The Wires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on picture to see larger image.

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

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


The Commentariat -- January 11, 2018

Afternoon Update:

House Defies Fox Administration, Passes Bill. Karoun Demirjian & Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post: "The House voted decisively Thursday to reauthorize a powerful government authority to conduct foreign surveillance on U.S. soil, overcoming opposition from privacy advocates and confusion sown by contradictory and seemingly misinformed tweets from President Trump questioning his administration's support for the program. The 256-to-164 vote sets up the legislation for consideration in the Senate, where leaders have said they think they can pass it before the program's statutory authorization expires on Jan. 19.... But the fate of the program appeared to be in jeopardy Thursday morning, after the president tweeted his doubts about it ... after seeing a segment about it on Fox News Channel. '"House votes on controversial FISA ACT today,"' Trump wrote, citing a Fox News headline. 'This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?' Trump attempted to walk back the tweet about 90 minutes later, urging lawmakers to reauthorize the program. But top Democrats seized on the confusion, calling on Republican leaders to withdraw the bill from consideration 'in light of the irresponsible and inherently contradictory messages coming out of the White House today,' Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on the floor." For more on Trump's big boo-boo, see Jonathan Chait's post, linked below. ...

... Susan Hennessey & Benjamin Wittes have a more serious discussion of what might be, so far, Trump's "most destructive, most irresponsible tweet.... Let's not mince words here: The lapse of Section 702 surveillanc capabilities, even for a short time, would constitute a full-fledged national security emergency." Mrs. McC: If you read this story, remember who's got the big button.

... Jonathan Swan of Axios: Here's Trump's second & supposed CYA tweet: "With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to th unmasking process since taking office and today's vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!" BUT, "The White House put out a statement last night supporting FISA renewal and opposing an amendment by Rep. Justin Amash and others that would limit the amount of information intelligence officials are allowed to gather on Americans." Mrs. McC: That is, the House rejected what Trump says was a "fix" he "personally directed," the one he believes allowed President Obama to "tapp his wires." Moron, idiot -- take your pick.

Robert Pear of the New York Times: "The Trump administration said Thursday that it would allow states to impose work requirements in Medicaid, a major policy shift in the health program for low-income people.... Seema Verma, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ... said the Trump administration was responding to requests from Medicaid officials in 10 states that wanted to run demonstration projects testing requirements for work or other types of community engagement.... The proposals, she said, came from Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin."

Khorri Atkinson of Axios: "The Environmental Protection Agency's internal inspector general said in an internal memo that he is expanding his investigation into agency head Scott Pruitt's air travel. A probe last year had found Pruitt's 'non-commercial' flights between June and August cost taxpayers more than $58,000."

Max Greenwood of the Hill: "Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are calling on the panel's Republican chairman to subpoena documents from the Trump Organization. In a letter to Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Thursday, 17 panel Democrats called for a 'serious investigation' into whether President Trump's businesses are violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bars federal officials from accepting payments or gifts from foreign governments.... he letter to Gowdy comes exactly a year after Trump held a news conference announcing that he would not liquidate his business assets or put them into a blind trust, but would instead hand day-to-day control of the Trump Organization over to his two adult sons.... The Democrats are seeking documents regarding how the Trump Organization identifies payments from foreign governments, as well as documents on whether Trump is making good on his promise to donate such payments to the U.S. Treasury."

Sloppy Steve Lawyers Up. Betsy Woodruff, et al., of the Daily Beast: "Steve Bannon is lawyering up as he gets ready to face investigators looking into the Trump-Russia nexus. The Daily Beast has learned that the former top White House strategist has retained Bill Burck, of the firm Quinn Emanuel. Two sources tell us Burck is helping Bannon prepare for an interview with the House intelligence committee, which is currently scheduled for next week."

Frank Rich: Michael "Wolff’s re-creations of scenes are no more or less plausible than [Bob] Woodward's, and Wolff should not be faulted for favoring direct editorialization over Woodward's technique of encoding his judgments in subtext. People are reading and buying Fire and Fury because the story rings true. It would also be highly entertaining, as pure and utter farce, if only the fate of America and perhaps the world were not at stake." Mrs. McC: Sorry I missed this yesterday & thanks to MAG for the lead.

Issa Considers Change of Venue. Scott Wong & Katie Williams of the Hill: "GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who said Wednesday he is not seeking reelection in California's 49th district, has been discussing with colleagues the possibility of running in a neighboring San Diego district if embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) resigns, multiple sources told The Hill. Some of these discussions happened as recently as Wednesday, the day Issa announced he would not be running for reelection in his coastal Southern California district after 15 years in the House."

William Branigin and Simeon Tegel of the Washington Post: "Ecuador has granted citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the South American nation's foreign minister announced Thursday, in a bid to resolve an 'unsustainable' situation at its embassy in London, where Assange sought refuge more than five years ago. But a standoff with British authorities continued, as the Foreign Office rejected an Ecuadoran request that it grant diplomatic status to Assange, insisting instead that the Australian national 'leave the embassy to face justice.' Ecuador's foreign minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, subsequently said that Assange would not leave the embassy in the absence of security guarantees. She said in a news conference Thursday in Quito, the Ecuadoran capital, that Assange was granted citizenship on Dec. 12, after having applied for it in September.”


Julie Davis & Nicholas Fandos of the New York Times: "President Trump on Wednesday declined to commit to being interviewed by the special counsel investigating whether his campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 election, backing off a promise he made last year to talk to Robert S. Mueller III under oath.... In the East Room during a news conference with Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway, when asked whether he would speak with Mr. Mueller without preconditions, [Trump said,] 'We'll see what happens.' The dodge was a marked change from last June, when Mr. Trump defended his firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, denying that it was related to his handling of the Russia investigation, and said he would '100 percent' be willing to give a sworn statement to Mr. Mueller." ...

... Shorter Trump: "No collusion, no collusion, Hillary Clinton, no collusion, maybe no interview":

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: It's possible Trump could have said something even more stupid, so I guess this is his idea of being presidential here. ...

... ** "The Crime Is Worse than the Coverup." Brian Beutler of Crooked: "On multiple occasions in 2016, and perhaps stretching back into the previous year, Donald Trump's presidential campaign fielded solicitations from Russian spies and cutouts offering up stolen Democratic Party emails and other assistance in the election. At no point, so far as we know, did anyone working on the campaign report this pattern of behavior to the FBI. After Trump secured the Republican Party nomination, the FBI warned him and his advisers that Russians would try to penetrate their campaign, and asked them to alert law enforcement officials if and when they noticed anything suspicious. They said nothing.... [By contrast,] we learn ... that [Glenn] Simpson and [Christopher] Steele were doing their civic-minded best to alert authorities, and failing that, the public, to what they believed to be the alarming and dangerous truth." Beutler goes on to describe "a monument to Republican complicity in Trump's jaw-dropping misconduct." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: By the time you finish reading Buetler's article, you'll wonder why Mueller doesn't investigate Chuck Grassley for criminal conspiracy. ...

... Max Greenwood of the Hill: "Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday that 'nobody' in the Trump administration talks about Hillary Clinton<, denying that the White House has sought to rehash the 2016 election.... Trump himself frequently mentions his 2016 win and Clinton, including arlier on Wednesday, when he decried the fact that the former Democratic presidential candidate had submitted to an FBI interview about her use of a private email server while secretary of state with ertain conditions. He also reiterated his claim that the ongoing investigations into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia were based on false claims made up by Democrats as an excuse for Clinton's loss in the election." Mrs. McC: Maybe she means Trump is a nobody. ...

... Matt Zapotosky of the Washington Post: "Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has added a veteran cyber prosecutor to his team, filling what has long been a gap in expertise and potentially signaling a recent focus on computer crimes. Ryan Dickey was assigned to Mueller's team in early November from the Justice Department's computer crime and intellectual-property section, said a spokesman for the special counsel's office.... Legal analysts have said that one charge Mueller might pursue would be a conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, if he can demonstrate that members of Trump's team conspired in Russia's hacking effort to influence the election." ...

... Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post: "President Trump labeled Sen. Dianne Feinstein as 'Sneaky' in a Twitter attack Wednesday morning and urged Republicans to 'take control' of the sprawling investigation into his administration and campaign and potential collusion with Russia.... It was unclear what Trump meant by saying that Republicans should take control. He has raged about the various congressional investigations into his administration, which are led by Republicans.... Minutes after he slammed Feinstein on Twitter on Wednesday, Trump turned to the Russia investigation, which he called the 'single greatest Witch Hunt in American history,' added that 'Russia & the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing.'" Also, too -- after being questioned about it -- the White House added back in the part of the transcript of yesterday's DACA meeting which they had "accidentally" omitted from the official transcript-- the "clean bill" part. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Update: Oh, that "accidental" scrub? Katy Tur just said on the teevee that hardline anti-immigrant Stephen Miller was reportedly the accidental scrubber. Mrs. McC: Just erase it, Stephen, & it didn't happen. Control, alt-right, delete. Dimwit. ...

... Stephen Miller Is Such a Prick! Say Republicans. Anita Kumar of McClatchy News: "Here's one thing even Republicans negotiating an immigration deal agree on: Trump aide Stephen Miller is hurting their chances of getting anything done. They blame him for insisting the administration gets approval for an unrealistic number of immigration policies in exchange for protections for young people brought into the country illegally as children.... They accuse him of coordinating with outside advocacy groups that oppose their efforts.... 'Stephen is unfairly trying to sabotage this,' said a former DHS official for President George W. Bush who is in contact with Republican staffers in the Senate. Many on Capitol Hill remember how Miller, then an aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican who led the opposition to the deal, worked in 2013 to kill a bipartisan immigration deal in the Senate that would have allowed immigrants in the country illegally to gain legal status and eventually citizenship. 'Look what happened last time,' said a second former Trump adviser, who worked with Miller and is in close contact with the White House. 'He almost single handily blew (the bill) up. They are having flashbacks.' ]It's no secret that he's an obstacle to getting anything done on immigration,' said a Republican House member involved in the immigration talks." ...

... Trump could be a better president if he were not surrounded by the likes of Stephen Miller.... -- Dana Milbank ...

... Milbank explains why: "Trump proves he is a parrot.... This week's extraordinary session in the Cabinet Room with a bicameral, bipartisan group of lawmakers, and an impulsive decision by Trump to let journalists film 55 minutes of his meeting, gave the world a glimpse of Trump's agree-with-the-last-speaker tendency we've heard described. Clearly, Trump is merely echoing, not embracing, the words he hears.... Trump -- remarkably unideological and also undisciplined -- pinged from one lawmaker's argument to another's, agreeing heartily with virtually all, no matter how at odds they were with each other.... Perhaps he didn't care that, in his reflexive echoing of each speaker, he had contradicted himself repeatedly. More likely he didn't even notice." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: There are two things going on here. 1. Trump really was trying to be presidential, the definition of which is "does not scream at others." He thought he did great: as Michael Grynbaum reported (story linked below), Trump claimed "that network anchors had sent him 'letters of congratulations' on Tuesday about [the] ... meeting... 'A lot of those anchors sent us letters saying that was one of the greatest meetings they’ve ever witnessed.' (White House aides said later that the 'letters' in question referred to complimentary tweets from journalists.) 2. When my mother was in college, a professor caught her up when she was daydreaming. The professor asked her how she felt about the subject at hand, & -- having no idea what he was talking about -- she said she agreed. "What exactly do you agree with?" he asked. "Whatever you just said," she replied. That's Trump. If he doesn't know what's going on, he just "agrees." It's a coping mechanism, and it's sad. ...

... More Evidence of Trump's Dementia? Brett Samuels of the Hill: "President Trump on Wednesday welcomed members of the media to the 'studio' as they arrived for his first Cabinet meeting of 2018. 'Welcome back to the studio. Nice to have you,' Trump remarked as members of the media filed into the Cabinet Room.... Trump, who prior to entering politics hosted 'The Apprentice' on NBC, responded on Wednesday by saying his performance at the meeting 'got great reviews.'"

WATCH: President Trump welcomes press to today's Cabinet meeting: "Welcome back to the studio"

— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 10, 2018

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Was he kidding? You decide. A few seconds later, when he formally begins the meeting, Trump looks at his notes to announce he's holding a Cabinet meeting. I'd guess his staff is aware he might not know why he's in the "studio." ...

... Not Enough? How 'bout This? Jonathan Chait: "Confused Trump Tricked by Fox News Into Opposing His Own Surveillance Bill. During his morning Executive Time, President Trump took a well-deserved break from his long hours of document study to watch Fox News. The segment featured one of the talking heads urging Trump to oppose the House bill reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The president immediately tweeted out his alarmed confusion that the House was apparently on the verge of approving the very law the sinister Deep State had used to 'tapp' his phones: '"House votes on controversial FISA ACT today." This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?'... Ideally, Trump would be posing questions like this to his own advisers, rather than to the entire world. The president’s alarm was unfortunate, since the Trump administration strongly supports reauthorization of this law." Mrs. McC: Sad! ...

strong>... Jared Miller & Liz Rowley of New York: "The publication of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury sparked a debate on Donald Trump's mental health, which the president attempted to settle by declaring himself a 'stable genius.' But whether he's a genius or not, Trump did speak much more coherently in previous decades than he does now." Mrs. McCrabbie: The short video this blurb introduces is well worth watching, but it starts automatically & goes on to other videos, so I had to "disembed" it.

We're So Surprised. Eileen Sullivan of the New York Times: "President Trump called the United States courts system 'broken and unfair' on Wednesday, the morning after a federal judge's ruling that ordered the administration to restart a program that shields young, undocumented immigrants from deportation.... 'It just shows everyone how broken and unfair our Court System is whe the opposing side in a case (such as DACA) always runs to the 9th Circuit and almost always wins before being reversed by higher courts.'... 'We find this decision to be outrageous, especially in light of the president's successful bipartisan meeting with House and Senate members at the White House on the same day,' Sarah Huckabee Sanders ... said in a statement released Wednesday morning.... Mr. Trump has previously criticized the courts system after judges have halted or held up his policy initiatives." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: You have to wonder how stupid Mrs. Huckleberry is. According to her, a judge writes a decision that estops a Trump order until lawsuits are adjudicated. But on the day the judge releases his decision, Trump holds a made-for-teevee meeting (in which, BTW, there is no agreement) on the very same topic. Ergo, the judge's decision is "outrageous." ...

... Thomas Kaplan & Sheryl Stolberg of the New York Times: "Prominent House Republicans stepped forward on Wednesday with a vision of immigration policy that clashed fiercely with President Trump's recent overtures of bipartisanship and highlighted how difficult it will be for Congress and the president to reach accord in the coming weeks. The proposal, championed by the chairmen of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees, would crack down on illegal immigration and sharply reduce the number of legal immigrants to the United States. Coming one day after Mr. Trump held an extraordinary meeting in which he laid out the parameters for a bipartisan immigration deal, the House proposal highlighted the uncertainty surrounding negotiations that are supposed to coalesce before the government runs out of money on Jan. 19.... The House measure ... would require employers to use an Internet-based system, known as E-Verify, to confirm that they are hiring only legal workers; crack down on so-called sanctuary cities by denying them federal grants; allow for the detention of minors who are arrested at the border with their parents; and toughen sentences for criminals who have been deported and return illegally. The measure would end the diversity visa lottery program, as Mr. Trump wants, and end family-based migration for all relatives other than spouses and minor children. It would offer three-year renewable work permits to DACA recipients, without offering them a path to citizenship." ...

... Derek Hawkins of the Washington Post: Once again a federal judge uses Trump's own Twitter feed against him: "'Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!' the president wrote in a Sept. 14 tweet. Another read: 'Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!'... 'We seem to be in the unusual position wherein the ultimate authority over the agency, the Chief Executive, publicly favors the very program the agency has ended,' the judge wrote. 'For the reasons DACA was instituted and for the reasons tweeted by President Trump, this order finds that the public interest will be served by DACA's continuation.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Maria Sacchetti, et al., of the Washington Post: "The Trump administration vowed Wednesday to fight a federal injunction that temporarily blocked its plans to rescind work permits for young undocumented immigrants.... On Capitol Hill, lawmakers said a bipartisan proposal could come as early as Thursday or Friday, but such legislation would likely face fierce resistance from progressives opposed to ceding any ground on immigration rights and conservatives who feel the same on security issues. President Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a top priority, a stance that was underlined Wednesday with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement search for undocumented workers at dozens of 7-Eleven stores nationwide. The agency said it was the largest targeting of a single employer since Trump took office."

Still Stewing over the Wolff Book. Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times: "President Trump on Wednesday repeated a pledge to make it easier for people to sue news organizations and publishers for defamation, denouncing the country's libel laws as a 'sham' a day after his personal lawyer filed a lawsuit against a major media outlet, BuzzFeed News. The salvo from Mr. Trump, who has long expressed hostility toward traditional press freedoms, followed a days-long effort by him and his team to undercut the unflattering portrayal of the White House in a new book by the writer Michael Wolff. ''We are going to take a strong look at our country's libel laws, so tha when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,' Mr. Trump said during a public portion of a cabinet meeting in the White House.... First Amendment lawyers were quick to point out that Mr. Trump has little power to modify those laws, barring a Supreme Court appeal or constitutional amendment. Other libel laws are determined at the state level, where Mr. Trump, as president, has no direct influence.... Mr. Trump is no stranger to defamation claims, having filed several of them himself, without success."

Nothing to See Here, Folks. Nick Penzenstadler of USA Today: "President Trump’s companies sold more than $35 million in real estate in 2017, mostly to secretive shell companies that obscure buyers' identities, continuing a dramatic shift in his customers' behavior that began during the election, a USA Today review found.... The trend toward Trump's real estate buyers obscuring their identities began around the time he won the Republican nomination, midway through 2016, according to USA Today's analysis of every domestic real estate sale by one of his companies. In the two years before the nomination, 4% of Trump buyers utilized the tactic. In the year after, the rate skyrocketed to about 70%. USA Today's tracking of sales shows the trend held firm through Trump's first year in office.... Trump appointed an independent ethics advisor, attorney Bobby Burchfield, to review new deals.... Burchfield wouldn't say if he declined to sign off on any Trump real estate deals in 2017."

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times: "Two political scientists [-- Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblat --] specializing in how democracies decay and die have compiled four warning signs to determine if a political leader is a dangerous authoritarian: 1. The leader shows only a weak commitment to democratic rules. 2. He or she denies the legitimacy of opponents. 3. He or she tolerates violence. 4. He or she shows some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media. 'With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century,' they say, which sounds reassuring. Unfortunately, they have one update: 'Donald Trump met them all.' We tend to assume that the threat to democracies comes from coups or violent revolutions, but the authors [of a book titled How Democracies Die] say that in modern times, democracies are more likely to wither at the hands of insiders who gain power initially through elections. That's what happened, to one degree or another, in Russia, the Philippines, Turkey, Venezuela, Ecuador, Hungary, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Poland and Peru."

Katherine Faulders of ABC News: "With an eye on bolstering cyber security protocols and cracking down on leaks to the media, Chief of Staff John Kelly issued a memo to staff on Wednesday outlining the administration's new ban on personal cell phones within the West Wing complex of the White House.... While the memo cites the need to protect classified information, one senior White House official says this is really more about preventing those embarrassing and politically damaging leaks that have plagued Trump's first year in office. 'It's designed to prevent leaks and ensure the productivity of the people who work here,' the official said. The policy goes further than originally expected and is not just limited to personal cell phones. It also includes laptops, smartwatches and 'devices with WiFi, Bluetooth, radio, or cellular capabilities' and 'any portable device that emits an electric signal and was not issued by the White House Communications Agency,' according to the memo."

Benjamin Weiser of the New York Times: "Senator Kirsten Gillibrand plans to use a prerogative given to home-state senators to try to block the confirmation of Geoffrey S. Berman if he is nominated by President Trump as the United States attorney in Manhattan, her spokesman said on Wednesday. The senator, Democrat of New York, intends to use her 'blue-slip prerogative' to lodge her objection over reports that President Trump had personally interviewed Mr. Berman as part of the selection process.... Mr. Berman was appointed last week by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as the interim United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, placing him in charge of the powerful arm of the Justice Department in Manhattan that has jurisdiction, among other things, over President Trump's businesses there." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: These "interim appointments" are a way to delay "blue slip prerogative" objections.

Coral Davenport of the New York Times: "At 5:20 on Tuesday evening, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted a photo of himself at the Tallahassee airport with Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, announcing that he had decided, after meeting with Governor Scott, to exempt the state from a new Trump administration plan to open up most of the nation's coastline to offshore oil drilling.... Mr. Trump's critics say the move highlights the president's willingness to blatantly use the nation's public lands and waters as political bargaining chips. [Scott is expected to run again veteran Senator Bill Nelson (D), & Nelson called Zinke's move a "shameless political stunt."] It also appears to illustrate the clumsiness with which the Trump administration drafts federal policies. By publicly putting forth the comprehensive new coastal drilling plan and then abruptly announcing a major change to it less than a week later, with little evident public or scientific review, the Interior Department appears to have opened itself to a wave of legal challenges. Within hours of Mr. Zinke's tweet, governors in other coastal states began demanding their own drilling exemptions." Read on. ...

... Dave Weigel & John Wagner of the Washington Post: "The Trump administration's decision to exempt Florida from expanded offshore drilling kicked off a frenzy Wednesday in other coastal states, with governors from both political parties asking: Why not us?... By Wednesday afternoon, state attorneys general, joined by environmental groups, were suggesting that [Interior Secretary Ryan] Zinke had undermined the entire drilling rule with his high-profile visit to Tallahassee, where he heaped praise on 'straightforward, easy to work for' Gov. Rick Scott (R) -- a political ally whom Trump has repeatedly urged to run for the U.S. Senate.... The commentary about Trump;s properties was bipartisan.... Zinke said he felt a personal connection with the governor, so when Scott contacted him in writing he felt an obligation to respond. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), a former governor who represents his state's Atlantic coastline, suggested during an interview with CNN that the president held one standard for states where he vacationed and one for the rest of the country." ...

... Juliet Eilperin & Darryl Fears of the Washington Post: "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke launched an unprecedented effort Wednesday to undertake the largest reorganization in the department's 168-year history, moving to shift tens of thousands of workers to ne locations and change the way the federal government manages more than 500 million acres of land and water across the country. The proposal would divide the United States into 13 regions and centralize authority for different parts of Interior within those boundaries. The regions would be defined by watersheds and geographic basins, rather than individual states and the current boundaries that now guide Interior's operations. This new structure would be accompanied by a dramatic shift in location of the headquarters of major bureaus within Interior.... Moving thousands of employees around the country would require congressional authorization.... Moving thousands of employees around the country would require congressional authorization."

Jessie Hellmann of the Hill: "The federal government has ended a national registry designed to provide information to the public about evidence-based mental health and substance use interventions and programs. The National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, which is funded and administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has existed since 1997 to help people, agencies and organizations identify and implement evidence-based behavioral health programs and practices in their communities, according to the website. But the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the department under HHS that manages the program, wrote on its website that the contract for the database had been discontinued." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: The data base is no doubt one of the cheapest ways to help afflicted people & their families to find affordable help.

Jim Puzzenghera of the Los Angeles Times: "A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request for a preliminary injunction to remove Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The judge sided with Mulvaney -- President Trump's choice for the interim position -- over Leandra English, the agency's deputy director who has said she is the rightful acting director. 'The court finds that English is not likely to succeed on the merits of her claims, nor is she likely to suffer irreparable harm absent the injunctive relief sought,' said Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in a 46-page decision. The ruling came after Kelly denieda request by English last month for a temporary restraining order to remove Mulvaney and install her as acting director."

Luke Jones of WREG Memphis: "He proudly served his country, but when it came time to bury him, a Navy veteran's father said the government wouldn't grant his son's mother a visa to attend his funeral. Ngoc Truong, a four-year Navy veteran, died of leukemia Dec. 17 at the age of 22. Truong's father ... said Truong's Vietnam-born mother applied for a visa twice but was denied both times. She ended up missing the funeral.... [The elder] Truong said he doesn't know why the visa requests were denied, and the State Department isn't shedding any light on it."

Be Still My Heart. Nicholas Fandos
of the New York Times: "Representative Darrell Issa, whose hard-edge partisan attacks on President Barack Obama began softening as his district trended toward the Democrats, said on Wednesday that he would not seek re-election -- the latest and one of the most prominent Republican retirements in the face of a potential Democratic wave." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Morgan Cook of the San Diego Union-Tribune: "A federal grand jury is slated to hear evidence this month regarding certain transactions in Rep. Duncan Hunter's [R] campaign treasury, which has been under scrutiny since the spring of 2016 as a result of frequent personal expenditures. A subpoena dated Dec. 21 was issued by the U.S. District Court in San Diego to a business in Hunter's congressional district. The subpoena commanded the witness to appear before a grand jury in downtown San Diego later this month.... Federal Election Commission records show Hunter's campaign spent thousands of dollars at the business in 2012 and 2014.... Use of campaign contributions for personal benefit is forbidden by federal law to protect against undue influence by donors.... Hunter has denied intentional wrongdoing but has reimbursed his campaign for more than $60,000 of purchases including video games, oral surgery, groceries, garage door repair, family vacations, surfing equipment, dance recital trips, school lunches, school tuition and school uniforms." Emphasis added. Mrs. McC: Hey, maybe he was buying video games & surfing equipment for poor kids. And how was Duncan to know that getting his teeth fixed was a "personal benefit"?

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate: "Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute, is one of the most consequential of the current term.... Ultimately at its heart..., it's about whether Ohio can end-run federal statutes that prohibit states from throwing voters off the rolls for failure to vote -- by claiming the law that says a state cannot strike someone from the rolls for failure to vote allow them to strike voters who have moved. And the way the state shows that you have moved? Failure to vote. While [Justices Elena] Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and [Sonia] Sotomayor are clearly deeply bothered by Ohio's practices [during oral arguments yesterday], they seem to stand alone in their outrage."

Notorious R.B.G. to the Rescue. Mark Stern of Slate: "On Tuesday, a federal district court made history by striking down North Carolina's congressional map. The decision marks the first time a court has invalidated a congressional redistricting scheme as illegally gerrymandering along partisan lines.... Tuesday's rigorous ruling ... relies heavily on the writing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who aided opponents of gerrymandering in a crucial but often overlooked 2015 opinion.... In several remarkable passages [in the 2015 opinion, which she wrote], Ginsburg cast aspersions on partisan gerrymandering itself. The justice began her opinion by stating flatly that 'partisan gerrymanders are incompatible with democratic principles.' She described political redistricting as a 'problem' that 'subordinate[s] adherents of one political party and entrench[es] a rival party in power.' And she pointed out that this practice contravenes 'the core principle of republican government' -- that 'the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.'... Her masterful opinion has already given lower courts the tools they need to restore democracy in states where it is under siege."

Matthew Haag & Matt Stevens of the New York Times: "A former editor at The New Republic revealed in a lengthy essay published late Wednesday that she had started the online list of men in the media industry accused of sexual harassment. The editor, Moira Donegan, said she created the Google spreadsheet in October to allow women in the media industry to put in writing what many of them had long discussed in private: the names of men to stay away from, including sexual harassers and abusers. Within hours of its creation, the list grew beyond her expectations, as women shared it with friends and co-workers who anonymously added new names and new accusations.... The list, titled 'Shitty Media Men,' had real consequences, not only for several men named on the list who eventually lost their jobs, but also for Ms. Donegan. In her essay, she wrote that she lost friends and her job after the list was published.... This week, writers and editors warned on Twitter that Harper's Magazine planned to name the list's creator in an article in the March issue. The writer of the essay, Katie Roiphe, told The New York Times on Wednesday that she did not know who created it and would not out anyone in the essay." ...

     ... Annals of Journalism, Ctd. Mrs. McCrabbie: Congratulations to the Gray Lady for publishing the word "shitty." ...

... Donegan's essay in the New York magazine's "The Cut," is here.

David Foldenflik of NPR: "On the Friday before Christmas, Fox News confirmed that its chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen, had left the network. He had worked there for 18 years and become something of a legend. The U.S. Justice Department under the Obama administration was so frustrated by his reporting on U.S. intelligence about North Korea that it conducted a leak investigation into his sources. The network cited no reason for Rosen's exit and did not announce it on the air. According to Rosen's former colleagues, however, he had an established pattern of flirting aggressively with many peers and had made sexual advances toward three female Fox News journalists, including two reporters and a producer. And his departure followed increased scrutiny of his behavior at the network, according to colleagues.... Rosen's behavior was drawing attention from Fox News at a time when its controlling owner, Rupert Murdoch, declared there had been no allegations of sexual misconduct at the network since the ouster of the late Fox News chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes, in July 2016.... Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, Fox's parent company, had to issue a statement cleaning up the damage caused by those remarks among outraged female employees.... Yet Ailes was not the only prominent Fox figure accused of sexual harassment."

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post: "The Washington Post suspended reporter Joel Achenbach on Wednesday for what it called 'inappropriate workplace conduct' involving current and former female colleagues. Achenbach, a veteran reporter, is the first Post journalist to be disciplined for misconduct of this kind since a wave of sexual-harassment allegations began roiling through news outlets and other organizations in the wake of revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in early October. The Post said Achenbach would be suspended for 90 days without pay, the most severe newsroom punishment the paper has handed out in recent years for violations of its workplace or journalistic standards. His suspension began immediately. The paper’s top news managers declined to describe Achenbach's misconduct in detail and said the investigation into his behavior took two months."

Daniel Miller & Amy Kaufman of the Los Angeles Times: "... five women who, in interviews with The Times, accused [actor/director/producer/teacher James] Franco, 39, of behavior they found to be inappropriate or sexually exploitative. Four were his students [at his film school], and another said he was her mentor. In some cases, they said they believed Franco could offer them career advancement, and acquiesced to his wishes even when they were uncomfortable. 'I feel there was an abuse of power, and there was a culture of exploiting non-celebrity women, and a culture of women being replaceable, said [Sarah] Tither-Kaplan, who was one of many women who took to Twitter on Sunday night to vent anger over Franco's win [of a Golden Globe for best actor in a motion picture]."

Harriet Sinclair of Newsweek: "Donald Trump's spiritual adviser has suggested that people send her money in order to transform their lives, or face divine consequences. Paula White, who heads up the president’s evangelical advisory committee, suggested making a donation to her ministries to honor the religious principle of 'first fruit,' which she said is the idea that all firsts belong to God, including the first harvest and, apparently, the first month of your salary. 'Right now I want you to click on that button, and I want you to honor God with his first fruits offering,' she said in a video shared to her website, in which she encourages her followers to donate to her ministries to get blessings from God.... Explaining the principle of the donations, the Pentecostal televangelist, who has recently spoken out in defense of Trump's mental health following claims in a tell-all book that the president is unwell, suggested that people would reap rewards after donating to her." Mrs. McC: A shameless huckster is surely an appropriate "spiritual advisor" for the shameless huckster in the White House.

Beyond the Beltway

Oliver Milman of the Guardian: "New York City is seeking to lead the assault on both climate change and the Trump administration with a plan to divest $5bn from fossil fuels and sue the world’s most powerful oil companies over their contribution to dangerous global warming. City officials have set a goal of divesting New York's $189bn pension funds from fossil fuel companies within five years in what they say would be 'among the most significant divestment efforts in the world to date'. Currently, New York City’s five pension funds have about $5bn in fossil fuel investments. New York state has already announced it is exploring how to divest from fossil fuels. 'New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major US city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels,' said Bill de Blasio, New York's mayor."

Lauren Trager of KMOV-TV St. Louis: "Governor Eric Greitens [R-Mo.] on Wednesday night confirmed to News 4 he had an extramarital affair, an admission a months-long News 4 investigation prompted. In a recording obtained by News 4, a woman says she had a sexual encounter with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and that he tried to blackmail her to keep the encounter quiet. The details were provided to News 4 by the woman's ex-husband, claiming the sexual relationship happened between his now ex-wife and Greitens in March 2015.... During his campaign and while serving in his first year in office as Missouri's Governor, Eric Greitens has billed himself a family man. During his campaign announcement, he stated: 'I'm Eric Greitens, I'm a Navy SEAL, native Missourian and most importantly, a proud husband and father.'"

Paul Schwartzman & Laura Vozzella of the Washington Post: "Democrat Shelly Simonds, who lost a random drawing to settle a deadlocked state legislative race last week, conceded defeat Wednesday, ending a tumultuous election and cementing Republicans' narrow control of Virginia's House of Delegates. Simonds tweeted her concession less than an hour before the House reconvened in the state Capitol for its 60-day session and cleared the way for her Republican opponent, Del. David Yancey (Newport News), to take his seat without protests from Democrats. Simonds, in a telephone interview from Florida, said she chose not to seek a second recount -- one to which she was entitled — because she did not expect to prevail in a dispute that captured national attention. 'I'm my usual angry, pissed-off self about the situation,' Simonds said. 'But we assessed all the options, and they all landed us in court. And I don't think we would win.'"

Reader Comments (4)

Nice to see all these Confederates racing for cover. Despite the enormous advantages of vote suppression and gerrymandering, they’re scared shitless that ungrateful voters, angered by years of greed, lies, ineptitude, and now treason, might be ready to make them look like losers. And that poor Darrell Issa. Years of being a slimy lying partisan hack and this is the thanks he gets! Harrumph. Might as well move somewhere where actual democracy is practiced than stick around and let no-good voters make a monkey out of a Very Important Person like him. Well, I guess he’ll just have to back to his old career of auto theft, arson, and insurance fraud. I’m sure he still has the knack. After all, his years in Congress haven’t been a helluva lot different than his old job.

January 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAkhilleus

"... the book (Fire and Fury) represents a political victory for Trump, one that could improve his party’s prospects heading into the midterm elections."

Hahahahahahahah, oh that naughty WAPO, such a jokester allowing Christopher Buskirk an opinion piece. Readers aren't having any part of it. "among the stupidest columns I've ever read!"

January 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMAG

In today's paper cartoon, Trump sings the National Anthem -

"and the rockettes run bare,
the boys brunching in there,
gave proof that my kite was not made of hair'

And to solve a new Trump nightmare, NJ should move the Trump golf course to the Jersey shore. That would prevent oil spills.

January 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Schwalb

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement search for undocumented workers at dozens of 7-Eleven stores nationwide."

I wonder how many thousands and thousands of businesses will close if the ultra Republican immigration plan goes into affect. Oh, and cost of fruits and vegetables will triple.

And to be fair to Trump, trying to understand his level of intelligence is difficult. He is interested in absolutely nothing that does not promote his ego. Consider him saying yes yesterday to every proposal on immigration. The purpose of the meeting was totally to make him look POTUSlike. His brain cannot focus on anything besides Trump.

January 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Schwalb
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