John Bolton & Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Joseph Dunford will travel to Turkey next week to discuss with Turkish officials Turkey's "concerns and expectations" regarding the U.S.'s planned withdrawal of troops from Syria. Accompanying Bolton & Dunford will be James Jeffrey, appointed Friday "as the envoy to the global anti-Islamic State coalition.... Turkey wants the United States to disarm Syrian Kurdish forces it has trained and supplied for the fight against the Islamic State, and to provide air and logistical support for Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition forces.... U.S. strategy was thrown into confusion last month, when President Trump announced the immediate withdrawal of some 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. For the past three years, those forces have advised and directed Syrian Kurdish fighters who, with the aid of U.S. airstrikes, have driven the Islamic State out of most of its Syrian strongholds." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Trump tweeted last month the U.S. was withdrawing because "We have defeated ISIS in Syria." Oddly enough, as Patrick points out in an essential comment yesterday, DeYoung reports, "In an update issued Friday, the U.S. Central Command listed a total of 469 strikes conducted against the Islamic State in Syria between Dec. 16 and 29." If Trump were right, we'd have to assume that those strikes were simply "pounding sand."

Robert Windrem of NBC News: "CIA Director Gina Haspel has appointed another woman to the top level of the agency, naming Cynthia 'Didi' Rapp as deputy director for analysis, essentially the top analyst in the CIA. The appointment means that the top three directorates of the agency, for operations, analysis and science and technology are now all headed by women. Haspel, the first woman director of the agency, had previously named Elizabeth Kimber, like her a 34-year veteran of the agency, as the first female deputy director for operations, responsible for the agency's worldwide spy network. Kimber and Rapp join Dawn Meyerriecks, the deputy director for science and technology, as the top executives in the agency's traditional power centers." Mrs. McC: "Direcorates"? Shouldn't that be "directorettes"? Ha ha. Girl power!

Christian Davenport of the Washington Post: "Facing mounting criticism from Capitol Hill, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has rescinded an invitation to the controversial head of the Russian space agency to visit the United States.... [Dmitry] Rogozin was placed on a sanction list by the Obama administration in 2014 response to Russia's military actions in Ukraine when he was the deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation. After the sanctions were issued, he said Russia should stop flying NASA's astronauts to the International Space Station in retaliation. 'After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest the U.S. delivers its astronauts to the ISS [International Space Station] with a trampoline,' he wrote on Twitter. Given Rogozin's history as a bombastic Russian nationalist and presence on the sanction list, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and others said Bridenstine should have never invited him.... Earlier Friday, a NASA spokesman said that the visit, originally scheduled for February, would be postponed. But as the criticism mounted, the agency decided it was best to withdraw the invitation entirely." (Also linked yesterday.)

Mark Hand of ThinkProgress: "A clear sign of the Democratic leadership's direction on climate action came on Thursday when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) -- who reclaimed the House leadership position in the new Congress -- introduced a select climate committee that will be almost identical to the one she created a dozen years ago.... In fact, Pelosi's select climate committee will have fewer powers -- not more, as most climate activists expected -- than the committee she created during her first stint as House Speaker.... But as the Sunrise Movement highlighted, the committee will allow its members to accept political donations from fossil fuel companies, will have no mandate to lead the writing of a comprehensive bill to fight climate change, and will have no language on economic and racial justice -- all key elements of the proposed Green New Deal...[T]here will, however, be one major difference between the 2007 and 2019 select climate committees.... [T]he new climate committee, to be chaired Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), will not have subpoena power [as the previous one did]." --s

Paul Krugman: "... The right's denunciation of [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]'s 'insane' policy ideas serves as a very good reminder of who is actually insane. The controversy of the moment involves AOC's advocacy of a tax rate of 70-80 percent on very high incomes, which is obviously crazy, right? I mean, who thinks that makes sense? Only ignorant people like ... um, Peter Diamond, Nobel laureate in economics and arguably the world's leading expert on public finance (although Republicans blocked him from an appointment to the Federal Reserve Board with claims that he was unqualified. Really.) And it's a policy nobody has every implemented, aside from ... the United States, for 35 years after World War II -- including the most successful period of economic growth in our history."

Presidential Election 2020

Natasha Korecki of Politico: "Just two months ago, Sen. Elizabeth Warren risked political backlash ... by opting to avoid a trip to Iowa during the critical midterm elections -- the only major potential 2020 candidate to do so. But less than a week into the new year, Warren already flipped that on its head, becoming the first major candidate to land on the ground in the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus state, lapping up media attention, locking down key staff and organizers, and capitalizing on pent-up 2020 Democratic excitement.... Her early-out-of-the-gates visit looked more than promising. [In Des Moines], hundreds of people snaked around one block then wrapped around another, waiting outside for her evening appearance. In all, more than 1,000 people packed into the venue and spilled into an overflow area." ...

... Annie Linskey, et al., of the Washington Post: "People stood in parking lots, jostled into front yards and packed into the rafters to witness Sen. Elizabeth Warren's inaugural appearances [in Iowa] in the first presidential caucus state.... The Iowa caucuses remain 13 months away, but a pent-up demand for change in the White House is tangible among Democrats eager for the 2020 campaign to start in earnest."

Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress: "The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear challenges to two aggressive partisan gerrymanders -- one created by Democrats in Maryland and another by Republicans in North Carolina.... [Justice Anthony Kennedy's loss is likely to have devastating consequences for opponents of gerrymandering.... Kennedy['s] seat is now held by Brett Kavanaugh, a far more conservative judge who is unlikely to vote against partisan gerrymandering.... During his confirmation hearing last year, Kavanaugh appeared to threaten revenge against Democratic senators who probed credible allegations that he tried to rape future psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford when the two were in high school. 'As we all know in the political system of the United States in the early 2000s,' Kavanaugh told these Democrats, 'what goes around comes around.'" --s

Julie Ray & Neli Esipova of Gallup: "While Donald Trump has spent much of his presidency focused on the number of people who want to get into the U.S., since he took office, record numbers of Americans have wanted to get out. Though relatively average by global standards, the 16% of Americans overall who said in 2017 and again in 2018 that they would like to permanently move to another country -- if they could -- is higher than the average levels during either the George W. Bush (11%) or Barack Obama administration (10%). While Gallup's World Poll does not ask people about their political leanings, most of the recent surge in Americans' desire to migrate has come among groups that typically lean Democratic and that have disapproved of Trump's job performance so far in his presidency: women, young Americans and people in lower-income groups." (Also linked yesterday.)

Will Sommer of The Daily Beast: "Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes is still struggling to distance himself from his extreme image. After stepping down in November from the far-right group he created, McInnes now wants neighbors in his tony New York suburb to take down yard signs [denouncing hate] aimed at him and his former group.... In [a] letter [to his neighbors]..., McInnes claims that his neighbors won't find anything 'hateful, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or intolerant' in 'any of my expressions of my worldview.'... In fact, though, McInnes ... has ranted about Jews, saying that he was 'becoming anti-Semitic' after a trip to Israel. He has called trans people 'gender n**gers,' and once wrote that women want to be 'downright abused.'... Despite his conciliatory tone in the letter, though, McInnes ... devoted an hour-long podcast ;on Friday to the signs, with a decidedly less neighborly tone. 'If you have that sign on your lawn, you're a fucking retard,' McInnes said." --s

News Ledes

New York Times: "Harold Brown, a brilliant scientist who helped develop America's nuclear arsenal and negotiate its first strategic arms control treaty, and who was President Jimmy Carter's secretary of defense in an era of rising Soviet challenges, died on Friday at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. He was 91."

Deadline: "Christine McGuire, whose pop hits propelled her and her singing sisters to many radio and television appearances, died Dec. 28 in Las Vegas, where she lived. She was 92 and her family confirmed the death, but did not provide a cause."