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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative January 2019 news and views

Note: Excerpts are from the authors' words except for subheads and occasional "Editor's notes" such as this. 

Jan. 20

U.S. Shutdown / Immigration

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s pitch of wall funds with ‘dreamers’ protection gets thumbs down from Democrats, Katie Zezima, Seung Min Kim President Donald Trump officialand David Nakamura, Jan. 20, 2019 (print edition). President Trump offered three years of deportation protections for some immigrants in exchange for border wall funding, a proposal immediately rejected by Democrats and derided by conservatives as amnesty.

President Trump on Saturday offered Democrats three years of deportation protections for some immigrants in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, a proposal immediately rejected by Democrats and derided by conservatives as amnesty.

Aiming to end the 29-day partial government shutdown, Trump outlined his plan in a White House address in which he sought to revive negotiations with Democrats, who responded that they would not engage in immigration talks until he reopened the government.

Trump proposed offering a reprieve on his attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and temporary protected status (TPS) for immigrants from some Latin American and African nations, in exchange for building hundreds of miles of barriers on the southern U.S. border and hiring thousands of new law enforcement agents to be deployed there.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘We’re left in the dark’: As many industries get shutdown relief, those without clout feel left behind, Lisa Rein, Juliet Eilperin and Jeff Stein, Jan. 20, 2019 (print edition). While alcohol producers and Alaskan fishers get agencies’ attention, Native American leaders and advocates for domestic violence survivors have gone unheard.

U.S. Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The shabbiest U.S. president ever is an inexpressibly sad specimen, George F. Will, right, Jan. 20, 2019 (print edition). george f willDislike of him should be tempered by this consideration: He is an almost inexpressibly sad specimen. It must be misery to awaken to another day of being Donald Trump.

He seems to have as many friends as his pluperfect self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life. His historical ignorance deprives him of the satisfaction of working in a house where much magnificent history has been made. His childlike ignorance — preserved by a lifetime of single-minded self-promotion — concerning governance and economics guarantees that whenever he must interact with experienced and accomplished people, he is as bewildered as a kindergartener at a seminar on string theory.

Mexican Gas Disaster

washington post logoWashington Post, Attempts to steal fuel from Mexican pipeline set off massive fireball, killing at least 66, Kevin Sieff, Jan.20, 2019 (print edition). The explosion occurred in the midst of the Mexican government’s campaign against oil theft. Earlier this month, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador closed many of the country’s pipelines, saddling dozens of cities with an acute gasoline shortage.

U.S. War In Syria

ny times logoNew York Times, In Turkey, Senator Calls for Slower, Smarter U.S. Withdrawal From Syria, Carlotta Gall, Jan. 20, 2019 (print edition).  After lengthy meetings with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (below left in a file photo), Senator Lindsey Graham called on Saturday for a slower, smarter withdrawal of American troops from Syria to avoid setting off a broader war and a nightmare for Turkey.

recep erdogan with flagMr. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has a long familiarity with Turkey and its place in the NATO alliance, and he said he was on a mission to ensure that the American withdrawal announced by President Trump in December did not cause greater damage that would be against United States interests in the long run.

“I can understand the desire to withdraw, but withdrawal without a plan is chaos,” he told a news briefing in Ankara, the Turkish capital. “It would be Iraq on steroids,” he warned, in a reference to how the Islamic State gained power after the withdrawal of American forces from the country in 2011.

Mr. Graham’s trip to Turkey came after an aborted visit by the White House national security adviser, John R. Bolton, who left the country without meeting with Mr. Erdogan. Infuriated by comments Mr. Bolton had made in Israel that Turkey would be forced to ensure that Kurdish lindsey grahamforces were protected, Mr. Erdogan canceled a proposed meeting.

Mr. Graham, right, met with Mr. Erdogan for over two hours, and described it as a “direct and productive meeting” on Friday. Then, on an impromptu invitation from the Turkish president, the senator joined him at a concert by the Turkish pianist Fazil Say, which he described as one of the best evenings of his life.

Turkish officials have not commented on Mr. Graham’s meeting in Ankara beyond confirming that they occurred.

Stock Markets

ny times logoNew York Times, Wall St. Erased All of 2018’s Losses in the First 3 Weeks of 2019, Matt Phillips, Jan. 20, 2019. Stocks have staged a remarkable turnaround in the early days of 2019. Was it something the Fed said? Even so, many factors behind last year’s troubling decline remain unresolved.

Pop Culture / Politics

ny times logoNew York Times, On ‘S.N.L.,’ a Game of ‘Deal or No Deal’ to End the Shutdown, Dave Itzkoff, Jan. 20, 2019 (8:11 mins.). The first new “Saturday Night Live” of 2019 featured Alec Baldwin as President Trump and the welcome return of Pete Davidson. With the partial government shutdown continuing to stretch on, “Saturday Night Live” proposed its own solution to the standoff: a game show parody.

The first new “S.N.L.” of 2019 opened with a special “government shutdown edition” of “Deal or No Deal,” whose only contestant was President Trump — played by Alec Baldwin in his recurring role — looking for a compromise that would end the impasse.

As the host Steve Harvey (played by Kenan Thompson) explained to Baldwin, “Earlier today you went on TV and you told the American people that you wanted to make a deal.” He added, “So we decided to do this in the only format that you can understand: a TV game show with women holding briefcases.”

After rejecting the immigration deal that Congress offered in December, Baldwin made a counterproposal: “I want $5 billion for my border wall,” he said, “and in exchange I’ll extend DACA, and I’ll release the kids from cages so they can be free-range kids.”

Jan. 19

U.S. Shutdown / Immigration

Roll Call, Analysis: White House flashes urgency on shutdown — but actual goal is murky, John T. Bennett, Jan 19, 2019. Do Trump and Pence want to ‘resolve this’ or blame Dems for missed paychecks? Trump offers trade of Dreamers-for-wall that Democrats quickly reject.

President Donald Trump raised eyebrows Friday evening when he announced he would offer a proposal to end the shutdown in a Saturday Donald Trump Logo Make America Great Againafternoon remarks. When he did, he offered three-year extensions of two immigration programs important to Democrats in exchange for his $5.7 billion demand for border wall funding that is the sticking point in getting 800,000 furloughed federal employees back to work.

“The President’s trade offer — temporary protections for some immigrants in exchange for a border wall boondoggle — is not acceptable,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey said Saturday.

democratic donkey logo“On Day 29 of the ‘Trump Shutdown,’ the solution is simple: reopen the government, pay our federal employees, and then negotiate border security and immigration policy proposals that can command bipartisan support,” the New York Democrat said.

Whatever their immediate goal — a government-opening solution or a public relations win next week — Trump and White House officials seem to have a new sense of urgency that is strong enough for them to be willing to flack from the president’s conservative base.

James Carafano, a vice president of the conservative Heritage Foundation said Saturday the president should “be applauded” for trying to end the shutdown before ripping into his latest plan toward doing so.

“However, including amnesty in the new proposal is not the way to do it. Amnesty encourages further illegal immigration, incentivizes the tragedy of human trafficking, and undermines our citizens’ confidence in the rule of law,” Carafano said.

Axios, Texas Republican calls Trump's border crisis a "myth," Haley Britzky, Jan. 19, 2019. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), whose district shares 820 will hurd Smallmiles of the U.S. border with Mexico, told Rolling Stone that the border crisis Trump speaks of is a "myth," and that his wall is the "most expensive and least effective way to do border security."

Details: Hurd, right, said using eminent domain to take land for the border wall would impact 1,000 Texas property owners and that building a wall is “third-century solution to a 21st-century problem.” Hurd believes that the $67 billion of drugs coming into the country does amount to a "crisis," but said that the U.S. should do more to combat the root causes of illegal immigration by working closely with Mexico and countries in Central America plagued by "violence and lack of economic opportunities."

washington post logoWashington Post, As TSA closes checkpoint at BWI airport, many screeners say lack of cash keeps them at home, Martin Weil, Jan. 19, 2019. The Transportation Security Authority said it had closed a security checkpoint at BWI Marshall Airport Saturday evening because of a shortages of screeners. In a Twitter message sent Saturday evening the agency said it “will be exercising a contingency plan” at BWI “due to excessive callouts.”

TSA is responsible for security screening of airline passengers in the United States. TSA screeners are among the federal government employees required to work during the partial shutdown of the federal government. Reports have circulated about possible staffing shortages since the shutdown began.

Axios, Trump Plans Shutdown Compromise, Jonathan Swan, Jan. 19, 2019. President Trump plans to use remarks from the Diplomatic Reception Room on Saturday afternoon to propose a notable immigration compromise, according to sources familiar with the speech.

Trump Probes

ny times logoNew York Times, Mueller Disputes Report That Trump Directed Cohen to Lie, Mark Mazzetti and Sharon LaFraniere, Jan. 19, 2019 (print edition). In an unusual move, robert mueller full face filethe office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III (right), disputed a high-profile news report that claimed that President Trump had directed Michael D. Cohen, his longtime lawyer, to lie to Congress in 2016. Earlier, Democratic lawmakers had pledged to investigate the accusations in the BuzzFeed News article.

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate,” said the spokesman, Peter Carr.

The BuzzFeed report led to a flurry of statements by senior members of Congress before Mr. Carr’s statement who said that the allegations, if true, could be grounds for initiating impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump.

U.S. War In Syria

shannon kent jonathan farmer scott wirtz afghan victims

Americans killed in Syria by suicide bomber: Shannon Kent, Jonathan Farmer, Scott Wirtz (Fourth victim's photo not released.)

washington post logoWashington Post, Four Americans slain in Syria attack identified, William Branigin, Katie Mettler and Missy Ryan, Jan. 19, 2019. A Green Beret, a Navy linguist, a former Navy SEAL and a Syrian emigre were the Americans killed in this week’s suicide bombing in Syria, the Defense Department and a defense contractor said on Friday.

The Pentagon named the three current and former service members slain in Wednesday’s attack as Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent; and civilian Scott A. Wirtz, a former Navy SEAL working for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The department did not identify the fourth American killed, a civilian contractor who officials said served as an interpreter. A spokesman for defense contractor Valiant Integrated Services said an employee, Ghadir Taher, was killed in the attack.

Inside DC

Esquire, Teens in MAGA Hats Harassed a Native American Vietnam Veteran, Gabrielle Bruney, Jan. 19, 2019. Footage of the mob encircling Indigenous Peoples March attendees has gone viral.

Viral footage of teenagers mobbing a Native American man and his companions at Friday's Indigenous Peoples March is sparking outrage. In the video, the man — identified by Indian Country Today as Omaha elder Nathan Phillips — is seen singing and drumming with fellow marchers while encircled by chanting teens, many of whom are wearing President Trump's Make America Great Again apparel. One youth pointedly stands directly in front of Phillips, smirking.

The teens are thought to be students of Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School, which dispatched students to Washington D.C. for the anti-abortion March for Life, which was also held Friday. A representative for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the diocese is "just now learning about this incident and [regrets] it took place," and that they are "looking into it."

Phillips is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and he organizes an annual ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of his fellow Native vets. "I heard them saying, 'build that wall, build that wall,'" Phillips was filmed saying in another video, presumably taken after the crowd around him dispersed. "You know, this is indigenous land," he said, wiping away tears.

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. jails journalist who works for news outlet overseen by Iranian government, Tom Jackman and Spencer S. Hsu, Jan. 19, 2019. The U.S. government confirmed that since Sunday it has been holding Marzieh Hashemi, an American-born journalist who works in Iran. Hashemi is a “material witness” in a federal case and will be released after she testifies before a grand jury, the government said.

The U.S. government confirmed Friday that it has been holding an American-born journalist, who works in Iran, in jail since Sunday as a “material witness” in a case in federal court in Washington and that she will be released after she testifies before a grand jury.

No date was given for the testimony and no information about the nature of the case was revealed in a two-page court filing unsealed Friday.

marzieh hashemi headshotMarzieh Hashemi, left, 59, has been a producer and on-air presenter for Press TV in Iran for 25 years. She is an American citizen, her family said. Press TV is an English language network based in Tehran and overseen by the Iranian government.

Hashemi returns periodically to the United States to visit her family. She had been working on a documentary about Black Lives Matter in St. Louis, her family said, and was arrested on a material witness warrant by the FBI when she arrived at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis before a flight to Denver to visit her adult children. She was then transported to Washington and apparently is being held in the D.C. Jail, her family said.

The FBI had declined to acknowledge the arrest until Friday and her court case is sealed. An unsealed court order Friday said Hashemi, who also is referred to in the filing by her birth name of Melanie Franklin, has not been accused of any crime.

Material witness warrants are rare. Hashemi’s case is the first such filed in federal court in Washington this year, and the court’s electronic docketing system indicates only two such cases were filed last year. Both are still under seal.

Hossein Hashemi, son of Marizeh Hashemi, leaves federal court in Washington on Friday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Her son Hossein Hashemi, a research fellow at the University of Colorado, told The Washington Post Friday that he, his mother and two of his siblings had been subpoenaed to appear at U.S. District Court in Washington, but said he did not know the subject matter. He said that neither his mother nor any of his family had testified and that “we don’t anticipate her getting out today.”

Jan. 18

Lost Migrant Children

 ny times logoNew York Times, The Lost Children of the Trump Administration, Editorial Board, Jan. 18, 2019. Why can’t the government account for how many children it separated from their parents at the border?

ICE logoLast summer, a federal judge in San Diego said the Trump administration treated immigrant children detained at the border worse than chattel.

“The unfortunate reality,” wrote Judge Dana Sabraw in ordering a halt to President Trump’s policy of separating the children from their parents, “is that under the present system, migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property.”

That was underscored on Thursday when the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services released a report revealing that thousands more children than previously disclosed may have been torn from their parents for months before the policy was even announced. The report confirmed that, as the number of families seeking asylum has soared, the true crisis on the border was a humanitarian one that the administration’s actions have made far worse.

In an accounting that resulted from Judge Sabraw’s order, stemming from a legal challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the government acknowledged that nearly 3,000 children had been separated from their parents since the policy was announced. But on top of that, the inspector general said, thousands more may not have been counted.

Over all, the total number of children separated at the border is “unknown,” according to the report. Nor was it clear how many of these children had yet to be reunited with their families.

Trump Probes

ny times logoNew York Times, Mueller Disputes Report That Trump Directed Cohen to Lie, Mark Mazzetti and Sharon LaFraniere, Jan. 19, 2019 (print edition). In an unusual move, robert mueller full face filethe office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III (right), disputed a high-profile news report that claimed that President Trump had directed Michael D. Cohen, his longtime lawyer, to lie to Congress in 2016. Earlier, Democratic lawmakers had pledged to investigate the accusations in the BuzzFeed News article.

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate,” said the spokesman, Peter Carr.

The BuzzFeed report led to a flurry of statements by senior members of Congress before Mr. Carr’s statement who said that the allegations, if true, could be grounds for initiating impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump.

washington post logoWashington Post, Report that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie to Congress sparks Democratic outcry, Tim Elfrink, Jan. 18, 2019. Democratic leaders reacted with fury to a BuzzFeed News report that President Trump directed Cohen to lie under oath about his business interests in Russia.

michael cohen ap file croppedDemocratic leaders reacted with fury and demanded an investigation late Thursday following a new report that President Trump personally directed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, right, to lie to Congress about the president’s push for a lucrative condo project in Moscow in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

The Thursday night report from BuzzFeed News cites two unnamed federal law enforcement officials who say Cohen acknowledged in interviews with the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that the president directed him to deceive Congress about key facts linking Trump to the proposed deal in Russia. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying under oath about those details.

Democrats said that if the report is accurate, Trump must quickly be held to account for his role in the perjury, with some raising the specter of impeachment.

“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” wrote Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”

Palmer Report, Opinion: Adam Schiff drops the hammer on Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Jan. 18, 2019. Last night we learned that Donald Trump instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow, and that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has the evidence to nail Trump for it.

bill palmer report logo headerThis means two things. First, Mueller is obviously about to take his big swing at Trump in short order. Second, it means the House must, and will, begin the impeachment process accordingly. Adam Schiff has something to say about that.

Congressman Adam Schiff (right), who is now in charge of the House Intelligence Committee, is in prime position to help expose Donald Trump’s Russia-related crimes. Even though the specific charge at hand here is suborning perjury, a form of felony adam schiff officialobstruction of justice, the perjury was an attempt at covering up the Trump-Russia election conspiracy.

Schiff had this to say about the latest bombshell: “The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date. We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”

Shutdown Update

ny times logoNew York Times, Federal Courts, Running Out of Money, Brace for Shutdown’s Pain, Thomas Kaplan, Jan. 18, 2019.  The judicial branch has been able to continue paying its workers so far, but that may soon change if the partial government shutdown continues.

Policeman Receives 6 Years

washington post logoWashington Post, Ex-Chicago officer sentenced to more than 6 years for killing Laquan McDonald, Mark Berman​, Jan. 18, 2019. The sentence was a coda to a case that has gripped Chicago for years, spurred a federal investigation and forced public officials from their jobs.

Barr Confirmation Hearing

bill yeomans afj cropped CustomAlliance for Justice: Opinion: The Judiciary Committee Whiffs, William Yeomans (right, senior fellow at Alliance for Justice, which does not necessarily endorse his opinions that follow), Jan. 18, 2019. William Barr’s testimony did not surprise. He is experienced, smart, and a committed proponent of virtually unlimited presidential power.

While he sought to reassure critics by professing the importance of allowing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to complete his investigation and promising to be as transparent as the law allows when Mueller is done, he failed to commit on two of the largest issues facing his nomination: recusal from the Mueller probe and public release of Mueller’s findings.

The case for Barr’s recusal rests largely on his op-ed in support of the firing of James Comey and his curious 19-page memo criticizing Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s obstruction of justice.

While Barr argued that the memo offered a narrow interpretation of one statutorily based theory of obstruction, the language of the memo lays out a dangerously expansive view of presidential power that would seem to empower the president to interfere fatally in Mueller’s investigation. This theory of the unitary executive places all executive power within the person of the president and prevents Congress from limiting the president’s exercise of his constitutional powers.

alliance for justice logoIn view of the appearance of prejudgment created by Barr’s memo and other comments on the Mueller investigation, senators needed a commitment from Barr that he would honor the determination of neutral, career ethics officials. He could not give it.

djt handwave fileGiven the circumstances in which this nomination occurs, senators seemed far too accepting. Democrats seemed resigned to Republican unity and their own minority status.

They should have done more to demonstrate their awareness of the magnitude of the threat emanating from the White House and the need to take extraordinary measures to reassure the public and buttress the rule of law.

Bill Yeomans is the Senior Justice Fellow for Justice at Alliance for Justice. He previously taught constitutional law, civil rights, and legislation at American University Washington College of Law. He also served for 26 years in the Department of Justice, where he litigated cases involving voting rights and discrimination in employment, housing, and education, and prosecuted police officers and racially motivated violent offenders before assuming a series of management positions, including acting Assistant Attorney General. 

Trump Team Endanged Lives?

Roll Call, Pelosi spokesman says White House leaked commercial travel plans to Afghanistan, Lindsey McPherson, Jan. 18, 2019. Alternate plan was canceled after State Department warned against it. The shutdown feud between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump escalated Friday after the California Democrat’s office revealed it had made commercial travel arrangements to continue an Afghanistan trip the president tried to cancel — but the administration leaked their plans.

There was already a security risk with the speaker and her congressional delegation continuing the overseas troop visit after Trump announced Thursday where they'd be going. But the heightened threat from Trump leaking the commercial travel plans led the delegation to call off the trip for now, a Pelosi spokesman said.

“After President Trump revoked the use of military aircraft to travel to Afghanistan, the delegation was prepared to fly commercially to proceed with this vital trip to meet with our commanders and troops on the front lines,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement.  “This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”

Hammill said the delegation has decided to postpone the trip “in light of the grave threats caused by the president’s action.”

Hammill said in a later tweet that multiple administration sources told Hill reporters early Friday morning that the Pelosi delegation was flying commercially. His tweet was in response to a Reuters reporter who quoted a White House official as saying the claim that the administration leaked the travel plans was “an offensive flat out lie.”

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, Book Excerpt: ‘Their job is to scare me’: The first terrifying hours in an Iranian prison, Jason Rezaian, Jan. 18, 2019. In his jason rezaiannew book, Prisoner, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian (right) shares his account of solitary confinement and his fears for his wife’s safety during his 544-day ordeal imprisoned in Iran.

Editor's Note: The author, then The Washington Post’s correspondent in Tehran, and his wife, Yeganeh, were arrested by Iranian authorities on July 22, 2014. Jason would spend 18 months in Iran’s Evin prison, and Yeganeh was separately imprisoned there for 72 days. This account, excerpted from his book “Prisoner,” to be published Jan. 22, describes his early hours in custody.

I was being led, blindfolded, through corridors and finally into an air-conditioned room. At the door I was instructed to take my shoes off—in Iran, it is customary to take one’s shoes off indoors. Two men, whom I couldn’t see, sat me down in a vinyl chair.

marzieh hashemi

Editor's note: The Justice Integrity Project learned at Washington, DC's federal courthouse that Marziyeh Hashemian, the Iranian-American  journalist shown above in a screenshot from Press TV, had been detained as a material witness, according to family members and a reporter from Press TV. An earlier report that she was scheduled to be released on Friday was in error.

Reuters, Iran's American-born journalist detained by FBI to appear in U.S. court: Iranian state TV, Parisa Hafezit, Jan. 18, 2019. An American journalist working for Iran’s state television channel Press TV who Iran says has been detained in Washington will appear in a U.S. court on Friday, the channel reported on Friday.

Iran has called for the immediate release of TV anchor and documentary film maker Marziyeh Hashemian, whose employer, the English-language channel Press TV, said was arrested on Sunday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

The FBI has not commented on the case.

“Marzieh Hashemi, detained by the FBI on unspecified charges, is due to appear in a Washington, DC, court on Friday,” the state-run Press TV reported, without elaborating.

The broadcaster on Wednesday quoted Hashemi’s son as saying that the 59-year-old journalist, who had been living in Iran for more than a decade, was detained as a “material witness” to a criminal case and no formal charges had been made against her.

marzieh hashemi headshotU.S. Federal law allows the government to arrest and detain a witness if it can prove that their testimony is material to a criminal proceeding and that it cannot guarantee their presence through a subpoena.

According to Press TV, Hashemi (shown in file photos from screengrabs above and at right) was born Melanie Franklin in the United States and changed her name after converting to Islam. She had traveled to the United States to visit her family, the channel said.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the arrest a “violation of freedom of speech and unacceptable.” “She is the wife of an Iranian citizen and we see it as our duty to defend the rights of our citizens” Zarif told Iran’s Arabic-language state broadcaster Al-Alam news channel.

In a statement on Friday, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Justice Department to disclose the reason for Hashemi’s arrest. CPJ said in the statement that “Iran routinely jails journalists, with at least eight behind bars in relation to their work when CPJ conducted its annual global prison census in December.”

Tensions have been high between Iran and the United States since U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of an international nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.

Several Iranian dual nationals from the United States, Britain, Austria, Canada and France have been detained in the past years in Iran and are being kept behind bars on charges including espionage and collaborating with hostile governments.

Global News: Korea

Washington Post, Trump to meet again with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, White House says, John Hudson, David Nakamura and Simon north korea flagDenyer, Jan. 18, 2019. A location has not yet been announced for the February summit, which would aim to jump-start nuclear talks that have been stalled for months. The news came after President Trump met in the Oval Office with Kim Yong Chol, North Korea's chief negotiator and former spy chief.

Jan. 17

Trump Probe

Buzzfeed, President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project, Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, Jan. 17, 2019. Trump received 10 personal updates from Michael Cohen and encouraged a planned meeting with Vladimir Putin. President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

The Case For Impeachment

donald trump gage skidmore portrait

Donald J. Trump (Gage Skidmore photo)

atlantic logoThe Atlantic, Advocacy: The Case for Impeachment, Jeffrey Goldberg (Editor in chief, right), Jan. 17, 2018. Dear Reader : Earlier this week, I wrote to you about “Unthinkable" [subtitled "50 Moments That Define an Improbable Presidency", an Atlantic special project that catalogs jeffrey goldberg Smallsome of the most outlandish and norm-breaking moments of Donald Trump’s first two years in the White House.

I’m writing now to tell you that we’ve decided to bring forward the release of our next cover story, “The Case for Impeachment” by Yoni Appelbaum. We’re always hesitant to release our cover stories early, but I’m motivated to do so by two events: The Trump-caused government shutdown, unmatched in length and consequence, and the debate over whether the 45th president of the United States is secretly operating on behalf of Russia.

atlantic logoThe Atlantic, Investigative Commentary: Impeach Donald Trump, Yoni Appelbaum, March 2019 Issue, Jan. 17, 2019. On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump [shown in a Gage Skidmore photo] stood on the steps of the Capitol, raised his right hand, and solemnly swore to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. He has not kept that promise.

atlantic logo horizontalInstead, he has mounted a concerted challenge to the separation of powers, to the rule of law, and to the civil liberties enshrined in our founding documents. He has purposefully inflamed America’s divisions. He has set himself against the American idea, the principle that all of us — of every race, gender, and creed — are created equal.

This is not a partisan judgment. Many of the president’s fiercest critics have emerged from within his own party. Even officials and observers who support his policies are appalled by his pronouncements, and those who have the most firsthand experience of governance are also the most alarmed by how Trump is governing.

Trump Aborts Pelosi Afghan Trip

djt smiling file

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Hits Back at Pelosi, Threatening Her Trip Abroad Over the State of the Union, Annie Karni and Nicholas Fandos, Jan. 17, 2019. President Trump retaliated on Thursday against Speaker Nancy Pelosi for threatening to cancel his planned State of the Union address on Jan. 29, writing in a letter that he, in turn, was postponing her planned trip abroad, calling it a “public relations event.”

“I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan has been postponed,” Mr. Trump wrote. “We will reschedule this seven day excursion when the shutdown is over.”

nancy pelosi oMs. Pelosi’s trip was scheduled to depart Thursday afternoon and included at least two other House members: Adam Schiff (shown below right), the chairman of the intelligence committee, and Eliot Engel, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee. Just after 3 p.m. the lawmakers exited an Air Force bus outside the Capitol, where they had been waiting to depart for the trip.

Presumably, the president is refusing to provide military transport that is traditionally provided to the House speaker or congressional delegations.

adam schiff officialIn the letter, tinged with sarcasm, he wrote that she could still take the trip if she chose to fly commercial.

He wrote: “It would be better if you were in Washington, negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the shutdown.”

Roll Call, Trump abruptly cancels military support for Pelosi overseas trip, John T. Bennett, Jan. 17, 2019. President Donald Trump has cancelled all military support for a trip Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was scheduled to take to a war zone. In apparent retaliation to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plea that President Donald Trump delay his State of the Union address due to the government shutdown, Trump has canceled all military support for a previously unannounced congressional delegation trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan the speaker was scheduled to take.

A White House official said any president oversees all U.S. government and military aircraft. The planning that goes into such congressional delegations is significant, particularly the security measures. “All other codels are also being pulled down during the shutdown,” the White House official said, using shorthand for such congressional trips.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill responded to Trump’s letter using the president’s preferred mode of communication, Twitter.

us house logo“The CODEL to Afghanistan included a required stop in Brussels for pilot rest,” Hammill said. “In Brussels, the delegation was scheduled to meet with top NATO commanders, U.S. military leaders and key allies — to affirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance. This weekend visit to Afghanistan did not include a stop in Egypt.”

“The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation & thanks to our men & women in uniform for their service & dedication, & to obtain critical national security & intelligence briefings from those on the front lines,” he added. “The President traveled to Iraq during the Trump Shutdown as did a Republican CODEL led by Rep. [Lee Zeldin].”

The decision immediately rang alarm bells about operational security: The speaker is second in line to be president, and any time someone of that government rank travels to a war zone or other such area, it is typically kept under wraps for safety and security reasons.

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Commentary: Traditional 2019 State of the Union address fraught with security dangers, Wayne Madsen, Jan. 17, 2019 (Subscription required, with first sentence used with permisson). Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi's request to Donald Trump to delay this year's State of the Union address, scheduled for January 29, was based on advice she received from national security and counter-terrorism experts worried about a "Designated Survivor" scenario.

Congressional Photo Directory

ny times logoNew York Times, Special Section -- Redefining Representation: The Women of the 116th Congress, Staff report, Photographs by Elizab eth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman, Jan. 17, 2019. Just over 100 years ago, the first woman won a seat in the House of Representatives. Now a record 131 women are serving in both chambers of Congress.

For most of recorded American history, political power has looked a certain way. Portraits of power call certain images to mind — those of older, white men, dressed in suits and depicted in formal settings. The 2018 midterm elections ushered in a change in representation; for the first time, more than 100 women serve in the House of Representatives — out of 435 seats — and members of color were elected in more states than ever before.

This portraits series documents the women of the 116th Congress in their totality. Like the work of Kehinde Wiley, who painted Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait, these photographs evoke the imagery we are used to seeing in the halls of power, but place people not previously seen as powerful starkly in the frames.

Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): “It gives me pride to be the woman Speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks 100 years since women won the right to vote, and as we serve with more than 100 women.”

Jonie Ernst R-Iowa): “Being a woman in power means knowing it’s O.K. to be fierce.”

GOP Congressman Suddenly Resigns

tom marino congressional pa district 12

Palmer Report, Opinion: The real reason GOP Congressman Tom Marino just abruptly resigned, Bill Palmer, Jan. 17, 2019. Tom Marino (below right, a tom marinoRepublican representing the 12th congressional district of Pennsylvania, shown above in gray) didn’t publicly state any reason for why he went to all the trouble to get himself reelected in 2018, only to turn around and immediately quit.

When public figures abruptly resign and don’t want to say why, they usually say it’s because they want to spend more time with their families. Marino didn’t even bother to say that much, perhaps because he knew how absurd it would sound, given the timing. So what gives?

bill palmer report logo headerSome have asked if Marino is resigning in protest of Donald Trump’s failed policies, treasonous crimes, and/or disastrous government shutdown. If so, he didn’t bother to say any of that. For that matter Marino was one of Trump’s earlier Republican supporters in Congress. In fact, that may be the explanation.

If we’ve learned one thing about Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress, such as Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter (both of whom have been indicted), it’s that they usually turn out to be corrupt themselves. There is no specific evidence that Tom Marino is about to be indicted, or that he’s under criminal investigation. But fourteen months ago it was reported that Marino was essentially working for the pharmaceutical companies while serving in Congress. So perhaps that’s finally come home to roost. In any case there will be another shoe to drop; there always is.

U.S. Deaths In Syria

ny times logoNew York Times, ISIS Attack in Syria Kills 4 Americans, Raising New Worries About Troop Withdrawal, Eric Schmitt, Ben Hubbard and Rukmini Callimachi, Jan. 17, 2019 (print edition). Four Americans were among 19 people killed in Syria on Wednesday in a suicide bombing that was claimed by the Islamic State, just weeks after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of United States forces and declared that the extremist group had been defeated.

The attack targeted an American military convoy in the northern city of Manbij while troops were inside the Palace of the Princes, a restaurant where they often stopped to eat during patrols, residents said. While the Americans were inside, a nearby suicide attacker wearing an explosive vest blew himself up.

The bombing raised new questions about Mr. Trump’s surprise decision last month to end the American ground war in Syria. Critics of the president’s plans, including members of his own party, said Mr. Trump’s claim of victory over the Islamic State may have emboldened its fighters and encouraged Wednesday’s strike.

It was at least the sixth major attack by the Islamic State in less than a month, according to one United States official, and was one of the deadliest days that the American-led coalition had suffered in the fight against the group.

Even as the White House offered condolences over the deaths, Vice President Mike Pence insisted in a statement that the Islamic State had, in fact, been defeated.

clarissa ward cnn costume

Southfront. Caitlin Johnstone Opinion: “War Whores Scramble To Say Syria Attack Means Troops Must Remain,” Caitlin Johnstone, Jan. 17, 2019. A suicide bombing in Manbij, Syria has reportedly killed 19 people including four Americans, two of whom were US soldiers and two of whom worked with the US military. ISIS, which has an extensive history of falsely claiming responsibility for attacks it had nothing to do with, has claimed responsibilityfor the attack.

Despite the fact that ISIS would claim responsibility for a housewife stepping on a Lego block, and despite the complete absence of clarissa ward un aug 2016evidence that it had anything to do with the deadly explosion, all the usual cheerleaders of endless war are pointing to the Manbij suicide bombing and shrieking “See?? Trump said ISIS is defeated and it’s not!”

“ISIS is still a very real threat here,” CNN international corespondent Clarissa Ward {shown on air in costume above and at right in her normal American garb in file photos] told Jake Tapper from northern Syria. “And the real concern that we are hearing over and over again on the ground, Jake, is that when US troops withdraw, a power vacuum is created, and that only gives them more strength.”

Virulent Syria war pundit Charles Lister, who is notorious for praising Al Qaeda and is a senior fellow at the Gulf state-funded lindsey graham judiciary chairmanneoconservative think tank Middle East Institute, told AFP that this attack invalidates Donald Trump’s order last month to withdraw troops from Syria.

Former John McCain ventriloquism dummy Lindsey Graham {Republican from South Carolina, at left] pounced like a rat on a cheese doodle on the opportunity to call for continued US troop presence within hours of the attack, interrupting the confirmation hearing of Attorney General nominee William Barr with an ejaculation about Trump’s Syria withdrawal.

Trumps Probes

rudy giuliani chris cuomo cnn jan 16 2019

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Rudy Giuliani: ‘I never said there was no collusion’ between Trump campaign and Russia, Allyson Chiu, Jan. 17, 2019. "Rudy Giuliani out-Giulianied himself tonight," CNN host Don Lemon said. Rudolph W. Giuliani claimed Wednesday night that he “never said there was no collusion” between President Trump’s campaign and Russia leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

rudy giuliani recentIn a remarkable, at times contentious, interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo (shown above at left, the president’s lawyer (above right and at right in file photos) was accused of contradicting his own past statements about collusion as well as what Trump and his supporters have repeatedly asserted. On Twitter, Trump has used the phrase “no collusion” dozens of times, and a number of those instances were direct denials that his campaign was involved with the Russian government.

Giuliani’s shocking declarations — several of which Cuomo called out as being false — quickly sent the Internet into a tailspin as many wondered what could have prompted the former New York mayor to suddenly change course.

• The Fix Analysis: Giuliani just contradicted nearly all the Trump team’s past collusion denials

washington post logoWashington Post, The quintessential Trump campaign story: A bag of cash, Michael Cohen and a rigged online poll, Philip Bump​, Jan. 17, 2019. Here's a story of another payment (apart from the one to Stormy Daniels) that might skirt campaign finance laws.

We have, on Thursday, a story that perhaps serves as the best encapsulation to date of how the early days of Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency worked, a summary that, itself, seems to explain much of what happened afterward.

washington post logoWashington Post, Constitutional concerns over Trump’s D.C. hotel lease were ignored, watchdog says, Jonathan O’Connell and David A. Fahrenthold​​, Jan. 17, 2019 (print edition). The General Services Administration failed to determine whether the lease violates the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which bar presidents from taking payments from foreign governments or individual U.S. states, the agency's inspector general said.

Government Shutdown

ny times logoNew York Times, Pelosi Asks Trump to Reschedule State of the Union, Nicholas Fandos, Jan. 17, 2019 (print edition). Speaker Nancy Pelosi (below), citing security constraints from the ongoing government shutdown, has asked President Trump to reschedule his Jan. 29 State of the Union nancy pelosi twitteraddress or deliver it to Congress in writing unless the government reopens this week.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to Congress on January 29,” she said in a letter on Wednesday.

[Read the letter here.]

The Secret Service, which coordinates security for the event, is among the agencies affected by the shutdown. But rescheduling would have other benefits, too.

With Democrats and Mr. Trump at an impasse over his demands for funding for a wall along the southern border, the speech would give Mr. Trump a nationally televised bully pulpit to hammer away at Ms. Pelosi and her party.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Facing Trump’s tantrum, Pelosi takes away the TV, Jennifer Rubin, Jan. 17, 2019 (print edition). Pelosi urges Trump to reschedule State of the Union. To say House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has mastered the art of dealing with President Trump would be a gross understatement.

U.S. Politics

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Kamala Harris Was Not a ‘Progressive Prosecutor,’ Lara Bazelon (a law professor and the former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles), Jan. 17, 2019.  The senator was often on the wrong side of history when she served as California’s attorney general.

kamala harris portraitWith the growing recognition that prosecutors hold the keys to a fairer criminal justice system, the term “progressive prosecutor” has almost become trendy. This is how Senator Kamala Harris of California (right), a likely presidential candidate and a former prosecutor, describes herself.

But she’s not.

Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent. Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.

democratic donkey logoConsider her record as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011. Ms. Harris was criticized in 2010 for withholding information about a police laboratory technician who had been accused of “intentionally sabotaging” her work and stealing drugs from the lab. After a memo surfaced showing that Ms. Harris’s deputies knew about the technician’s wrongdoing and recent conviction, but failed to alert defense lawyers, a judge condemned Ms. Harris’s indifference to the systemic violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.

Inside DC

washington post logoWashington Post, In rebuke to Trump, more than 130 Republicans oppose plan to lift sanctions against Putin ally, Jeanne Whalen and Karoun Demirjia, Jan. 17, 2019.  In a rebuke to the Trump administration, 136 Republicans joined House Democrats Thursday to oppose a Treasury Department plan to lift sanctions against companies controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

oleg deripaskaThe overwhelming 362 to 53 vote will not prevent the Trump administration from easing sanctions on three companies connected to Oleg Deripaska, left, a Russian oligarch with ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as Senate Republicans narrowly blocked a similar measure on Wednesday.

But the House vote does mean that a majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill oppose President Trump’s efforts to soften punitive measures on a Russian oligarch — a rejection with potential implications for the administration’s continued stance on Russia, and for the GOP lawmakers who backed the plan to ease the sanctions.

Politics / Trump Weirdness?

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump keeps mentioning taped up women at the border. Experts have no idea what he’s talking about, Katie Mettler, Jan. 17, 2019. President Trump has a new favorite anecdote, one that fixates on tape. Specifically, in public remarks at the White House, at the border and at farming conventions, the president has been talking about tape on the mouths of migrant women.

On at least eight occasions over a period of 12 days this month, the president has argued publicly for his proposed wall on the southern border by claiming without evidence that traffickers tie up and silence women with tape before illegally driving them through the desert from Mexico to the United States in the backs of cars and windowless vans.

In Trump’s telling, the adhesive is sometimes blue tape. Other times it is electrical tape or duct tape.

In some instances, the descriptions are more salacious and graphic. “Human trafficking — grabbing women, in particular — and children, but women — taping them up, wrapping tape around their mouths so they can’t shout or scream, tying up their hands behind their back and even their legs and putting them in a back seat of a car or a van — three, four, five, six, seven at a time,” the president said in the Cabinet Room on Jan. 11. (A timeline of the president’s taped-women remarks appears below.)

El Chapo Drug Trial News

Reuters, Ex-mistress of 'El Chapo' says she was 'traumatized' by tunnel escape, Brendan Pierson, Jan. 17, 2019. A former mistress of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman told jurors in his U.S. trial on Thursday she was “traumatized” after a harrowing 2014 escape from one of his safehouses with Mexican marines in hot pursuit.

joaquin el chapo guzmanTestifying for the prosecution in federal court in Brooklyn, Lucero Sanchez Lopez, a onetime local lawmaker in Guzman’s home state of Sinaloa, also gave an emotional account of her relationship with Guzman (shown at left), saying she at times feared for her safety.

“I didn’t want for him to mistrust me because I thought he could also hurt me,” Lucero Sanchez Lopez, 29, testified. “I was confused about my own feelings over him. Sometimes I loved him and sometimes I didn’t.”

She said once, while the two were eating dinner in 2012, Guzman told her that anyone who betrayed him would die.

Guzman, 61, who was extradited to the United States in 2017, has been on trial since November on charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the country as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. His trial has provided a window into the operations of the cartel, one of the world’s biggest drug trafficking organizations.

The testimony by Sanchez Lopez is the first by someone with whom Guzman had a romantic relationship. Other cooperating witnesses have been business associates, primarily other drug traffickers.

Iran-Contra / Bush Deep State

george hw bush inauguration

Chief Justice William Rehnquist swears in President George H. W. Bush in 1989 as Barbara Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle (above her) look on.

george hw bushLondon Review of Books, The Vice President’s Men, Seymour M. Hersh, Jan. 24, 2019 edition. When George H.W. Bush arrived in Washington as vice president in January 1981 he seemed little more than a sideshow to Ronald Reagan, the one-time leading man who had been overwhelmingly elected to the greatest stage in the world....Bush [shown at right as CIA director] was invariably written off as a cautious politician who followed the lead of his glamorous boss – perhaps because he assumed that his reward would be a clear shot at the presidency in 1988.

There was another view of Bush: the one held by the military men and civilian professionals who worked for him on national security issues. Unlike the president, he knew what was going on and how to get things done. It would have been natural to turn instead to the director of the CIA, but this was William Casey, a former businessman and Nixon aide who had been controversially appointed by Reagan as the reward for managing his 1980 election campaign. As the intelligence professionals working with the executive saw it, Casey was reckless, uninformed, and said far too much to the press.

cia logoBush was different: he got it. At his direction, a team of military operatives was set up that bypassed the national security establishment – including the CIA – and wasn’t answerable to congressional oversight. It was led by Vice-Admiral Arthur Moreau, a brilliant navy officer who would be known to those on the inside as ‘M’. He had most recently been involved, as deputy chief of naval operations, in developing the US’s new maritime strategy, aimed at restricting Soviet freedom of movement.

In May 1983 he was promoted to assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Vessey, and over the next couple of years he oversaw a secret team – operating in part out of the office of Daniel Murphy, Bush’s chief of staff – which quietly conducted at least 35 covert operations against drug trafficking, terrorism and, most important, perceived Soviet expansionism in more than twenty countries, including Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Libya, Senegal, Chad, Algeria, Tunisia, the Congo, Kenya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Vietnam.

oliver north mugshotIn 1986, as the Iran-Contra scandal turned toxic, the immediate problem for Vice President Bush was political survival. Too many outsiders – men like Oliver North [shown in a later mugshot]– knew too much.

Moreau’s small, off-the-record team, primarily made up of navy officers, was tasked with foreign operations deemed necessary by the vice president. The group’s link to Bush was indirect. There were two go-betweens, known for their closeness to the vice president and their ability to keep secrets: Murphy, a retired admiral who had served as Bush's deputy director at the CIA; and, to a lesser extent, Donald Gregg, Bush’s national security adviser and another veteran of CIA covert operations.

By 1983, it was plain to those who worked on national security for the White House that Reagan wouldn't or couldn't engage with intelligence or counterintelligence matters. Bush had emerged, by default and very much in private, as the most important decision-maker in America's intelligence world

Moon of Alabama, Seymour Hersh: George H.W. Bush Team Leaked To Media To Reveal CIA's Iran-Contra Affair, b, Jan. 17, 2019. A new piece by Seymour Hersh [right] seymour hershin the London Review of Books gives some insight into secret U.S. operations during the Reagan administration. The Vice President’s Men includes a quite sensational claim of who revealed the Iran-Contra affair.

According to the conventional wisdom, as reflected in Wikipedia, an Iranian operator revealed to a Lebanese paper that the U.S. was selling weapons to Iran in the hope to get hostages in Lebanon released:

After a leak by Mehdi Hashemi, a senior official in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa exposed the arrangement on 3 November 1986. This was the first public report of the weapons-for-hostages deal.

People is the National Security Council used profits from these weapon sales to illegally arm and finance CIA run anti-government gangs in Nicaragua. Both, the weapon sales to Iran and the weapon delivery to guerilla in Nicaragua, were illegal under U.S. law. The leak to Lebanese paper blew up both operations.

That Mehdi Hashemi, the Iranian operative, leaked the affair is only supported by second hand hearsay from a dubious source. Seymour Hersh reports of a very different culprit.

george hw bush HRAccording to his sources former CIA director George H.W. Bush, who was then Reagan's vice president, ran his own secret operations through a special office in the Pentagon....

Bush disliked William Casey, who Reagan had named as new CIA director. Casey was a business man who got the job after he managed Ronald Reagan's election campaign. Bush thought that he was too incompetent to run the clandestine service.

One of the operations run under Bush also involved Nicaragua, but had nothing to do with the later Iran-Contra scandal. At the same time the CIA director William Casey was drumming up support for the Contras in Nicaragua. The two operations collided when Lieutenant Colonel Oliver (Ollie) North at the National Security Council used the proceeds from the weapon sales to Iran to illegally finance the CIA's Contras in Nicaragua. While North was also a confident of the Bush/Moreau's operations, he allegedly freelanced and eventually deserted to the CIA side.

arthur moreau jrAccording to a former officer involved in Bush's operations office, Bush and [Vice-Admiral Arthur] Moreau [right] feared that the CIA's widely expanding Iran-Contra operation run by Oliver North would become a threat to their own operations. They decided to blow it up:

‘Ollie brings in Dick Secord and Iranian dissidents and money people in Texas to the scheme, and it’s gotten totally out of control,’ the officer said. ‘We’re going nuts. If we don’t manage this carefully, our whole structure will unravel. And so we’ – former members of Moreau’s team who were still working for Bush – ‘leaked the story to the magazine in Lebanon.’ He was referring to an article, published on 3 November 1986 by Ash-Shiraa magazine in Beirut, that described the arms for hostages agreement. He would not say how word was passed to the magazine, ...

According to Hersh's source the effect of the leak to the Lebanese paper was foreseen and intended....

Politics / Pop Culture

Palmer Report, Opinion: Scott Walker just got his butt handed to him, Bill Palmer, Jan. 17, 2019. Scott Walker is, mercifully, no longer the Governor of Wisconsin. However, he is still a lying sack of crap who is continuing to dishonest shill for the wealthiest one percent of the country. Walker tried out a new line of attack, but he promptly got his butt handed to him.

bill palmer report logo headerThere has been a lot of internal debate among Democrats and liberals about the 70% marginal tax being proposed for the wealthiest Americans by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But what’s not in dispute is how the math would work on such a tax. That is, of course, unless you live in Scott Walker’s deranged mind. Walker tweeted this completely asinine scenario:

Explaining tax rates before Reagan to 5th graders: “Imagine if you did chores for your grandma and she gave you $10. When you got home, your parents took $7 from you.” The students said: “That’s not fair!” Even 5th graders get it.

Of course this would only be true if the fifth grader in question has millions of dollars of other income, making him wealthy enough to qualify for the top tax bracket. Even then, a marginal tax only applies to income above a certain level. So literally no one would be paying 70% of their income. Ocasio-Cortez fired back accurately:

“Explaining marginal taxes to a far-right former Governor: Imagine if you did chores for abuela & she gave you $10. When you got home, you got to keep it, because it’s only $10. Then we taxed the billionaire in town because he’s making tons of money underpaying the townspeople.”

Even as debate among Democrats continues as to whether we should return to the high marginal tax rates on the wealthiest Americans that helped fund the nation and grow the middle class in decades past, there is no debating that Scott Walker is a buffoon. Not only is he unemployed, he just got embarrassed by someone who has only been in Congress for two weeks. Also, Walker should be working on his criminal defense strategy in the Trump-Russia scandal, not screwing around on Twitter.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Think how bad of a husband you have to be to act this way’: Trump’s campaign manager unloads on George Conway, John Wagner, Jan. 17, 2019. President Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, publicly branded White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s spouse a bad husband Wednesday in response to his latest barb directed at the president — this one over Trump’s misspelling of “hamburger.”

The latest flare-up in the escalating drama involving lawyer and frequent Trump critic George Conway stemmed from the visit of the Clemson Tigers football team to the White House on Monday night. Hamstrung by the partial government shutdown, Trump served the team fast food, including Whoppers from Burger King, which he said he paid for out of his own pocket.

Trump relived the gathering the following morning on Twitter, writing: “Great being with the National Champion Clemson Tigers last night at the White House. Because of the Shutdown I served them massive amounts of Fast Food (I paid), over 1000 hamberders etc. Within one hour, it was all gone. Great guys and big eaters!” Trump soon deleted the tweet and replaced it with one in which “hamburgers” was correctly spelled.

Burger King, nevertheless, took note, responding in a tweet that “due to a large order placed yesterday, we’re all out of hamberders.”

Jan. 16

Attorney General Confirmation Hearing

william barr senate hearing cnn screengrab jan 15 2019

ny times logoNew York Times, William Barr Vows to Let Mueller Finish Investigation, Charlie Savage, Nicholas Fandos and Katie Benner, Jan. 16, 2019 (print edition). William P. Barr (shown above in a screengrab), President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, assured senators at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that he would permit the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to complete the Russia investigation and said he was determined to resist any pressure from Mr. Trump to use law enforcement for political purposes.

Mr. Barr, whose confirmation seems virtually assured, pointed to his age and background — he served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 — as buffers to potential intrusions on the Justice Department’s traditional independence. He suggested he had no further political aspirations that might cloud his judgment, the way that future ambitions might give pause to a younger nominee, as well as the experience to fight political interference.

us senate logo“I am in a position in life where I can provide the leadership necessary to protect the independence and reputation of the department,” Mr. Barr, 68, told the Senate Judiciary Committee, adding that he would not hesitate to resign if Mr. Trump pushed him to act improperly.

“I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong — by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president,” Mr. Barr said. “I’m going to do what I think is right.”

jeff sessions ag oHe also pledged that he would refuse any order from Mr. Trump either to fire Mr. Mueller without good cause in violation of regulations or to rescind those rules first.

Mr. Barr’s first stint as attorney general came under President George Bush, who was known for his prudent and measured approach. If confirmed, Mr. Barr would serve under a president hardly known for self-restraint. Mr. Trump repeatedly excoriated Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, which Mr. Trump has called a “witch hunt,” and pushed him to open criminal investigations into political adversaries like Hillary Clinton.

UK's May Survives Vote

ny times logounited kingdom flagNew York Times, Theresa May Survives No-Confidence Vote in British Parliament, Stephen Castle and Richard Pérez-Peña, Jan. 16, 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly survived a vote of no confidence brought by the opposition after the defeat of her Brexit plan. But turmoil reigns and the path on leaving the European Union is unclear as a deadline looms.

ny times logojeremy corbynNew York Times, Jeremy Corbyn Will Decide What Happens to Brexit (Whether He Wants to or Not), Benjamin Mueller, Jan. 16, 2019. Britain’s opposition leader, right, has strained to keep his options open on E.U. withdrawal. But his party’s votes will be critical to the outcome, and time is running out.

EPA Nominee Questioned

ny times logoNew York Times, Senators Grill Andrew Wheeler, Former Coal Lobbyist and Trump’s Choice to Lead the E.P.A., Lisa Friedman, Jan. 16, 2019. andrew wheeler oThe former coal lobbyist made his case for leading the Environmental Protection Agency and steering Mr. Trump’s agenda of rolling back environmental rules. Andrew Wheeler (right), President Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, faced sharp questions Wednesday from Democrats who painted him as a danger to clean air and water laws as he steers President Trump’s agenda of rolling back environmental regulations.

Taking the stand before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Mr. Wheeler vigorously defended his work over the past several months rolling back Obama-era regulations, including the replacement of a broad plan to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan, with weaker rules.

His opening remarks were nearly drowned out by demonstrators shouting “Shut down Wheeler, not the E.P.A.” The protesters were escorted out of the hearing room by Capitol Police officers as Mr. Wheeler began speaking.

Mr. Wheeler has been the agency’s acting administrator since his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, resigned in July amid ethics scandals. Before that, he was the deputy administrator. Mr. Trump nominated Mr. Wheeler last week to formally take over as head of the E.P.A.

U.S. Shutdown Update

ny times logoNew York Times, Shutdown’s Economic Damage Starts to Pile Up, Threatening an End to Growth, Jim Tankersley, Jan. 16, 2019 (print edition). White House economists doubled projections of how much economic growth is being lost each week as President Trump’s standoff, now in its fourth week, continues. Outside projections suggested that the shutdown has already weighed significantly on growth and could push the U.S. economy into a contraction.

New ISIS Attack In Syria

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Troops Among Dead in Islamic State Bombing in Syria, Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbard, Jan. 16, 2019. A suicide bombing in northern Syria claimed by the Islamic State killed 15 people on Wednesday, according to a group that monitors the conflict. In Washington, a Defense Department official said American troops were among the dead and wounded.

The attack comes at a time when President Trump is pushing to withdraw American forces from Syria because he says the jihadists have been defeated.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 15 and said one American soldier was among the dead. The Defense Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were multiple American casualties but did not give specific numbers.

washington post logoWashington Post, Islamic State claims responsibility for blast in U.S.-patrolled city in Syria, Louisa Loveluck​, Jan. 16, 2019. The suicide attack in Manbij was the first such attack since President Trump announced a plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Trumps Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, Court filing suggests prosecutors know much more about Manafort’s actions, Spencer S. Hsu, Jan. 16, 2019 (print edition). In a heavily redacted filing, prosecutors indicated they have details not yet made public about the interactions of President Trump's former campaign chairman with a former Russian aide and others.

robert mueller full face fileProsecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, right, have intensively scrutinized Paul Manafort’s activities after President Trump’s election — including after Manafort was criminally charged — and indicated they have extensive details not yet made public about Manafort’s interactions with former Russian aide Konstantin Kilimnik and others, a Tuesday court filing showed.

Although heavily redacted, the documents state that Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, claimed he was trying to get people appointed in the new presidential administration. The filing also states that in another Justice Department investigation, Manafort provided information that appears related to an event while he was with the campaign in August 2016.

Prosecutors also showed keen interest in a $125,000 payment made in June 2017 that Manafort characterized in three ways that were contradicted, the filing says, by his tax filings and exchanges with his tax preparer.

washington post logoWashington Post, The Russians know exactly what Putin and Trump talked about, but we may not find out for decades, Anton Troianovski, Jan. 16, 2019. The interpreters working for Soviet leaders were trained to take nearly verbatim stenographic notes, often providing more details than official American notes on the same conversations.

washington post logoWashington Post, T-Mobile announced a merger needing government approval. The next day, 9 executives had reservations at Trump’s hotel, Jonathan O'Connell and David A. Fahrenthold, Jan. 16, 2019. The visits highlight how countries, interest groups and companies with interests before the Trump administration have patronized the president's private businesses.

Kenyan Terror Attack

ny times logoNew York Times, Death Toll Rises to 21 in Nairobi Attack, Reuben Kyama, Emily Oduor and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, Jan. 16, 2019. The Kenyan president said the Shabab militants who stormed a luxury hotel and office complex had been “eliminated,” but the nation was on the highest alert.

The siege underscored the persistence and potency of the Shabab, which are based in Somalia and have sought to impose their strict interpretation of Islam.

Kenya’s police chief, Joseph Boinnet, said Wednesday night that the fatalities had risen from 14 to 21, with six additional bodies retrieved from the attack site and the death of a police officer from injuries. The victims included an American and a British national.

Distraught relatives were left to scramble for more information at morgues and hospitals, as the Red Cross set up teams to help deal with the casualties and to provide counseling.

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), El Chapo trial revelations confirms WMR's story from 2015; major media outlets run with WMR's scoop on Ivanka Trump and World Bank position, Wayne Madsen, Jan. 16, 2019.

News Media

ny times logoNew York Times, Veterans of the News Business Are Now Fighting Fakes, Edmund Lee, Jan. 16, 2019. After raising $6 million, the start-up NewsGuard, co-founded by Steve Brill, has signed Microsoft as its first major client. The main goal: to combat the spread of false stories on the internet.

On the internet, conspiracy theories, propaganda and plain old inaccuracies can stump even the most thoughtful readers, spreading faster than you can say “fake news.”

A small start-up, NewsGuard, says it may have a solution. The effort is led by a pair of veteran news executives — Steven Brill, an author and the founder of the magazine The American Lawyer, and Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal. On Wednesday the company announced that it had signed Microsoft as its first major client.

NewsGuard has created the equivalent of nutrition labels for news organizations, rating more than 2,000 news and information sites with tags: red for unreliable, green for trustworthy. A team of roughly 50 journalists and analysts is making the evaluations.

NewsGuard has given its stamp of approval to established publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, as well as later entrants like BuzzFeed and Newsmax. FoxNews.com, The Hill, The Daily Beast and HuffPost have also gotten green lights.
Sites to watch out for, according to NewsGuard, include Infowars and Breitbart on the right, and Daily Kos on the left. Media Matters, a left-leaning advocacy organization with a prolific media-watchdog blog, has received a green rating, but scores negatively on four of the nine criteria used by NewsGuard.

The service, free to readers, offers a browser extension that shows a news operation’s rating when a reader lands on its site. The NewsGuard tag also appears in search results next to article links for those who have the extension.

#MeToo News

washington post logoWashington Post, Michigan State’s president to resign after he said sexual abuse victims enjoyed the spotlight, Susan Svrluga​, Jan. 16, 2019. John Engler’s resignation makes him the university’s second leader to step down under pressure in the scandal surrounding Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State sports medicine doctor who is serving a prison sentence of at least 40 years.

Palmer Report, Analysis: Kirsten Gillibrand says she’s running for president in 2020 – and everyone has the same question for her, Bill Palmer, kirsten gillibrand headshotJan. 16, 2019. Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a smart and bold liberal, announced last night that she’s running for President of the United States in 2020. She’ll bring plenty to the table in the Democratic primary race. However, there is one question she’s going to have to address, and she’ll probably have to do it soon.

bill palmer report logo headerBack when Al Franken was caught up in a sexual misconduct scandal, he asked for a Senate ethics investigation into himself, and he insisted that such an investigation would reveal he’d been set up. It’s widely perceived that Kirsten Gillibrand (right) led the movement to oust him from the Senate before an investigation could be done, and that her actions essentially forced other Senate Democrats to quickly push him out.

al franken o newAfter the fact, various isolated details surfaced suggesting that people like Trump ally Roger Stone were involved in the Franken scandal, raising still somewhat-unanswered questions about whether a full ethics investigation might have put everything in a different context and partially or fully cleared Franken.

Fair or not, there are a lot of liberals and Democrats who feel that Kirsten Gillibrand acted recklessly in getting Franken ousted without due process. If you want evidence of this, when Gillibrand announced her candidacy, both her name and Franken’s name began trending on Twitter as a result. Fair or not, it’s up to Gillibrand to seize control of this narrative, or else it’ll keep writing itself.

Jan. 15

Trump Discussed NATO Pullout

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Discussed Pulling U.S. From NATO, Aides Say Amid New Concerns Over Russia, Julian E. Barnes and Helene Cooper, Jan. 15, 2019 (print edition). There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years. Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.

More On Shutdown

washington post logoWashington Post, IRS to bring back more than half of workforce as tax season gears up, Jeff Stein, Jan. 15, 2019. Tens of thousands of Internal Revenue Service workers will come back to work for tax filing season later this month under the agency’s new emergency plan for the government shutdown, but the agency will remain unable to conduct audits or other key agency functions, the Treasury Department said on Tuesday.

irs logoThe IRS’s new plan for the shutdown calls for keeping 46,000 IRS employees on the job during filing season, meaning that close to 60 percent of the agency’s workforce will soon work despite the lapse in the agency’s funding. At the start of the government shutdown in late December, fewer than 10,000 IRS workers — about 12 percent of its overall workforce — were kept on the job.

The agency will continue to not perform audits during the shutdown, although the IRS has three years to audit a tax return after it is filed. Walk-in taxpayer assistance centers are also expected to remain closed.

• Judge will not force government to pay federal employees working during shutdown

washington post logoWashington Post, Rank-and-file Democrats unify as Trump tries to drive a wedge among them, Erica Werner, Jan. 15, 2019. A group of rank-and-file House Democrats turned down an invitation to have lunch with President Trump at the White House on Tuesday, a snub that underscores the extraordinary divisions that have brought negotiations over the government shutdown to a standstill.

The invited Democrats, including centrist-leaning freshman and sophomore members, skipped the meeting amid calls for unity from Democratic leaders and fellow lawmakers who had voiced concerns the meeting would be little more than a photo opportunity that bolsters Trump.

Their decision marked another failure in the White House’s ongoing attempt to splinter Democrats, who instead are holding firm against Trump’s demands for $5.7 billion for his border wall.

The stalemate led to the partial government shutdown that was in its 25th day Tuesday, the longest such closure in history, with 800,000 federal workers going without pay.

Parliament Nixes Brexit Deal

european union logo rectangle

ny times logoNew York Times, Brexit Deal Fails in Parliament; May Faces No-Confidence Vote, Stephen Castle and Ellen Barry, Jan. 15, 2019. Just 10 united kingdom flagweeks before Britain is scheduled to leave the E.U., Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a humiliating defeat over her theresa may home secretarywithdrawal plan. The 432-to-202 vote to reject the plan was one of the biggest defeats in the House of Commons for a prime minister in recent British history.

Immediately after the vote, the Labour Party leader said he was offering a motion of no confidence, citing the “sheer incompetence of this government.”

War On Drugs

ny times logoNew York Times, Family That Owns OxyContin Maker Led Efforts to Mislead Public, Documents Show, Barry Meier, Jan. 15, 2019. Members of the Sackler family directed years of efforts to mislead doctors and patients about the dangers of the powerful opioid painkiller, a lawsuit filing contends. he aggressive promotion of the drug helped ignite the opioid epidemic.

U.S. Politics

ny times logoNew York Times, House Votes to Condemn White Supremacy After King Comments, Jonathan Martin, Jan. 15, 2019. The House passed a resolution condemning white supremacy, 424-1, reflecting the anger in both parties over comments by Representative Steve King. The resolution begins by citing Mr. King’s remarks to The Times.

steve kingMr. King, a Republican, took the House floor to say he would vote in support of it. By the time a Republican challenged Representative Steve King of Iowa in the 2016 party primary, Mr. King had already courted far-right foreign leaders, proposed electric wiring atop a border wall to treat illegal immigrants like straying livestock, and said young migrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

But in that race Mr. King had the help of fellow Republicans like the then-Gov. Terry Branstad and Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst. Each of those Iowa Republicans overlooked Mr. King’s history of racist remarks and divisive conduct — well before his recent comments about “white supremacy” — and backed Mr. King’s re-election in the state’s most heavily conservative district.

ny times logoNew York Times, Court Blocks Trump Administration From Asking About Citizenship in Census, Michael Wines, Jan. 15, 2019. Critics had accused the administration of trying to turn the census into a tool to advance Republican political fortunes. The upcoming census count will determine which states gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives when redistricting begins in 2021.

When the Trump administration announced last year it was adding a citizenship question to the census, opponents argued the results would undercount noncitizens and legal immigrants — who tend to live in places that vote Democratic — and shift political power to Republican areas.

U.S. Courts

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian, Ukranian defendants among those charged with hacking SEC system in trading scheme, Renae Merle​, Jan. 15, 2019. The sophisticated cyberattack against the Securities and Exchange Commission resulted in at least $4.1 million in illegal trading profits, authorities said.

Reality TV / True Crime

washington post logoWashington Post, Pamela Smart got her teen lover and his friends to kill her husband in 1990. Now they’re free. She isn’t, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Jan. 15, 2019. Pamela Smart starred in the first gavel-to-gavel broadcast of a murder trial in U.S. history. It was a seamy tale of blood and lust, and it ended with her receiving a life sentence. Today, people still write her letters and prominent feminists have come to her aid. What is her enduring appeal?

Russia Probe

djt vladimir putin 7 8 2017 wh screenshot

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion, Donald Trump: The Russia File, Editorial board, Jan. 15, 2019 (print edition). Americans deserve to know what the president and Vladimir Putin are talking about. If, beleaguered or bemused by the onrush of scandal and political antics, you’re searching for some index of just how truly not-normal American governance has become, you might consider this: Standing on the White House lawn on Monday morning, his own government shut down around him, the president of the United States was asked by reporters if he was working for Russia.

vladimir putin portrait unknownHe said that he was not. “Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it's a disgrace that you even asked that question, because it's a whole big fat hoax,” President Trump said.

Yet the reporters were right to ask, given Mr. Trump’s bizarre pattern of behavior toward a Russian regime that the Republican Party quite recently regarded as America’s chief rival. Indeed, it’s unnerving that more people — particularly in the leadership of the Republican Party — aren’t alarmed by Mr. Trump’s secretive communications with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and reliance on his word over the conclusions of American intelligence agencies.

Sanctions On Russia

ny times logoNew York Times, Republicans Break Ranks Over Move to Lift Sanctions on Russian Oligarch’s Firms, Kenneth P. Vogel, Jan. 15, 2019. A group of 11 Republican senators broke ranks with their leadership and the administration on Tuesday to side with Democrats in a showdown over sanctions on Russia, underscoring the political sensitivity of the issue amid questions about President Trump’s relationship with Moscow.

Shutdown's Roots In Ideology

washington post logoWashington Post, Shutdown gives some Trump allies what they want: A smaller government, Lisa Rein, Robert Costa and Danielle Paquette, Jan. 15, 2019 (print edition). Those who forged their political careers in pursuit of leaner budgets and reined-in bureaucracies have shown a tolerance for keeping the government dark.

republican elephant logoPresident Trump has cast the shuttering of federal agencies as a standoff over his plan to build a wall on the southern border. But for many White House aides and allies, the partial shutdown is advancing another long-standing priority: constraining the government.

Prominent advisers to the president have forged their political careers in relentless pursuit of a lean federal budget and a reined-in bureaucracy. As a result, they have shown a high tolerance for keeping large swaths of the government dark, services offline and 800,000 federal workers without pay, with the shutdown having entered an unprecedented fourth week.

WUSA-TV (Washington, DC), An immigrant feeding federal workers: José Andrés' World Central Kitchen to cook for furloughed workers during shutdown, Stephanie Ramirez, Jan. 15, 2019. A DC celebrity chef plans to feed furloughed workers with his non-profit, World Central Kitchen.

By now, we all know the government shutdown is over funding for a border wall, something the President said will stop illegal immigration. Now, an immigrant is getting involved.

DC Celebrity Chef José Andrés directed his non-profit to help feed the thousands of furloughed federal workers and contractors starting on Wednesday.

WUSA9 was allowed a sneak peak into what’s cooking and who’s cooking it.

That’s where we found WCK’s Lead Chef, Tim Kilcoyne. Californian said he knows what it’s like to be in an emergency. “The night of the fire, I actually was evacuated from my house for about 10 days,” said Kilcoyne talking about the 2017 Ventura, Cali. fire.

“Just can’t sit back and sit still. I’m a chef. It’s in our blood to take care of people and feed people,” said Kilcoyne. He’s part of the team leading the #ChefsForFeds effort that will start on Wednesday.

"Today, we face another type of disaster emergency in the United States,” said Celebrity Chef José Andrés in a Twitter post. On Monday, the chef announced his lans to open a kitchen by the Navy Memorial. It’s a location is symbolically located between the U.S. Capitol and White House. “We should always come together as, ‘We the people,'” Andrés added.

World Central Kitchen Executive Director Nate Mook said they’re preparing to cook at least a couple thousand meals and give some take-home food.

ny times logoNew York Times, Republicans Support Trump on the Shutdown. But for How Long? Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Jan. 15, 2019 (print edition). In the heart of Trump country, some furloughed workers spoke out in favor of President Trump’s demands for a border wall. Conflicting sentiments help explain why Senate Republicans remain in lock step with Mr. Trump, even as the longest government shutdown ever is in its fourth week.

Donald Trump Logo Make America Great AgainParkersburg, West Virginia — On Day 20 of the partial government shutdown last week, a small band of federal workers, shivering in 25-degree weather, staged a rally to send what their organizer, Eric Engle, said was a message to Senator Shelley Moore Capito: “We need to end this shutdown. If it takes overriding the president, that’s what it takes.”

But here in the heart of Trump country, that message is decidedly muffled, even in Parkersburg, where the federal government is one of the two largest employers. So strong is support for President Trump, who remains dug in on his demand for $5.7 billion to build a border wall, that even some furloughed workers insist Ms. Capito must stick with him.

“We need the wall,” Jessica Lemasters, 29, an accountant on furlough from the Treasury Department, said over lunch at the Corner Cafe, a few blocks from the rally. “I don’t like being furloughed, but it happens.”

More On Trump's Justice Nominee

CNN, Barr: Vitally important Mueller finishes investigation, Staff report, Jan. 16, 2019 (print edition). Attorney general nominee William Barr (shown above in a CNN screengrab from Jan. 15 Senate testimony) says he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller to finish his report, and that the public and Congress would be allowed to see the results.

washington post logowilliam barr o 1992Washington Post, Barr fields questions on Mueller probe, independence from Trump at attorney general confirmation hearing, Matt Zapotosky, Karoun Demirjian, Devlin Barrett and Seung Min Kim, Jan. 15, 2019. William P. Barr, President Trump’s nominee to be the next attorney general (shown in a 1992 file photo), is appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where senators will question him to determine whether he should lead the Justice Department.

The hearing began shortly after 9:30 a.m., and we will have live updates throughout the day here. The testimony will likely last the entire day; Graham decided that each senator will get 10 minutes to question Barr in a first round of inquiries and five in a second. Lawmakers are expected to question other witnesses on Wednesday.

A poll released last month found that 3 in 4 American adults believed the entire Mueller report should be made public. Two-thirds of Republicans agreed with that statement, while 9 in 10 Democrats agreed, according to the poll from NPR/“PBS NewsHour”/Marist.

Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) expressed concern that Justice Department regulations might keep important information from the public.

“The American people deserve to know what the Department of Justice has concluded,” Kennedy said. “I would strongly encourage you to put this all to rest. To make a final report public, and let everybody draw their own conclusions so we can move on. If somebody did something wrong, they should be punished. But if they didn’t, let’s stop the innuendo and the rumors and the leaking, and let’s move on.”

The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), told Barr: “We should be able to see the full information that comes out.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Will Democrats ask William Barr the right questions? Harry Litman, Jan. 15, 2019 (print edition). With the advance publication of attorney general nominee William P. Barr’s opening statement to the Judiciary Committee, the focus of his nomination hearing on Tuesday may shift from a fight about “recusal” to a fight about “transparency.”

Although some members of the committee may press Barr to recuse himself from Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians during 2016, that is not a realistic possibility.

Barr and the Republicans hold the cards. With a 53 to 47 Republican majority in the Senate, Barr’s confirmation seems assured unless the nominee comes unglued or makes a major gaffe. Neither seems likely; Barr is normally unflappable — he barely ever raises his voice — and too smart and well-prepared to step in it.

So what can the Democrats hope to achieve with adroit questioning of the nominee?

First, on the matter of recusal, they can try to exact a pledge that Barr will follow the guidance at every turn of career Justice Department ethics officials. Acting-Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker promised to consult with those officials, but the promise turned out to be empty and fundamentally dishonest because Whitaker simply ignored their counsel to recuse. In his committee questionnaire, Barr similarly promised only to consult with department ethics officials. The committee can ask him to take the next step. Otherwise, Barr would begin his tenure with a slap in the face to the department he is leading if he followed Whitaker’s example.

Harry Litman teaches constitutional law at the University of California at San Diego. He was U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania from 1998 to 2001 and deputy assistant attorney general from 1993 to 1998.

wayne madesen report logo

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Opinion: William Barr should have been disbarred long ago, Wayne Madsen, Jan. 15, 2019 (subscription required). Donald Trump's nominee for Attorney General, William Barr, the former Attorney General under George H. W. Bush, has a sordid track record that would make him the envy of any criminal syndicate, including, obviously, the Trump administration.

WMR Editor Wayne Madsen is a syndicated columnist, author of 16 books and a former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst.

William Barr, President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle as Bush signs civil rights commission reauthorization act rose garden

Attorney General William Barr, center, President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle as Bush signs the Civil Rights Commission Reauthorization Act

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Says He Alone Can Do It. His Attorney General Nominee Usually Agrees, Charlie Savage, right, Jan. 15, 2019 (print edition). William P. charlie savageBarr [with Senate confirmation hearing scheduled this week] has long espoused an unfettered vision of executive power. He may soon serve a president not known for self-restraint.

The meeting of President George Bush’s cabinet on Jan. 8, 1991, was even more high-stakes than usual. Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Half a million American troops were deployed and ready to attack. But many lawmakers were demanding a vote before any war.

Rejecting mainstream constitutional views, William P. Barr, the deputy attorney general, told Mr. Bush that he wielded unfettered power to start a major land war on his own — not only without congressional permission, but even if Congress voted against it.

“Mr. President, there’s no doubt that you have the authority to launch an attack,” Mr. Barr said, as he later recalled.

Justice Department log circularUltimately, Mr. Bush was cautious about invoking that maximalist theory of executive power and asked lawmakers for support anyway — a prudent step that Mr. Barr, whom Mr. Bush soon elevated to attorney general, also recommended. Congress’s vote ensured the Persian Gulf war was lawful.

Nearly three decades later, President Trump has nominated Mr. Barr to return as attorney general. But unlike the self-restrained Mr. Bush, Mr. Trump revels in pushing limits — a temperament that, when combined with Mr. Barr’s unusually permissive understanding of presidential power, could play out very differently for the rule of law than it did last time.

 Trump Staff Chief's Botched Deal

washington post logoWashington Post, Old land deal quietly haunts Mick Mulvaney as he serves as Trump’s chief of staff, Michael Kranish, Jan. 15, 2019 (print edition). An unpaid $2.5 million debt to a former business associate is the subject of a legal battle in South Carolina. Mick Mulvaney (shown below) was a young businessman and budding politician 11 years ago when he became co-owner of a company that wanted to build a strip mall near a busy intersection in this upscale bedroom community outside Charlotte.

mick mulvaney omb SmallAll that was needed was money.

The company cobbled together the financing — which included borrowing $1.4 million from a family firm owned by a prominent local businessman named Charles Fonville Sr., according to court records and interviews.

Eventually, the project fell apart. The mall never got built. And Mulvaney moved on, building a political career as a firebrand fiscal hawk and tea party pioneer in Congress who railed against out-of-control government deficits — eventually rising a few weeks ago to be President Trump’s acting chief of staff.

Fonville, however, said his company has not received the $2.5 million with interest that he said it is owed. In explaining the debt to a Senate committee during his 2017 confirmation hearing, Mulvaney cast it as a casualty of a bad real estate deal, saying the sum “will go unpaid.”

 $100 Million Drug Bribe Alleged

ny times logoNew York Times, El Chapo Trial: Former Mexican President Peña Nieto Took $100 Million Bribe, Witness Says, Alan Feuer, Jan. 15, 2019.  The former president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto (shown at right), took a $100 million bribe from Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the infamous crime lord known as El Chapo, according to a witness at Mr. Guzman’s trial.

enrique pea nieto oThe stunning testimony was delivered Tuesday in a New York courtroom by Alex Cifuentes Villa, a Colombian drug lord who worked closely with Mr. Guzmán from 2007 to 2013, when the kingpin was hiding from the law at a series of remote ranches in the Sierra Madre mountains.

“Mr. Guzmán paid a bribe of $100 million to President Peña Nieto?” Jeffrey Lichtman, one of Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers, asked Mr. Cifuentes during cross-examination.

“Yes,” Mr. Cifuentes said.

Mr. Guzmán may offer more details soon. Shortly after the jury was excused around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Mr. Lichtman submitted his client’s name to the prosecution as a potential witness for the defense, confirming that the drug trafficker might testify in his own trial. Mr. Lichtman said that adding Mr. Guzman’s name to the witness list does not guarantee that he will testify. It is simply “possible.”

“If I didn’t put him on the list, it would possibly foreclose the possibility for him to testify,” Mr. Lichtman said in an interview. “So, I was just being inclusive.”

Mr. Guzmán’s testimony would be a stunning development. While his lieutenants have shared details about the Sinaloa cartel’s operations, the kingpin himself could offer even more intimate information, such as how he possibly bribed a president of Mexico.

According to Mr. Cifuentes, Mr. Peña Nieto first reached out to Mr. Guzmán about the time he was elected president in late 2012, asking the drug lord for $250 million in exchange for calling off a nationwide manhunt for him.

But Mr. Guzmán made a counteroffer, Mr. Cifuentes added, saying he would give Mr. Peña Nieto only $100 million.

Crime Around U.S.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jayme Closs, Kidnapped by a Stranger, Endured Horror, Police Say, Matt Furber and Mitch Smith, Jan. 15, 2019 (print edition). The crime began with a chance encounter: From the moment Jake Patterson spotted a 13-year-old girl boarding a school bus last fall, he “knew that was the girl he was going to take,” Wisconsin investigators said in court documents released on Monday.

jayme closs sheriffs departmentIn the days that followed, Mr. Patterson, 21, mapped out his plot to abduct Jayme Closs (shown in a family photo widely distributed in missing person's hunt), a middle-school student whom he had never met before, the investigators said.

He took a shotgun from his father, switched out his car’s license plate and bought a mask from Walmart. He shaved his head and face — to leave no traces — and wiped clean his shotgun shells. He twice drove out to Jayme’s house in the small town of Barron, but saw cars in the driveway or people awake inside, the report says.

Then, late on an October night, Mr. Patterson pulled up again to the home of the Closs family — people he had never met — and killed Jayme’s father, James Closs, with a single blast of the shotgun. He then forced his way into a bathroom where Jayme and her mother, Denise, were hiding in a bathtub, the investigators said. He ordered Denise Closs to cover her daughter’s mouth with black tape, then killed Denise. Then he tied up Jayme and forced the teenager into the trunk of his car — all of it in a matter of four minutes.

The details of Jayme’s abduction and captivity, outlined in documents released as Mr. Patterson was formally charged in the kidnapping and killings, were elaborately planned, gruesome and terrifying. They told the story of a girl who was forced to spend three months held against her will in the cabin of a volatile stranger after having witnessed the deaths of her parents. It was the situation every parent fears — and one that experts say is exceedingly rare: a targeted attack on a child by a total stranger.

UK Brexit Vote Preview

ny times logoNew York Times, U.K. Parliament Is Set for Big Vote on Brexit Today, Staff report, Jan. 15, 2019. After two and a half years, Parliament will vote on a bill that dictates the terms of Britain’s departure from the European Union. The debate is expected to end late this afternoon, with voting scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Eastern. Stay here for live updates and analysis.

For Britain, the big vote is finally here.

united kingdom flagAfter two and a half years of negotiation, argument, predictions and posturing, Parliament will finally decide on Tuesday on a bill that dictates the terms of Britain’s departure from the European Union, one of the most closely watched votes the lawmakers are likely to cast in their careers.

theresa may home secretaryPrime Minister Theresa May (shown at right) has spent all her energies trying to convince Parliament — and Britain — that the divorce deal she negotiated with Brussels is the best way forward. But she hasn’t made the sale. The House of Commons is expected to defeat the deal by a wide margin, and no one is completely certain what will come next.

• Much is at stake: Britain’s place in Europe, its economic future and possibly the survival of Mrs. May’s Conservative government. Debate should end late this afternoon, with voting scheduled to start at 7 p.m. in London (2 p.m. Eastern).

Jan. 14

Special Reports On Trump From "The Atlantic"

djt cpac 2017 gage skidmore

Donald J. Trump (Gage Skidmore photo)

atlantic logoThe Atlantic, 50 Moments That Define an Improbable Presidency, Jeffrey Goldberg (Editor in chief, with background here), Jan. 14, 2018. In an October 2016 jeffrey goldbergeditorial, The Atlantic wrote of Donald Trump: “He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar.” We argued that Trump “expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself.”

Trump [shown below in a Gage Skidmore photo], we also noted, “is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.”

In retrospect, we may be guilty of understatement.

There was a hope, in the bewildering days following the 2016 election, that the office would temper the man—that Trump, in short, would change.

He has not changed.

atlantic logo horizontalThis week marks the midway point of Trump’s term. Like many Americans, we sometimes find the velocity of chaos unmanageable. We find it hard to believe, for example, that we are engaged in a serious debate about whether the president of the United States is a Russian-intelligence asset. So we decided to pause for a moment and analyze 50 of the most improbable, norm-bending, and destructive incidents of this presidency to date.

Mueller Probe: House Leader

robert mueller full face filePalmer Report, Opinion: We told you Devin Nunes was going down, and now Robert Mueller agrees, Bill Palmer, Jan. 14, 2019. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now confirmed to be investigating a meeting that took place between Devin Nunes, Michael Flynn, and representatives of the Turkish government at Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington DC during the transition period. The thing is, Palmer Report told you about this meeting a year and a half ago – and at the time, a major fact checking outlet falsely claimed that our reporting was incorrect.

bill palmer report logo headerThe Daily Beast is now reporting that Robert Mueller is knee deep in investigating Devin Nunes for his role in this meeting, devin nunes grimacingwhich is a big deal. Nunes (shown in a file photo) used his previous position as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to take various unethical and illegal steps in plain sight to try to sabotage Mueller’s investigation. Now that we have confirmation that Nunes is a target of the investigation, it makes his obstructive efforts all the more serious. It also gives additional importance to a disgusting display of dishonesty on the part of a major fact checker with regard to the Nunes-Flynn story.

Back on March 25th of 2017, before Robert Mueller had even been appointed, Palmer Report brought you the story of how Nunes and Flynn had met with Turkey during the transition period. Our source was a reputable Turkish publication called the Daily Sabah. Stunningly, the increasingly controversial fact checking site Snopes slapped an “Unproven” rating on our article, despite not being able to dispute a single word of it.

To this day, Snopes still has yet to retract its faulty fact check, or to apologize. But the public had a right to know that Devin Nunes was conspiring with Michael Flynn and Turkey. When Snopes falsely attacked our reporting on this matter, it prevented our article from being widely shared or accepted.

House Probe Of Trump

washington post logoWashington Post, Manafort case shows special counsel’s intense focus on Russia contacts, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, Jan. 14, 2019 (print edition). The court documents serve as a reminder that President Trump’s White House bid was led for a time by a man with long-standing ties to powerful Russian figures.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump denies working for Russia, calls past FBI leaders ‘known scoundrels,’ John Wagner, Jan. 14, 2019. ​The president's comments came in response to reports that he was the subject of an FBI investigation after he fired then-Director James B. Comey.

ny times logopeter baker twitterNew York Times, Analysis: Trump Confronts the Prospect of a ‘Nonstop Political War’ for Survival, Peter Baker, right, Jan. 14, 2019 (print edition). So it has come to this: The president of the United States was asked over the weekend whether he is a Russian agent. And he refused to directly answer.

The question, which came from a friendly interviewer, not one of the “fake media” journalists he disparages, was “the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he declared. But it is a question that has hung over his presidency now for two years.

If the now 23-day government shutdown standoff between Mr. Trump and Congress has seemed ugly, it may eventually seem tame by comparison with what is to come. The border wall fight is just the preliminary skirmish in this new era of divided government. The real battle has yet to begin.

With Democrats now in charge of the House, the special counsel believed to be wrapping up his investigation, news media outlets competing for scoops and the first articles of impeachment already filed, Mr. Trump faces the prospect of an all-out political war for survival that may make the still-unresolved partial government shutdown pale by comparison.

house democrat congressional committee leaders

New House Democratic committee chairs include, from left, Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters (both from California), Jerrold Nadler (NY) and Elijah Cummings (MD).

ny times logoNew York Times, Top Democrats Warn Trump Over Comments on Michael Cohen, Nicholas Fandos and Maggie Haberman, Jan. 14, 2019 (print edition). Three newly empowered Democratic House committee chairmen, alarmed by statements over the weekend by President Trump about his former lawyer’s planned testimony before Congress, cautioned on Sunday that any effort to discourage or influence a witness’s testimony could be construed as a crime.

us house logoThe warning, a stark and unusual message from some of Congress’s most influential Democrats, underscores the increasing legal and political peril facing Mr. Trump. Democrats are beginning their own investigations of him as the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, appears to move toward a conclusion in his investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and potential obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump.

michael cohen ap file croppedIn a Fox News interview on Saturday night, Mr. Trump accused the former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen [right], of lying about him to win leniency from federal prosecutors and spoke cryptically of the existence of damaging information against Mr. Cohen’s father-in-law. Mr. Cohen, who has been sentenced to three years in prison, has accused Mr. Trump of directing him to make illegal hush payments during the campaign.

“Our nation’s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress,” the chairmen wrote. “The president should make no statement or take any action to obstruct Congress’s independent oversight and investigative efforts, including by seeking to discourage any witness from testifying in response to a duly authorized request from Congress.”

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Investigative commentary: Why is Trump so afraid of Cohen's testimony? Wayne Madsen, Jan. 14, 2019 (Subscription required). Donald Trump continues to lash out at his former lawyer and "fixer," Michael Cohen, as the February 7 public testimony by Cohen before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), draws nearer. Cohen said he wants to "give a full and credible account of the events that have transpired."

Palmer Report, Commentary: Maxine Waters slam dunks Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Jan. 14, 2019. Donald Trump’s string of racist attacks maxine waters cnnagainst Congresswoman Maxine Waters over the past two years ended up backfiring when the Democrats won the House majority, and Waters was elevated to the Chair position of the powerful House Financial Services Committee. This means she has subpoena power over his financial scandals, and she’ll no doubt use it very soon.

For now, Waters (shown in a file photo0 is lighting up Trump over his more immediate scandals.

bill palmer report logo headerWaters posted this to Twitter about the escalating Trump-Russia treason scandal: “Americans should be shaken by what we know of Trump & Putin’s relationship & should NOT be surprised by the FBI counterintelligence investigation. Is Trump a Russian agent? If it walks like a duck & talks like a duck, then it is a duck – and the duck should be impeached. Please. No one should wonder why Manafort gave polling data to Russians. The only reason Russians wanted this info was to use it against H. Clinton in support of Trump. Why do you think Manafort w/ all his ties to Russia & Ukraine was in the campaign to begin with? Stay woke!”

U.S. Federal Shutdown

washington post logolindsey grahamWashington Post, Graham urges Trump to reopen government, declare national emergency later, Felicia Sonmez and Cat Zakrzewski, Jan. 14, 2019 (print edition). Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), right, said the president should continue trying to cut a deal with Democrats on funding his long-promised border wall before declaring an emergency if no progress is made in three weeks.

Roll Call, Burned in the past, Democrats reluctant to give ground in wall fight, Jennifer Shutt, Jan. 14, 2019. Democrats and allies concerned conceding would set a precedent for more rounds of brinksmanship. The partial government shutdown, now in its record-setting 24th day, is about more than just a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats and their allies are concerned that if party leaders cut a deal with President Donald Trump on wall funding, it would set a precedent for more rounds of dangerous brinksmanship in the months and democratic donkey logoyears to come.

angus king“If this shutdown that’s been initiated by the president works as a tactic to get a portion of his wall, he’ll do it next time,” Sen. Angus King of Maine, right, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said Friday on the Senate floor. “That’s why the age-old principle is you don’t negotiate with hostage-takers. Why? Because if you do, the next time they’ll do it again.”

Roll Call, House will vote this week on two stopgap funding bills to end shutdown, Lindsey McPherson, Jan. 14, 2019. The House this week will vote on two stopgap spending bills to reopen all closed government agencies, Democrats announced Monday. The Democrats have introduced two continuing resolutions with varying lengths. One, which would reopen the government through Feb. 1, will be voted under suspension of the rules on Tuesday, the fast-track procedural move that requires two-thirds support for passage. The other would open government through Feb. 28 and will be brought to the floor under a rule on Thursday.

Pop Political Parody

RandyRainbow.com, There is Nothin' Like a Wall, Randy Rainbow Song Parody, Jan. 14, 2019 (4:44 mins). Pence Speaks Amid Shutdown Crisis.

Global Affairs

wsj logoWall Street Journal, Ivanka Trump to Help Select Nominee for World Bank President, Josh Zumbrun and Alex Leary, Jan. 14, 2019. Selection of bank’s president is shaping up as a test for Trump administration’s international clout. Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s daughter and senior White House adviser, will help Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney lead the process of selecting the next World Bank president.

ivanka trump twitter portraitMs. Trump (shown in her Twitter photo) isn’t a candidate for the position but will “help manage the U.S. nomination process as she’s worked closely with the World Bank’s leadership for the past two years,” according a White House representative.

The selection is shaping up as a test of the Trump administration’s international clout. The World Bank president has always been an American, but this outcome isn’t guaranteed. The abrupt resignation of the bank’s president Jim Yong Kim has created an opportunity for countries seeking a non-American to lead the World Bank.

Any American candidate will have to win approval from the World Bank’s board of executive directors, which formally runs the selection process. The board comprises 25 representatives chosen from among the bank’s 189 member countries.

The largest shareholders of the World Bank — including the U.S., China, Japan, and Germany — each have an individual director who represents their interests. Smaller countries share directors.

The U.S. has the largest voting share of any individual country, at about 16%, but blocs of countries—including the European Union—have larger voting shares. Traditionally, the U.S. picks the head of the World Bank while Europe selects the chief of the International Monetary Fund.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Just get us out of Europe’: Hardcore Brexit supporters push to leave E.U. with no deal, William Booth and Karla Adam, united kingdom flagJan. 14, 2019 (print edition).  Parliament is set for a historic vote Tuesday on Prime Minister Theresa May’s unloved compromise to split from the European Union. But opponents say threats of chaos if the plan is rejected are overblown.

The Guardian, Brexit: Theresa May refuses to rule out Brexit article 50 extension, Jessica Elgot, Jan. 14, 2019. PM says she does not believe UK should delay leaving EU, but does not say it never would. Prime Minister Theresa May (below at right) has declined to categorically rule out an extension to theresa may home secretaryarticle 50 on the eve of the parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal, saying she wanted to deliver a “smooth and orderly” departure from the EU.

Speaking in Stoke-on-Trent as she announced an exchange of letters between the UK and the EU giving assurances on the Northern Ireland backstop arrangements, May said she did not believe the UK should delay leaving the EU, but did not say she would never accept such a delay.

united kingdom flagThe Guardian reported on Sunday that EU officials were laying the groundwork for an extension to article 50 until July this year, to allow all the necessary legislation to pass. The prime minister suggested this would not be desirable, but also stressed the need for an orderly exit. “We’re leaving on 29 March, I’ve been clear I don’t believe we should be extending article 50 and I don’t believe we should be having a second referendum,” May said.

May also warned MPs of the consequences of being seen to defy the referendum result. “The deal honours the vote in the referendum by translating the people’s instruction into a detailed and practical plan for a better future,” she said.

The American Conservative, Analysis: How Trump Thwarted Calculated Israeli Effort to Keep U.S. in Syria, Gareth Porter, Jan. 14, 2019. They worked hard only to have their plans scuttled. But don't expect them to stop the pressure.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s vow to ‘devastate’ Turkey rattles talks over U.S. withdrawal from Syria, John Hudson and Kareem Fahim, Jan. 14, 2019. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo crisscrossed the Middle East this week to explain the U.S. military withdrawal from Syria, he repeated that he was “confident” and “optimistic” that he was nearing a deal with Turkey on a mutually agreeable exit plan.

turkey flagBut a pugnacious tweet from President Trump on Sunday night vowing to “devastate” the Turkish economy if Ankara attacks U.S.-backed Kurds revealed a much wider chasm between the two sides and prompted a new round of recriminations from Turkey.

mevlut cavusoglu turkeyThe United States “will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” Trump tweeted.

Hours later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (left) blasted Trump’s “threatening language” and said his country was “not going to be scared or frightened off,” adding: “You will not get anywhere by threatening Turkey's economy.”

The row marked the second time in a week that the White House has intervened in negotiations led by the State Department in a way that infuriated Turkey and caught U.S. diplomats flat-footed. Trump’s tweet included a demand that Turkey create a “ 20 mile safe zone.” After the tweet, the Turkish lira lost about 0.84 percent of its value against the dollar.

Strategic Culture Foundation via Southfront, Opinion: Entering a Major Regional Re-set – The Syria Outcome Will Haunt Those Who Started This War, Alastair Crooke, The Middle East is metamorphosing. New fault-lines are emerging, yet Trump’s foreign policy ‘hawks’ still try to stage ‘old movies’ in a new ‘theatre.’

Bottom line: Things have not gone according to plan: America is not shaping the new Levantine ‘order’ – Moscow is. And Israel’s continual, blatant disregard of Russia’s own interests in the Levant, firstly infuriated, and finally has provoked the Russian high command into declaring the northern Middle East a putative no-fly zone for Israel. This represents a major strategic reversal for Netanyahu (and the US).

And finally, it is this repeating pattern of statements being made by the US President on foreign policy that are then almost casually contradicted, or ‘conditioned’, by some or other part of the US bureaucracy, that poses to the region (and beyond) the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. The pattern clearly is one of an isolated President, with officials emptying his statements of executive authority (until subsequently endorsed, or denied, by the US bureaucracy). It is making Trump almost irrelevant (in terms of the setting of foreign policy).

Is this then a stealth process – knowingly contrived – incrementally to remove Trump from power? A hollowing out of his Presidential prerogatives (leaving him only as a disruptive Twitterer) – achieved, without all the disruption and mess, of formally removing him from office? We shall see.

China Threatens Death Penalty

ny times logoNew York Times, Canadian Sentenced to Death in China as Diplomatic Rifts Deepen, Chris Buckley, Jan. 14, 2019. China’s diplomatic clash with Canada escalated sharply on Monday, when a Canadian man was sentenced to death for drug smuggling after a Chinese court overrode his plea of innocence at a retrial that had been swiftly called after tensions erupted between the two countries.

China FlagThe court in northeastern China announced the death penalty against the Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, after a retrial that lasted one day, and gave no indication that his sentence might be reduced to a prison sentence. Mr. Schellenberg’s fate is likely to become a volatile factor in diplomacy between Beijing and Ottawa after the Canadian authorities arrested a Chinese tech executive last month.

canadian flagProsecutors told the court that they “now have evidence that highly suggests Schellenberg was involved in organized international drug crime,” China’s central television broadcaster said in an online report. “Schellenberg argued that he was a tourist visiting China and framed by criminals.”

Mr. Schellenberg’s unusually swift appeal hearing and retrial came after the Chinese government was incensed by the December arrest in Vancouver, British Columbia, of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer.

U.S. Politics

Roll Call, Republican Steering panel votes not to seat Steve King on any committees, Lindsey McPherson, Jan. 14, 2019. “We believe in swift steve kingaction, because we do not believe in his words,” McCarthy says. The Republican Steering Committee unanimously decided Monday evening not to seat Iowa Rep. Steve King (shown in a file photo) on any committees for the 116th Congress, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters.

Earlier in the day, McCarthy met with King and communicated his intention to recommend that action to the Steering Committee. After the panel met and agreed with McCarthy’s recommendation, the California Republican said he called King to inform him of Steering’s decision.

King will still be allowed to attend House Republican Conference meetings, McCarthy said. King has faced widespread backlash in recent days for questioning, in a New York Times interview, why the terms “white supremacist” and “white nationalist” had become “offensive.”

“Leader McCarthy’s decision to remove me from committees is a political decision that ignores the truth,” King said in a statement Monday evening, adding that his Times quote “had been completely mischaracterized.”

The Iowa Republican had served on the Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees in the previous Congress. The Republican Steering Committee hadn’t yet made its recommendations for committee assignments for the 116th Congress so Monday’s decision was one to not to seat him rather to strip him of his assignments.

tulsi gabbardCaitlinJohnstone.com, Opinion: Five Reasons I’m Excited About Tulsi Gabbard’s Candidacy, Caitlin Johnstone, Jan. 14, 2019. Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard (right) has announced her intent to campaign for President of the United States, and the entire political spectrum is shitting bricks about it.

Mainstream liberals and neocons are calling her a Putin puppet and Assad’s BFF, leftists and progressives are criticizing her associations with right-wing factions in India and anti-LGBT comments she made in the early 2000s, conspiracy analysts are criticizing her Council on Foreign Relations membership, and the Zionist elements of Trump’s base are openly promising to destroy her candidacy. A lot of others, myself included, got a lot more interested in the 2020 elections when she threw her hat in.

I’m not interested in defending Gabbard from the criticisms that have been leveled at her at this time; many articles have been written toward that end already, and if she’s going to run for the most powerful elected office on the planet it’s fair to scrutinize and question what kind of person she is. I’m also not interested in endorsing anyone for the presidency. What I am interested in is the way Gabbard’s presence in the Democratic presidential primary race is already in January 2019 upsetting the standard establishment script and forcing foreign policy debates that need to happen.

Here are a five thoughts on that subject:

1 – Gabbard will definitely be the most antiwar candidate on the debate stage by a wide margin, except in the highly unlikely event that someone steps up from way out of left field to run like Dennis Kucinich....

Jan. 13

U.S. Federal Shutdown

washington post logoWashington Post, Americans blame Trump and GOP much more than Democrats for shutdown, Post-ABC poll finds, Scott Clement and Dan Balz, Jan. 13, 2019 (print edition). Support for building a border wall has increased over the past year, although 54 percent of Americans still oppose the idea.

President Donald Trump officialBy a wide margin, more Americans blame President Trump and Republicans in Congress than congressional Democrats for the now record-breaking government shutdown, and most reject the president’s assertion that there is an illegal-immigration crisis on the southern border, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Support for building a wall on the border, which is the principal sticking point in the stalemate between the president and Democrats, has increased over the past year. Today, 42 percent say they support a wall, up from 34 percent last January. A slight majority of Americans (54 percent) oppose the idea, down from 63 percent a year ago.

The increase in support is sharpest among Republicans, whose backing for Trump’s long-standing campaign promise jumped 16 points in the past year, from 71 percent to 87 percent. Not only has GOP support increased, it has also hardened. Today, 70 percent of Republicans say they strongly support the wall, an increase of 12 points since January 2018.

nancy pelosi chuck schumer cropped jan 8 2019 screengrab

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘In the White House waiting’: Inside Trump’s defiance on the longest shutdown ever, Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker and Seung Min Kim, Jan. 13, 2019 (print edition). Talks between the two parties remained stalled this weekend after the president torpedoed his last negotiating session with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) (shown above in a Jan. 8 television address) by walking out of the room.

Donald Trump Logo Make America Great AgainWith Trump determined to deliver on his signature campaign promise of building a border wall and Democrats standing firm against what they view as an immoral and ineffective solution to illegal immigration, there is no end in sight to the dysfunction.

The president who pitched himself to voters as a world-class dealmaker has proven to be an unreliable negotiator. Grappling for the first time with a divided government, Trump has contradicted himself, sent miscues and spread falsehoods. He has zigzagged between proudly claiming ownership of the shutdown and blaming it on Democrats, and between nearly declaring a national emergency to construct the wall without congressional approval and backing off such a legally and politically perilous action.

Trump's Radical Change At VA?

us veterans administrtion logo horizontal

ny times logoNew York Times, V.A. Seeks to Redirect Billions of Dollars Into Private Care, Jennifer Steinhauer and Dave Philipps, Jan. 13, 2019 (print edition). For individual veterans, private care could mean shorter waits, more choices and fewer requirements for co-pays. But critics say the current veterans’ health care system could be starved of resources.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing to shift billions of dollars from government-run veterans’ hospitals to private health care providers, setting the stage for the biggest transformation of the veterans’ medical system in a generation.

Under proposed guidelines, it would be easier for veterans to receive care in privately run hospitals and have the government pay for it. Veterans would also be allowed access to a system of proposed walk-in clinics, which would serve as a bridge between V.A. emergency rooms and private providers, and would require co-pays for treatment.

Veterans’ hospitals, which treat seven million patients annually, have struggled to see patients on time in recent years, hit by a double crush of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and aging Vietnam veterans. A scandal over hidden waiting lists in 2014 sent Congress searching for fixes, and in the years since, Republicans have pushed to send veterans to the private sector, while Democrats have favored increasing the number of doctors in the V.A.

If put into effect, the proposed rules — many of whose details remain unclear as they are negotiated within the Trump administration — would be a win for the once-obscure Concerned Veterans for America, an advocacy group funded by the network founded by the billionaire industrialists Charles G. and David H. Koch, which has long championed increasing the use of private sector health care for veterans.

Mueller Probe

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump kept details of meetings with Putin from senior officials in administration, Greg Miller, Jan. 13, 2019. On at least one occasion, President Trump took possession of his interpreter’s notes after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. officials said. There is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with Putin over the past two years, the officials said.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Exposed: Donald Trump’s treason is so severe, he’s been hiding the worst of it from his own people, Bill Palmer, Jan. 13, 2019. From the start, Donald Trump has been rather open and casual about his treasonous relationship with Russia. During the election, he publicly asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, a cyber war crime. Since illegitimately taking office, he’s stood next to Putin while attacking the United States.

bill palmer report logo headerIn a stunning new bombshell from the Washington Post today, we’re learning that after Donald Trump has spoken privately with Vladimir Putin, he’s personally seized the interpreter’s notes, and ordered the interpreter not to discuss the details with anyone. It’s one thing to try to prevent such secrets from becoming public; Trump has clearly been afraid even his own complicit underlings might turn against him if they learned just how treasonous these conversations have been.

This comes just one day after the New York Times bombshell about the FBI having opened a counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump in mid 2017. We don’t think this is a coincidence.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s wall battle could soon give way to bigger fights over Russia, impeachment, Greg Jaffe, Jan. 13, 2019. President Trump and his allies on Sunday derided recent reports that raised new questions about Trump’s interactions with Russians and their leader, Vladimir Putin.

U.S. War Planning Against Iran?

john bolton screengrab rt geneva

John Bolton during the press conference in Geneva, Via RT TV

Southfront, U.S. National Security Council Sought Military Options Against Iran Upon Request From John Bolton – Report, Staff report, Jan. 13, 2019. The National Security Council sought options for a military strike against Iran following a mortar attack near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad last year, which was allegedly carried out by an Iranian-backed group, the Wall Street Journal reported on January 13 citing U.S officials.

The mortar attack didn’t result in any casualties. Despite of this, National Security Advisor John Bolton asked the Pentagon to set up a plan to take military actions against not only Iran, but also Syria and Iraq.

“It definitely rattled people … People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran,” a former senior U.S. administration official, who was alarmed by Bolton’s request, told the New York-based newspaper.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Inside the tug of war over Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, Anne Gearan, Josh Dawsey and John Hudson​, Jan. 13, 2019. A multipronged effort by national security officials, foreign allies and GOP hawks in Congress to alter President Trump’s surprise decision is effectively a bust.

Jan. 12

robert mueller graphic IMG 6401

ny times logoNew York Times, F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia, Adam Goldman, Michael S. Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos, Jan. 12, 2019 (print edition). In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

FBI logoThe investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which robert mueller full face fileMr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III [shown above in a graphic and at right in a file photo], took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.

Palmer Report, Opinion: One of Donald Trump’s people sold him out the day he fired James Comey, Bill Palmer, Jan. 12, 2019. Hours after the release of the New York Times bombshell report that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation against Donald Trump in mid 2017, we’re still sifting through the pieces and putting them into context.

The first observation here is that the FBI had solid evidentiary grounds to believe that Trump was serving as a Russian spy. The second is that one of Trump’s own people sold him out immediately after he fired Comey.

bill palmer report logo headerIt’s long been reported that Donald Trump drafted a letter explaining his firing of James Comey which was highly self-incriminating, but then White House Counsel Don McGahn intervened and convinced Trump not to send it, and that the unsent letter eventually ended up in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s hands. But this new NYT expose reveals that the FBI had a copy of the letter at the time it opened the counterintelligence probe, before Mueller was even hired.

This means that one of Donald Trump’s own people immediately turned over that unsent letter to the FBI. It could have McGahn; if so, it would mean he was cooperating with the Feds even sooner than previously reported. It could have been Rod Rosenstein, who at that point had only been Deputy Attorney General for roughly two weeks. It could have been someone else. But only a small circle of Trump’s top people would have even known at the time that the letter existed.

So now we know that one or more of Donald Trump’s own top people began reporting his crimes far sooner than we previously thought. This means the FBI and Robert Mueller have had a much deeper window into Trump’s crime spree. That makes it even more likely that Mueller’s report will be nothing short of devastating for Trump, and for anyone in his circle who didn’t cooperate with the probe.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Is there a FISA warrant against Donald Trump? Bill Palmer, Jan. 12, 2019. Last night we learned that the FBI opened a rosemary collyercounterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump in May of 2017. This means that at the time, the FBI had solid evidence that Trump was a Kremlin spy. Now it’s time to ask the obvious question: has there been a FISA surveillance warrant against Trump for the past year and a half?

[Chief Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, right, a Republican nominee of then President George W. Bush, presides over the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, also called the FISA Court.)]

bill palmer report logo headerLet’s be clear here. The FBI would absolutely have sought a FISA eavesdropping warrant against any American being investigated for acting as a foreign government spy.

In fact the Feds had FISA warrants against Paul Manafort and Carter Page during the election for that reason. So if there hasn’t been a FISA warrant against Donald Trump, the only reason would be that he’s occupying the office of President of the United States.

Shutdown Sets Record

ny times logoNew York Times, This Government Shutdown Is the Longest One Ever, Mihar Zaveri, Guilbert Gates and Karen Zraick, Updated Jan. 12, 2019.  The shutdown has entered its 22nd day, making it the longest gap in American government funding ever.
The roots of today’s dysfunction date back to some critical decisions starting in the 1970s. Here’s why the government has lurched into crisis over the budget so often since then.

ny times logoNew York Times, Government Shutdown Squeezes Contractors as Checks Stop and Invoices Stall, Michael Corkery, Jan. 12, 2019. Contractors have found themselves in the same predicament as the roughly 800,000 federal employees who are not being paid, except the outcome may be worse. They do not expect to be reimbursed for unpaid wages once President Trump and Congress agree to reopen the government.

Global News

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: John Bolton’s Wars, Carol Giacomo (a member of the editorial board). Jan. 12, 2019. It falls to the national security adviser to defend the incomprehensible. This past week Mr. Bolton journeyed to Ankara to discuss the American role in the Syrian civil war with Turkish government officials, only to run smack into another autocrat with a short fuse, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish leader canceled a planned meeting with Mr. Bolton and then publicly excoriated him.

recep erdogan with flagSuch humiliations pale, however, when one considers the Gordian knot that Mr. Bolton went to Ankara to untangle. That is, how to stop Mr. Erdogan [left] from slaughtering Syrian Kurdish forces, who have been essential in fighting the Islamic State, after the Americans leave northern Syria. Mr. Erdogan considers the Syrian Kurds to be terrorists aligned with those in Turkey who have been in a separatist battle with the state for about 40 years.

Mr. Bolton’s diplomatic mission was unusually tough because both Turkey and the Kurds are partners of the United States. The Syrian Kurds are formidable fighters, and the progress against ISIS that Mr. Trump touts would have been impossible without them.

A precipitous American withdrawal now, without some kind of safety guarantee for the Kurds, would be disastrous for an ethnic group that has been betrayed before, and damaging for the United States, which would be viewed as an untrustworthy friend. One possible solution is for the Kurds to seek a protection agreement with the three powers that now control most of Syria: the Assad government, Iran and Russia.

Jan. 11

Shutdown Battles

washington post logoWashington Post, Commentary: 'The story keeps changing’: Trump falsely asserts he never promised Mexico would directly pay for wall, David Nakamura, Jan. 11, 2019 (print edition). President Trump’s mendacity over how he planned to pay for his top campaign promise has boxed him in.

ny times logoNew York Times, White House Considers Using Storm Aid Funds as a Way to Pay for the Border Wall, Michael Tackett and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Jan. 11, 2019 (print edition). President Trump traveled to the border on Thursday to warn of crime and chaos on the frontier, as White House officials considered diverting emergency aid from storm- and fire-ravaged Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and California to build a border barrier, perhaps under an emergency declaration.

djt smiling fileIn a sign of growing unease about the partial government shutdown, some Senate Republicans came off the sidelines to hash out a deal that would reopen the government as Congress worked toward a broader agreement tying wall funds to protection for some undocumented immigrants and other migrants.

But before those negotiations could gain momentum, they collapsed. Vice President Mike Pence and other members of Mr. Trump’s team let it be known privately that the president would not back such a deal.

Related stories:

washington post logoWashington Post, White House eyes disaster money to help fund border wall under emergency plan, Erica Werner, Josh Dawsey, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim, Jan. 11, 2019 (print edition). The administration is looking at unused money in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, specifically a disaster bill passed by Congress that includes $13.9 billion for projects in areas such as hurricane-hit regions in Texas and Puerto Rico.

washington post logoWashington Post, Administration stretches rules to restore stalled services, Damian Paletta, Jan. 11, 2019 (print edition). Officials asked federal agencies for a list of services to resume in order to minimize the effects of the shutdown. The move and other directives have prompted criticism from Democrats and some Republicans.

Roll Call, Raiding military budget for wall would contradict previous Trump administration statements, John M. Donnelly, Jan 11, 2019. Mulvaney complained last year of key military projects being underfunded If President Donald Trump uses emergency powers to tap the military’s construction budget to bankroll a border wall, it would contradict his administration’s previous statements that the so-called milcon programs need more money, not less.

While the president signed into law last September legislation that allocated about $8.1 billion for military construction projects in fiscal 2019, that figure was nearly $800 million less than Trump proposed. And it was almost $1.5 billion less than the military services had wanted at that time.

Last June, when Congress debated scaled-back military construction spending, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told lawmakers the military construction spending request for fiscal 2019 had been carefully assembled to meet important military objectives. Reductions, he said, were not warranted. Mulvaney now also serves as acting White House chief of staff.

U.S. Withdrawal From Syria

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. military begins withdrawing troops from Syria, initiating a drawdown that blindsided allies, Louisa Loveluck and John Hudson​, Jan. 11, 2019. The U.S. military said Friday it has begun withdrawing troops from Syria, initiating a drawdown that has blindsided allies and sparked a scramble for control of the areas that American troops will leave.

Centcom logoU.S. forces have “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” read a statement from the U.S.-led coalition. “Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements.”

President Trump’s Dec. 19 announcement that he was moving to disentangle some 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria’s complex battlefield sparked fears that the move might undo efforts to defeat the Islamic State’s final remnants in Syria.

It also marked the culmination of years of criticism by Trump over Washington’s role in foreign wars. In public statements, he had repeatedly suggested that he wanted to bring American troops back home.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Equipment, but Not Troops, Begins Exiting Syria in Chaotic Withdrawal, Eric Schmitt, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Ben Hubbard, Jan. 11, 2019. Officials said the number of American troops might actually increase slightly in Syria, to help protect the final process of pulling out. There are currently about 2,000 troops in the country to oust the remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters and secure newly-liberated areas from their return.

The American military has started withdrawing some equipment, but no troops yet, from Syria as part of President Trump’s order to wind down that battleground against the Islamic State, two Defense Department officials said on Friday amid continuing confusion over plans to disengage from one of the Middle East’s most complex conflicts.

The officials said the number of American troops might actually increase slightly in Syria, to help protect the final process of pulling out — an operation that is still expected to take at least four to six months to complete. There are currently about 2,000 troops — mostly Army soldiers and Marines — in northeast Syria or in the Middle Euphrates River Valley to oust the remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters and secure newly-liberated areas from their return.

A vaguely worded statement from the American military headquarters in Baghdad, which is overseeing the fight against the Islamic State, said the withdrawal process from Syria had begun. Last month, officials said, Mr. Trump said that he intended to pull out American troops within 30 days.

But as recently as Sunday, the White House national security adviser, John R. Bolton, had said that the pullout was conditional — based on circumstances that could leave American forces there for months or even years.

Shutdown Battles

washington post logoWashington Post, Commentary: 'The story keeps changing’: Trump falsely asserts he never promised Mexico would directly pay for wall, David Nakamura, Jan. 11, 2019 (print edition). President Trump’s mendacity over how he planned to pay for his top campaign promise has boxed him in.

ny times logoNew York Times, White House Considers Using Storm Aid Funds as a Way to Pay for the Border Wall, Michael Tackett and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Jan. 11, 2019 (print edition). President Trump traveled to the border on Thursday to warn of crime and chaos on the frontier, as White House officials considered diverting emergency aid from storm- and fire-ravaged Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and California to build a border barrier, perhaps under an emergency declaration.

djt smiling fileIn a sign of growing unease about the partial government shutdown, some Senate Republicans came off the sidelines to hash out a deal that would reopen the government as Congress worked toward a broader agreement tying wall funds to protection for some undocumented immigrants and other migrants.

But before those negotiations could gain momentum, they collapsed. Vice President Mike Pence and other members of Mr. Trump’s team let it be known privately that the president would not back such a deal.

Related stories:

washington post logoWashington Post, White House eyes disaster money to help fund border wall under emergency plan, Erica Werner, Josh Dawsey, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim, Jan. 11, 2019 (print edition). The administration is looking at unused money in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, specifically a disaster bill passed by Congress that includes $13.9 billion for projects in areas such as hurricane-hit regions in Texas and Puerto Rico.

washington post logoWashington Post, Administration stretches rules to restore stalled services, Damian Paletta, Jan. 11, 2019 (print edition). Officials asked federal agencies for a list of services to resume in order to minimize the effects of the shutdown. The move and other directives have prompted criticism from Democrats and some Republicans.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘I’m in trouble’: Virginia farmer hurting from shutdown, Lee Powell, Jan. 11, 2019 (video). Farmer John Boyd, 53, of Baskerville, Va., is facing a double calamity: tariffs have sunk the prices of crops like soybeans, but financial relief from the federal government hasn’t come because the Department of Agriculture is closed.

washington post logoWashington Post, First Person Opinion: When you have stage IV cancer, the shutdown is about more than a missed paycheck, Whitney Shefte, Jan. 11, 2019 (3:56 min. video). A federal employee with colon cancer grapples with complicated insurance problems as a result of the partial government shutdown.

Roll Call, Raiding military budget for wall would contradict previous Trump administration statements, John M. Donnelly, Jan 11, 2019. Mulvaney complained last year of key military projects being underfunded If President Donald Trump uses emergency powers to tap the military’s construction budget to bankroll a border wall, it would contradict his administration’s previous statements that the so-called milcon programs need more money, not less.

While the president signed into law last September legislation that allocated about $8.1 billion for military construction projects in fiscal 2019, that figure was nearly $800 million less than Trump proposed. And it was almost $1.5 billion less than the military services had wanted at that time.

Last June, when Congress debated scaled-back military construction spending, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told lawmakers the military construction spending request for fiscal 2019 had been carefully assembled to meet important military objectives. Reductions, he said, were not warranted. Mulvaney now also serves as acting White House chief of staff.

U.S. Withdrawal From Syria

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. military begins withdrawing troops from Syria, initiating a drawdown that blindsided allies, Louisa Loveluck and John Hudson​, The U.S. military said Friday it has begun withdrawing troops from Syria, initiating a drawdown that has blindsided allies and sparked a scramble for control of the areas that American troops will leave.

Centcom logoU.S. forces have “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” read a statement from the U.S.-led coalition. “Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements.”

President Trump’s Dec. 19 announcement that he was moving to disentangle some 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria’s complex battlefield sparked fears that the move might undo efforts to defeat the Islamic State’s final remnants in Syria.

It also marked the culmination of years of criticism by Trump over Washington’s role in foreign wars. In public statements, he had repeatedly suggested that he wanted to bring American troops back home.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Equipment, but Not Troops, Begins Exiting Syria in Chaotic Withdrawal, Eric Schmitt, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Ben Hubbard, Jan. 11, 2019. Officials said the number of American troops might actually increase slightly in Syria, to help protect the final process of pulling out. There are currently about 2,000 troops in the country to oust the remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters and secure newly-liberated areas from their return.

The American military has started withdrawing some equipment, but no troops yet, from Syria as part of President Trump’s order to wind down that battleground against the Islamic State, two Defense Department officials said on Friday amid continuing confusion over plans to disengage from one of the Middle East’s most complex conflicts.

The officials said the number of American troops might actually increase slightly in Syria, to help protect the final process of pulling out — an operation that is still expected to take at least four to six months to complete. There are currently about 2,000 troops — mostly Army soldiers and Marines — in northeast Syria or in the Middle Euphrates River Valley to oust the remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters and secure newly-liberated areas from their return.

A vaguely worded statement from the American military headquarters in Baghdad, which is overseeing the fight against the Islamic State, said the withdrawal process from Syria had begun. Last month, officials said, Mr. Trump said that he intended to pull out American troops within 30 days.

But as recently as Sunday, the White House national security adviser, John R. Bolton, had said that the pullout was conditional — based on circumstances that could leave American forces there for months or even years.

Genocide / Press Freedom

myanmar map

kyaw soe ooo left wa lone jorge silva reuters photo

Imprisoned Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo, left, and Wa Lone last year (Reuters photo by Jorge Silva).

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Opinion: Myanmar court confirms seven-year jail terms for Reuters journalists, Staff report, Jan. 11, 2019. RSF is appalled to learn that Myanmar’s high court today upheld the seven-year jail sentences of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo on appeal. RSF now urges the country’s highest authorities to end their nightmare.

myanmar flagIn a shocking decision handed down this morning in Yangon, the high court also upheld their convictions on charges of violating the Official Secrets Act. It concluded the utterly iniquitous judicial process to which these two journalists have been subjected ever since their arrest in a trap set by the police in December 2017.

“Everything about this case, both the substance and its conduct, called for their convictions to be overturned, but Myanmar’s justice system has shown its determination until the very end to punish Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo although they just did their job as reporters,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

win myint myanmar 2018 president“This decision constitutes yet further evidence, if any were needed, of the judicial system’s unacceptable manipulation by the executive and dramatically signifies the end of Myanmar’s democratic transition. We now call on its highest political officials to pardon these journalists as quickly as possible so that they can be reunited with their families.”

President Win Myint (left), who is an ally of government leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has the power to issue pardons, which are traditionally given at the time of the Burmese New Year in April. Regardless of the final outcome, the authorities have already sent a chilling message to Myanmar’s journalists: that this is the price you will pay if you dare to investigate subjects that are off limits.

myanmar execution reuters photo

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did some remarkable investigative reporting on a massacre of Rohingya civilians by soldiers in Inn Din, a village in the north of Rakhine state, that that was widely seen as an act of genocide or ethnic cleansing. Their arrest was regarded as a punishment orchestrated by the security forces.

The region where the massacre took place, the traditional home of Myanmar’s Rohingya community, continues to be completely inaccessible to journalists aside from those who have been taken there on pathetic propaganda visits that are tightly controlled by the authorities.

U.S. Foreign Policy

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump and Pompeo Embrace Autocrats and Disparage Opponents at Home, Mark Landler, Jan. 11, 2019 (print edition). President Trump’s affinity for strongmen is well established, but rarely has his administration offered such a striking break with diplomatic tradition. President Trump has long claimed that he puts “America first” overseas. But in two remarkable statements on Thursday, Mr. Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, explicitly favored foreign autocrats over elected American leaders.

Mr. Pompeo chose Cairo, the site of President Barack Obama’s 2009 address to the Islamic world, to deliver a caustic, point-by-point repudiation of Mr. Obama’s message. He paid tribute to Egypt’s repressive president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for his courage in supporting Mr. Trump’s alternative approach.

About an hour later, on the South Lawn of the White House, Mr. Trump said that China’s Communist Party bosses negotiated in better faith than the Democratic leaders in Congress, with whom the president is in a bitter standoff over his border wall that has shut down much of the federal government.

This is the same China that Mr. Trump’s national security strategy designated as one of the greatest threats to American interests — a revisionist power determined to “erode American security and prosperity” with predatory trade practices, military aggression, and a regime that represses its people while trying to undermine America’s democracy.

Mr. Trump’s affinity for strongmen is well established, as is his contempt for his predecessor and his habit of gleefully ridiculing opponents, regardless of their party affiliation. But rarely has the Trump administration offered such a striking display of embracing autocrats as friends and painting those at home with whom it disagrees as enemies.

Trump Probes

ny times logoNew York Times, Michael Cohen Agrees to Testify to Congress About Work for Trump, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos, Jan. 11, 2019 (print edition). Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer who implicated him in a scheme to pay hush money to two women claiming to have had affairs with him, said on Thursday that he had agreed to testify before a House committee next month and give “a full and credible account” of his work for Mr. Trump.

michael cohen ap file croppedMr. Cohen’s decision to appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7 sets the stage for a blockbuster public hearing that threatens to further damage the president’s image and could clarify the depth of his legal woes. Mr. Cohen (right), a consigliere to Mr. Trump when he was a real estate developer and presidential candidate as well as informally when he was president, was privy to the machinations of Mr. Trump’s inner circle and to key moments under scrutiny by both the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and federal prosecutors in New York.

He could soon share many of them on national television under oath. But potential constraints emerged almost immediately on Thursday when the committee’s chairman warned that Mr. Cohen most likely would be barred by Mr. Mueller from discussing matters related to Russia.

“In furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement, “I have accepted the invitation by Chairman Elijah Cummings to appear publicly on Feb. 7. I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired.”

Global Affairs

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ny times logoNew York Times, Pompeo Speech Lays Out Vision for Mideast, Taking Shots at Obama, Declan Walsh and David E. Sanger, Jan. 11, 2019 mike pompeo portrait(print edition). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) laid out his vision for America’s role in the Middle East on Thursday, telling a university audience in Cairo that “the age of self-inflicted American shame is over” and that the United States would pursue a more activist policy, despite President Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria.

Mr. Pompeo’s prescription was short on specifics, beyond bolstering alliances with Arab autocrats loyal to Washington. Instead he painted a picture of a Middle East cast into chaos by President Barack Obama, and that can only be rescued by crushing Iran.

He advocated a policy of containment of Iran’s power, pressing for allies in the region to isolate the country. He vowed to “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria, but offered no plan to achieve that goal at a moment when the American force of 2,000 troops is scheduled to withdraw.

And in an unusually explicit and personal attack on a former president’s foreign policy, a decade after Mr. Obama delivered a landmark speech at another Cairo university, Mr. Pompeo excoriated Mr. Obama for “fundamental misunderstandings” about the region that “underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism.

U.S. Murder-Kidnapping

jayme closs sheriffs departmentJayme Closs, 13 (shown in a sheriff's department missing persons file photo at right), was found nearly 3 months after her parents were fatally shot at their home in Wisconsin. Law enforcement authorities said that Jake T. Patterson, 21, was being held as a suspect in her disappearance.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Jayme Closs Found in Wisconsin; Kidnapping Suspect in Custody, Christina Capecchi and Sarah Maslin Nir, Jan. 11, 2019. A 21-year-old man was being held in the disappearance of a teenager, Jayme Closs, who had vanished from her rural Wisconsin home on the same fall night that her parents were found fatally shot there.

Jake T. Patterson, 21, was being held pending formal charges of murder and kidnapping, the authorities announced on Friday morning, as family members and neighbors of Jayme expressed shock and relief that the girl had been found alive nearly three months after she had gone missing. The disappearance had set off a massive, lengthy police hunt that ended on Thursday afternoon when the girl escaped and was found wandering on a road by a passer-by near Gordon, about an hour north of her Barron County home.

Jayme, 13, was discovered by a woman walking her dog, the authorities said, and the girl’s descriptions of her abductor’s car quickly led officials to locate and arrest the suspect. The authorities said Jayme had been taken against her will and had escaped from the home where she had been held.

“In cases like this we often need a big break, and it was Jayme herself who gave us that break,” said Justin Tolomeo, the special agent in charge of the Milwaukee division of the F.B.I.

In a statement on Instagram, Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted from her home as a teenager in 2002 and held for nine months, called Jayme’s rescue a miracle, and said she was praying for a “joyous reunion” for Jayme and her extended family.

Slavery Conviction In Texas

mohamed toure left denise Cros Toure

Mohamed Toure, left, and Denise Cros-Toure, a couple who lived in a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, were found guilty of enslaving a Guinean girl for 16 years (Tarrant County Sheriff's Department, via Associated Press)

New York Times, Texas Couple Found Guilty of Enslaving Girl From Guinea for 16 Years, Niraj Chokshi, Jan. 11, 2019. A federal jury on Thursday found a Texas couple guilty of enslaving a girl from Guinea for 16 years at their home in a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, where she was forced to cook, clean and care for their children, investigators said.

Federal authorities had accused the couple, Mohamed Toure and Denise Cros-Toure of Southlake, of forcing the girl to work for them and their five children from when she was 6 until she was 22, according to a court filing. Mr. Toure is the son of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sékou Touré, who led the country for 26 years until his death in 1984.

After a four-day trial and a day of deliberations, the jury found the couple guilty on several counts, including the forced labor charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.

“I’m gratified that we were able to obtain a measure of justice for this young woman, who suffered for years at the hands of this couple,” Erin Nealy Cox, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement.

In an April court filing, a special agent for the State Department laid out the case against the couple.

The agent said that Mr. Toure and Ms. Cros-Toure had forced the girl, identified as “Female Victim 1,” to cook, clean and provide child care without pay. The authorities also said the couple had physically and emotionally abused the girl.

Lawyers for Mr. Toure and Ms. Cros-Toure dismissed the government’s claims, arguing that the couple had tried to help the girl, identified in court documents as “D.D.” and by The Dallas Morning News as Djena Diallo.

“They were trying not to send her back to Guinea and keep her here in America so she would have a better life,” Brady T. Wyatt III, who represented Mr. Toure, said in an interview.

According to the April filing, the young woman, who is now 24, told the investigator that she had grown up in a mud hut in a village in Guinea. When she was young, her father, a farmer, took her to the home of Ms. Cros-Toure’s parents, where she cared for Ms. Cros-Toure’s sister for one to two years.

Jan. 10

Shutdown Skirmishes

washington post logoWashington Post, Democrats press to reopen government as president heads to the border, John Wagner, Jan. 10, 2019. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has so far rebuffed efforts by Democrats to pass spending bills. Democrats sought unsuccessfully Thursday to pass bills to reopen shuttered government agencies as President Trump headed to the U.S.-Mexico border in a bid to gain leverage in a stalemate over funding his long-promised border wall.

ny times logoNew York Times, Farm Country Stood by Trump. But the Shutdown Is Pushing It to Breaking Point, Jack Healy and Tyler Pager, Jan. 10, 2019. Farmers supported President Trump even as many have strained under two years of slumping incomes and billions in losses from his trade wars. Now the shutdown has halted payments and loans crucial for them to make decisions. “We’re being played the stooge,” one farmer said.

ny times logoNew York Times, The shutdown means that E.P.A. pollution inspectors aren’t on the job, Coral Davenport, Jan. 9, 2019. The two-week-old shutdown has halted one of the federal government’s most important public health activities, the inspections of chemical factories, power plants, oil refineries, water treatment plants, and thousands of other industrial sites for pollution violations.

U.S. Crime

ny times logoNew York Times, Girl Found Alive Months After Her Parents Were Killed, Sarah Maslin Nir and Julia Jacobs, Jan. 10, 2019. A 13-year-old girl who disappeared the same night her parents were shot to death in their rural Wisconsin home nearly three months ago was found alive on jayme closs sheriffs departmentThursday and a suspect was in custody, the authorities said.

The girl, Jayme Closs (shown in a sheriff's department missing persons photo), was discovered late Thursday afternoon in Douglas County, north of her hometown, Barron, Wis., the authorities said. The family was notified at about 7:30 p.m.

Jayme was in a hospital and being evaluated, her uncle, Jeff Closs, said. “We’re very happy that she is alive,” he wrote in a text message to a reporter. “We don’t know much else.”

Jayme had been missing since Oct. 15, when the authorities found her parents, James and Denise Closs, dead in their home, the front door open and Jayme gone. The double homicide of the Closses, a quiet couple who worked at the local turkey plant, and the mystery of their daughter’s disappearance riveted Barron, a town of just over 3,400. A manhunt drew more than 2,100 tips and thousands of volunteers. All over town, shops and homes hung green ribbons bearing the words “Find Jayme Closs.” The local police force of 78 swelled as a corps of 200 federal, state and local officers joined a hunt that went on day and night.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Why Trump’s Leadership Style Isn’t Working in the White House, James B. Stewart, Jan. 10, 2019. Two years into the Trump administration, it’s increasingly apparent that while the management traits he developed in the private sector may have propelled him into the White House, they’re not serving him well now that he’s there.

Mr. Trump was able to assemble a relatively stable and loyal team of people who worked for him for years when he ran his private business. His failure to do so at the White House — save for a couple of survivors including Kellyanne Conway and family members like Jared Kushner — may be his most perplexing and conspicuous management failure.

In the first year of Mr. Trump’s presidency, one-third of his top White House appointees left — unprecedented for the country’s chief executive. For the top dozen appointees, the rate was 50 percent. This past year with still more churn, the total turnover rate hit 83 percent, according to the Brookings Institution, which is tracking personnel moves at the White House. No other president has come close in his first two years.

The only survivors among the top 12 White House appointees are Bill McGinley, a low-profile adviser and the cabinet secretary, and Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Trump Storms Out From Shutdown Meeting

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump walks out of meeting after Democrats reject wall funds, Erica Werner, Sean Sullivan, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim​, Jan. 10, 2019 (print edition). White House negotiations about the partial government shutdown collapsed into acrimony and disarray on Wednesday, with President Trump calling the talks "a total waste of time" and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer calling his actions "a temper tantrum."

djt handwave fileTalks between President Trump [shown in a file photo] and congressional Democrats aimed at ending a partial government shutdown collapsed in acrimony and disarray Wednesday, with the president walking out of a White House meeting and calling it “a total waste of time” after Democrats rejected his demand for border wall funding.

Furious Democrats accused Trump of slamming his hand on the table before he exited, and they said he ignored their pleas to reopen the federal government as they continue to negotiate over his border wall demands. With the shutdown nearing the three-week mark, some 800,000 workers are about to lose their first paycheck.

“He thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money. But they can’t,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), an implicit dig at Trump’s wealthy upbringing.

Shutdown Solution or Constitutional Crisis?

Roll Call, Trump sends clear signal he’s moving toward a national emergency over southern border, John T. Bennett, Jan. 10, 2019. Move could circumvent shutdown standoff. President Donald Trump sent another clear signal he is moving close to declaring a national emergency at the southern border if he cannot cut a border security deal with Democrats to end a partial government shutdown. Trump told reporters “I have the option” to do so, saying of talks with Democrats: “If this doesn’t work out, I’ll probably will do it — maybe definitely.”

Trump’s comments came as he left the White House for a high-profile visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. The trip comes amid a bitter standoff with congressional Democratic leaders, including a contentious Situation Room meeting that Trump abruptly ended after a row over his proposed southern border wall, which Democrats vehemently oppose.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Trump’s Emergency Powers Threat Could End Shutdown Crisis, but at What Cost? Charlie Savage, Jan. 10, 2019 (print edition). President Trump’s repeated threat to declare a national emergency so he can build his border wall without congressional approval has been denounced by Democrats as extreme and an overreach. But it could be the only politically realistic way out of the shutdown crisis in the nation’s capital.

“I think we might work a deal, and if we don’t, I may go that route. I have the absolute right to do national emergency if I want,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Wednesday. “My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable.”

If the president does invoke emergency powers to circumvent Congress, it would be an extraordinary violation of constitutional norms — and establish a precedent for presidents who fail to win approval for funding a policy goal.

But Mr. Trump’s threatened move offers both sides a face-saving solution in the budget standoff between the president and congressional Democrats that has prompted a partial government shutdown, which, if it lasts to Saturday, will be at 22 days the longest in American history.

washington post logoWashington Post, Commentary: Trump just undermined his own border-wall ‘national emergency,’ Aaron Blake, Jan. 10, 2019 (print edition). Trump said Wednesday that he would only declare a national emergency for the border wall if he can't get Congress to fund it. That could undermine his own legal defense of such an action.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: End the telenovela. It’s time for a real solution for dreamers and the border, Janet Murguía (Janet Murguía is president and chief executive of UnidosUS), Jan. 10, 2019 (print edition). This shutdown happened because of the fiction that a wall — which has morphed in President Trump’s mind from a massive concrete structure to essentially steel venetian blinds — will supposedly fix the immigration issue.

We could be charitable and say that Trump keeps moving the goal posts, but that would imply a playing field even exists. By all accounts, a wall along the southern border would be a wasteful, ineffective and deeply unpopular monument to the president’s fantasies and, more likely than not, impossible to achieve. The wall is such a boondoggle, even some hard-liners in the extremist, anti-immigrant movement don’t want it.

Future of Freedom Foundation, Opinion: President Bolton? Or Worse? Jacob G. Hornberger, Jan. 10, 2019. President Trump excited many non-jacob hornberger headshotinterventionists when he publicly announced that he was ordering an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Quite quickly, however, Trump bent to pressure and agreed to extend the withdrawal deadline to four months. That caused me to write an article on January 2 entitled “It’s Too Soon to Celebrate Trump’s Syria Withdrawal.”

Then came the stunning announcement by National Security Advisor John Bolton declaring that no U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Syria until ISIS has been totally defeated and only after Turkey has promised not to attack Kurdish forces, which have assisted Trump with his Syria intervention. Bolton’s announcement necessarily means that Trump’s deadline has now been extended far beyond the four-month extension. Indeed, for all practical purposes it implies that U.S. troops are going to remain in Syria indefinitely, the very thing that Trump initially said he was going to end immediately.

The question naturally arises: Who’s in charge here — Trump or Bolton? Wouldn’t one ordinarily think that it’s the president, not the person working for the president, who gives the orders with respect to U.S. troops?

The real answer is that neither Bolton nor Trump is in charge. The entity in charge of U.S. foreign policy is the national-security establishment, which consists of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. They, not Trump or Bolton, decide whether and when U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Syria or anywhere else. They are clearly the ones who have decided that U.S. troops shall remain in Syria.

I highly recommend a book entitled National Security and Double Government by Michael J. Glennon: professor of law at Tufts University. The book explains how the national-security branch is where the real power of the federal government lies. The Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA permit the other three branches to maintain the veneer of power and permit them some latitude but in the final analysis, it is the national-security branch that is actually calling the shots.

It never really made sense that Trump would hire Bolton. He’s one of the fiercest foreign interventionists in the conservative movement. While Trump never professed to be a principled non-interventionist during his presidential campaign, his perspectives on foreign interventionism were extremely at odds with those of Bolton.

White House Hires 17 More Lawyers

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washington post logoWashington Post, A beefed-up White House legal team prepares aggressive defense of Trump’s executive privilege as investigations loom, Carol D. Leonnig, Jan. 10, 2019.  ​The team is gearing up to prevent President Trump’s confidential discussions with advisers from being disclosed to House Democratic investigators and revealed in the special counsel’s report, setting the stage for protracted legal standoffs that may reach the Supreme Court.

A beefed-up White House legal team is gearing up to prevent President Trump’s confidential discussions with top advisers from being disclosed to House Democratic investigators and revealed in the special counsel’s long-awaited report, setting the stage for a potential clash between the branches of government.

The strategy to strongly assert the president’s executive privilege on both fronts is being developed under newly arrived White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who has hired 17 lawyers in recent weeks to help in the effort.

He is coordinating with White House lawyer Emmet Flood, who is leading the response to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on his now-20-month-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Flood is based in White House Counsel’s Office but reports directly to Trump.

Trump aides say White House lawyers are focused on preserving a legal protection routinely invoked by presidents of both parties.

But any effort to fight investigators is likely to further inflame Trump’s relationship with Democratic leaders and could lock the administration and Congress in protracted legal standoffs that may ultimately go to the Supreme Court.

Of particular concern to Democrats: whether the White House will seek to use executive privilege to keep private any portions of Mueller’s report that addresses alleged obstruction of justice by the president.

In preparation for the looming legal battles, Cipollone has been beefing up the White House Counsel’s Office, which was down to fewer than 20 lawyers late last year, compared with 40 to 50 in past administrations. Since his arrival in December, Cipollone has increased the staff to roughly 35 lawyer and aims to bolster the ranks to 40 in the coming weeks, administration officials said. He also hired three deputies, all with extensive experience in past Republican White Houses and the Justice Department.

Media News

washington post logomargaret sullivan 2015 photoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s address was a pure propaganda opportunity. Networks shouldn’t allow it again, Margaret Sullivan​ (right), Jan. 10, 2019 (print edition). The speech had high-drama quotes. But there wasn’t anything of substance that we haven’t heard many times before.

Media News

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Thinks He’s His Own Best Messenger. Where Does That Leave Bill Shine? Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman, Jan. 10, 2019 (print edition). At the beginning of the government shutdown, Bill Shine was about as far away from the capital as President Trump’s most senior communications official could get. While the president was complaining about sitting alone in the bill shineWhite House trying to force Democrats to accept a wall on the Mexican border, Mr. Shine was on a Hawaiian vacation.

As the shutdown presented Mr. Trump with an ever-expanding political challenge, Mr. Shine, right, who joined the White House staff with the expectation that he would deliver on his promise to satisfy Mr. Trump’s hunger for positive news coverage, stayed on vacation, keeping in contact with colleagues by phone.

Eventually, Mr. Shine came home early to help manage the administration’s response. But any expectation that he would be by the president’s side crafting a cohesive message would be a miscalculation of the role he has actually come to play as Mr. Trump’s latest fox news logo Smallcommunications director, according to interviews with over a dozen former and current administration officials.

An alumnus of Fox News, where he was known as a protector of the network’s chairman, Roger E. Ailes, Mr. Shine has confined his White House role mainly to stagecraft, people who have worked with him say, and Mr. Trump, who chafes against being managed, has openly expressed skepticism about what he has done.

 Global News

 congo democratic republic map formerly zaire

Map of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire)

The Guardian, Congo election: Tshisekedi's surprise victory rejected as 'electoral coup,' Jason Burke, Jan. 10, 2019. Riot police deployed amid fears of violence over alleged vote-rigging. The runner-up in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s presidential election has called on his followers to resist “a grave attack on the country’s dignity and people”, as the powerful Catholic church said official results did not reflect polling station data.

Felix Tshisekedi, right, félix tsissekedzi croppedthe leader of DRC’s main opposition party [and son of Étienne Tshisekedi, the former prime minister of the nation under its former name of Zaire], was declared the surprise winner of the vast central African country’s 30 December presidential election in the in the early hours of Thursday.

The result theoretically means the first electoral transfer of power in 59 years of independence in the DRC, but was deeply controversial because another opposition figure, Martin Fayulu, had held a healthy lead in pre-election polling.

It has also surprised some observers who believed authorities would ensure victory for the government candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who was hand-picked by outgoing president Joseph Kabila as his successor.

congo democratic republic formerly zaire flagSenior church leaders made clear that the announced results did not correspond with data collected by 40,000 observers the church deployed on polling day 12 days ago.

The church refuses to say publicly who won according to its findings, but diplomats briefed on the church data say it indicated a clear victory for Fayulu, in line with pre-election polls that put him at least 20 points ahead of Tshisekedi.

Official figures published by the electoral commission gave Tshisekedi 38%, four points ahead of Fayulu, a respected former business executive. His camp suspects Tshisekedi won by cutting a power-sharing deal with Kabila.

Kabila had engineered an electoral coup to deny him the presidency, Fayulu said on Thursday morning. In a statement issued later in the day, he said “unacceptable electoral fraud” had taken place that could lead to chaos across the country.

Jan. 9

Trump Speech Was Campaign Fraud

MSNBC, Opinion: President Donald Trump Uses Oval Office Speech To Raise Money For Reelection, Lawrence O'Donnell, Jan. 8, 2019 (11:21 mins). msnbc logo CustomPresident Trump's Oval Office speech came with a pair of fundraising pleas to Trump supporters implying their donations were needed to secure the border. Steve Schmidt tells Lawrence O'Donnell that Trump's speech was "low energy."

We know it's hard, but try to get your head around this, Trumpsters.

The Trump cabal sent you a letter soliciting your donation under the guise of two things: 1) The money donated would go toward Trump's precious wall. 2) Making a donation would put you on Trump's list of "Patriots."

These are both lies. 1) Your donation goes toward Trump's re-election coffers, not the border wall. 2) Making a donation to Trump puts you on his list of "Suckers," not a list of "Patriots." The bottom line here is that Trump lied to you to get you to contribute money toward four more years of Trump lying to you.

Shutdown News

The Hill, Government shutdown closes in on high court, Lydia Wheeler, Jan. 9, 2019. The Supreme Court is about to feel the effects of the partial government shutdown. On Monday afternoon, as the shutdown entered its third work week, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said it’s now aiming to keep paid operations going through Jan. 18, a week longer than its previous estimate.

But to make that happen, some changes are being made.

“In an effort to achieve this goal, courts have been asked to delay or defer non-mission critical expenses, such as new hires, non-case related travel, and certain contracts,” the office said in a statement.

The Supreme Court’s press office said the announcement applies to the high court as well. Since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, the Supreme Court and lower federal ones have stayed up and running by drawing on court fees and other funds that aren’t dependent on congressional appropriations.

If that money runs out before new funds are appropriated, the Supreme Court said it will reduce spending it considers noncritical, in addition to curtailing some nonessential public services.

The court said it will stay open for essential operations such as hearing oral arguments, issuing orders and opinions, and processing case filings.

The court has yet to close during a government shutdown. SCOTUSblog reported that in 2013, when the government was shuttered from Oct. 1 to 17, justices heard oral argument in all 11 cases on the court’s docket that month.

And when the federal government sustained its longest shutdown — a 21-day stretch from December 1995 into January 1996 — court proceedings were reportedly uninterrupted.

washington post logoWashington Post, 8 House Republicans break with Trump on shutdown strategy, back Democrats’ plan to reopen Treasury without new border funds, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner, Jan. 9, 2019. The Republicans voted to support a measure that would fund the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies whose workers have been furloughed or working without guaranteed pay since Dec. 22. The bill is unlikely to pass.

Mueller Probe Leader Expected To Leave

washington post logoWashington Post, Rosenstein expects to leave Justice Dept. if attorney general nominee is confirmed, but timeline is unclear, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, Jan. 9, 2019. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein has told people close to him that he expects to depart the Justice Department if a new attorney general is confirmed, though there are no concrete plans in place or a timeline for him to do so, according to people familiar with the matter.

rod rosenstein head croppedRosenstein (right) has been the No. 2 Justice Department official since April 2017, his tenure defined by his appointment of Robert S. Mueller III to lead the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the attacks he incurred from President Trump for doing so. Incensed by Mueller’s work, Trump periodically toyed with the idea of ousting his deputy attorney general, though Rosenstein managed to avoid the ax time after time.

Rosenstein’s departure — whenever it occurs — will likely spark fears about the future of the Mueller probe, though even now Rosenstein is not technically in charge of it. Rosenstein appointed Mueller to investigate whether the president's campaign had coordinated with the Kremlin because then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions was recused from the matter. Special counsels, though, normally answer to the attorney general, so when Sessions was forced out in November, supervision fell to Matthew G. Whitaker, whom Trump chose to serve as acting attorney general.

Manafort Screw-Up Points To Collusion?

natasha bertrandThe Atlantic, Manafort’s Own Lawyers May Have Hastened His Downfall, Natasha Bertrand (right), Jan 9, 2019. The initial failure to redact a sensitive document was the latest in a series of missteps by Paul Manafort’s lawyers. When Paul Manafort’s lawyers accidentally revealed sensitive information about his contacts with a suspected Russian spy on Tuesday because of a redacting snafu, it wasn’t merely a blip. Rather, it was the latest in a series of apparent missteps the legal team for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman has made in the nearly two years that it’s been defending the 69-year-old operative [shown below in a mug shot] in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

paul manafort mugFrom publicly attacking the government’s charges and opting for two trials instead of one to bizarrely maintaining a joint defense agreement with the president even after entering into a cooperation deal with the government, legal experts say Manafort’s lawyers appear to have dug their client into a deep hole. “From the beginning to the end, they pursued unconventional strategies that did not follow the usual playbook and appeared to prejudice their client,” Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Illinois, told me.

konstantin klimnikOn Tuesday, their mistake was careless. The redaction error showed that prosecutors apparently believe that Manafort shared internal Trump polling data with the suspected spy Konstantin Kilimnik [left] during the campaign.

That error aside, Manafort’s alleged lies to Mueller during the time he spent cooperating — which his lawyers don’t want to challenge with a hearing, they revealed in Tuesday’s court filings — have likely damaged his chances of getting a light sentence. (Manafort’s lawyers said in Tuesday’s court filings that he did not intentionally lie to prosecutors. “These occurrences happened during a period when Mr. Manafort was managing a U.S. presidential campaign,” they wrote. “It is not surprising at all that Mr. Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed.”)

Manafort may be banking on a presidential pardon, which Trump has not ruled out. But the missteps of his attorneys appear to have done Manafort more harm than good.

kevin downing head portraitMariotti pointed to the public attack on the government by Kevin Downing (left), Manafort’s lead lawyer and a tax-law specialist, following a hearing in November 2017. He described the charges against Manafort — which included money laundering, bank fraud, and tax evasion — as “ridiculous” to reporters outside the courthouse, adding that there was “no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.” His comments led to a scolding from the judge and a court-imposed gag order. “There is no good reason to attack the prosecutors from the very beginning,” Mariotti said. Downing did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment.

The unorthodox lawyering did not end there: Instead of having Manafort plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors in exchange, potentially, for a more lenient sentence, Manafort’s lawyers effectively forced Mueller’s charges into two separate courts, putting Manafort at risk of having to sit for two trials instead of one. Legal experts scratched their head at that decision; Politico described it as “akin to choosing to play Russian Roulette with two bullets in the gun instead of one.”

It was only after being convicted in Virginia on eight counts of financial fraud that Manafort decided to sign a plea agreement and forego a separate, impending trial in Washington, D.C., related to his unregistered foreign lobbying.

More than two months after Manafort agreed to cooperate, however, it was revealed that his legal team had never pulled out of its joint defense agreement with Trump’s lawyers — and had been providing valuable insights about the Mueller inquiry to them. Legal experts called the arrangement “extremely unusual” — and potentially unethical depending on what was discussed between Manafort’s lawyers and Trump’s team.

House Investigations

ny times logoNew York Times, Democrats Start Investigative Gears, but Slowly, Nicholas Fandos, Jan. 9, 2019. Democrats finally have the power they need to investigate Mr. Trump and his administration. But don’t expect blockbuster findings anytime soon. Democrats, transitioning into the House majority, have quietly sent dozens of letters in recent weeks seeking documents and testimony from President Trump’s businesses, his campaign and his administration, setting the table for investigations that could reach the center of his presidency.

democratic donkey logoClear targets have emerged in the process, and some others appear to have fallen away, at least for now. Family separation and detention policies at the border have jumped to the forefront. So has the acting attorney general’s oversight of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. But Democrats, after slamming House Republicans for their inadequate inquiry, do not plan to reopen a full-scale Russian interference investigation. They have also chosen to hold off on an immediate request for Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

For eager liberals coming off two years of Republican oversight paralysis, the next few weeks may feel something like a game of hurry up and wait. Arranging witnesses and wrangling sensitive government documents take time, and most House committees have yet to be populated with lawmakers, not to mention much of the legion of lawyers who will do a lot of the work of investigations. The Intelligence Committee did not technically have a chairman until last week.

us house logo“Those people who are expecting some kind of Hollywood movie here are going to be disappointed because it is going be very orderly,” said Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut and a senior member of the Intelligence Committee.

Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, had a stern and straightforward message when he sent off 51 oversight letters to cabinet secretaries and Trump Organization lawyers shortly before Christmas: Consider this “a basic first step” and not a voluntary one.

As he stands up the House’s marquee investigative committee, Mr. Cummings has deliberately chosen to begin with targets that Republicans once agreed should be studied, but failed to follow up on. They include records related to the administration’s response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated American territories in the Caribbean; Ivanka Trump’s use of a private email account for government business; the use of government jets for personal travel; misconduct by the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt; and the Flint, Mich., water crisis.

U.S. Government Shutdown

washington post logoDonald Trump Logo Make America Great AgainWashington Post, Trump calls wall the only solution to ‘crisis of the heart’ at the border, Philip Rucker and Felicia Sonmez, Jan. 9, 2019. In a forceful and fact-challenged televised plea to the nation for his long-promised border wall, President Trump portrayed undocumented immigrants as murderers, rapists and drug smugglers in a dark Oval Office address. Democrats said he was stoking fear and governing by “temper tantrum.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Divisions grow within GOP over Trump’s shutdown strategy, Erica Werner and Mike DeBonis, Jan. 9, 2019. Vice President Pence scrambled to get House Republicans to stand with Trump, but dissension was evident over whether to declare a national emergency.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump heads to Capitol Hill to shore up support for border plan, John Wagner​, Jan. 9, 2019 (print edition). The president and Democratic leaders are digging in as the partial government shutdown continues with no end in sight.

in a potentially perilous sign for Trump on the 18th day of the partial shutdown, cracks were multiplying within GOP ranks even before Pence ventured to Capitol Hill late Tuesday. The dissension was especially evident over whether Trump should declare a national emergency that would allow him to circumvent Congress and draw on military construction funds to build his wall, with some normally reliable supporters voicing concerns over the approach.

washington post logoPresident Donald Trump officialWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: Trump plays on fear and misleads from start to finish, Salvador Rizzo, Jan. 9, 2019. The president pumped up numbers, exaggerated the public safety risks of immigration and repeated false claims regarding how to fund a border wall.

washington post logoWashington Post, President tries one more gambit in a battle he seems to be losing, Dan Balz, Jan. 9, 2019 (print edition).  In a dramatic escalation of his efforts to sway public opinion, Trump chose the gravity of the Oval Office to try to create a sense of crisis in pursuit of an elusive campaign promise.

washington post logoWashington Post, Record number of migrant families arrested while crossing U.S. border in December, Nick Miroff​, Jan. 9, 2019. The president has cited the soaring numbers as he urges Democrats to approve $5.7 billion for his border wall plan.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s prime-time address on the border wall shutdown, annotated, Aaron Blake and Transcript courtesy of Bloomberg Government, Jan. 8, 2019. President Trump delivered his first prime-time Oval Office address as president on Tuesday. It was a speech about 10 minutes long in which he addressed his demand for border wall funding that has led to a partial shutdown of the U.S. government for more than two weeks. Below is the full transcript, with fact checks and annotations in yellow.

Trump Denounces Fire Fighters

Roll Call, Trump cuts off federal funds to California to fight ‘Forrest fires,’ Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely,’ president tweets, california wildfires near burbank verdugo mountains scott l flickr cc by sa 2.0John T. Bennett, Jan. 9, 2019. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he has ordered FEMA to withhold funds from California’s state government until officials there “get their act together” fighting forest fires. But he tweeted he thinks that is “unlikely.”

The president long has criticized California state officials, sometimes with dubious claims, over wildfires there and their steps to prevent and nix them. But stopping the flow of federal funds is an escalation of the feud, and one that might raise the ire of lawmakers — even the sizable House GOP delegation from the Golden State.

“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forrest fires that, with proper Forrest Management, would never happen,” the president tweeted, twice misspelling forest.

U.S. Assassination Opposed

jacob hornberger headshotFuture of Freedom Foundation, Opinion; Assassination Is Not Justice, Jacob G. Hornberger (right), Jan. 9, 2019. President Trump and his national-security establishment are celebrating the Pentagon’s latest assassination, this one killing Jamel Ahmed Ali Al-Badawi, who was accused of having participated in the terrorist attack on the USS Cole, during a refueling stop in Yemen, in October 2000.

The attack killed 17 sailors and wounded 39 others. Referring to the assassination, Trump tweeted: "Our GREAT MILITARY has delivered justice for the heroes lost and wounded in the cowardly attack on the USS Cole. We have just killed the leader of that attack, Jamal al-Badawi. Our work against al Qaeda continues. We will never stop in our fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism!"

CIA LogoThe Pentagon confirmed the kill, and an unnamed U.S. official told CNN that that the assassination was the result of a joint U.S. military and intelligence operation. That, of course, means that it was likely that the CIA was involved, especially since it has long been the premier assassination organization in the world, at least since the 1960s.

According to the Daily Caller, Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who was commanding the USS Cole during the attack, told Fox News that he felt “extremely gratified” for the killing.

Trump and the U.S. national-security establishment are wrong, however. Al Badawi’s assassination does that reflect that justice was done. Instead, it reflects how the national-security establishment and its interventionist foreign policy and perpetual war on terrorism have nullified the U.S. Constitution and fundamentally altered the criminal-justice principles on which America was founded.

Cardinal Scandal Punishment

washington post logotheodore mccarrickWashington Post, The Vatican moves quickly toward punishing ex-cardinal McCarrick for sexual abuse, Michelle Boorstein, Julie Zauzmer and Chico Harlan, Jan. 9, 2019. The former prominent archbishop of Washington [right] now faces the prospect of soon being defrocked — meaning he would no longer be a priest of the Catholic Church and would lose his church housing and financial support.

Prison Staff Harassment?

OpEdNews, First Person Experience: BoP (U.S. Bureau of Prisons) Flying Monkeys and Administrative Contrarians, Interview by joan brunwasserJoan Brunwasser (right) of prisoner's wife Judy White, Jan. 9, 2019. For first-time readers, Gary White was a county commissioner in Jefferson County, Alabama. Good friends with Les Siegelman, he introduced Les's brother, [former] Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to Richard Scrushy, a local Republican businessman. Because of this, White became inextricably intertwined with Siegelman, who was one of the biggest targets of the Rove-directed, heavily politicized Department of Justice.

Scrushy and Siegelman were later indicted and convicted on charges stemming from that relationship. According to affidavits provided by Gary [and Judy, who was also in the room] White was asked to perjure himself before a Grand Jury in order to make the case against Siegelman and Scrushy. White refused and the very next day, the DOJ started delivering subpoenas to build a case against him. gary judy white easterWhite (shown in a file photo with his wife before his imprisonment) is now serving ten years. During that time, he has been shunted from one federal facility to another. The recent passage and signing of the First Step Act was supposed to result in the immediate release of Gary and 4,000 other inmates. That has not yet happened. This is installment #35 of our ongoing series*.

My guest today is Judy White, frequent OpEdNews contributor. Welcome back, Judy!

Joan Brunwasser: We just spoke recently. But a lot more has been happening, even in that short time. Would you like to get us started?

Judy White: Saturday [December 29th] was intended to be a special day to celebrate Gary's birthday. As his unlawful imprisonment by the BOP continued, we had missed Christmas together - the first Christmas Gary was legally entitled to be home in nine long hard years.

But as the BOP has persisted in violating federal law and illegally keeping Gary in prison, the kids and I made plans to visit Gary in prison for his birthday. It would be the first time the four of us had been to see Gary together and the first visit with Stephanie and her new husband since their wedding, which we were all heartbroken that Gary was not allowed to be part of.

No, they were just being abusive, harassing and intimidating us. After a while, as the kids - who are all in their 30s - sat in our assigned seats traumatized or afraid to move and I went to the vending machine to get his birthday meal, Gary came and joined us. We were all shaken by the experience, and this includes even me -- someone who has dealt with the craziest of crazies. I truly had PTSD flashbacks to other experiences that I will never recover from. As it turned out, we could not have had better seats, as being in the first section, we saw everyone who came into the visiting room.

Transitions

ny times logoNew York Times, Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Bezos Announce Divorce on Twitter, Laura M. Holson, Jan. 9, 2019. The Amazon founder Jeff jeffrey bezos washington postBezos 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.

Jan. 8

U.S. Shutdown

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Appeals for Wall, Citing Misleading Statistics of Crisis and Crime Along Border, Peter Baker (right), Jan. 8, 2019. President peter baker twitterTrump doubled down on one of the biggest gambles of his presidency on Tuesday night with a televised appeal to pressure Congress into paying for his long-promised border wall even at the cost of leaving the government partially closed until lawmakers give in.

Embarking on a strategy that he himself privately disparaged as unlikely to work, Mr. Trump devoted the first prime-time Oval Office address of his presidency to his proposed barrier in hopes of enlisting public support in an ideological and political conflict that has shut the doors of many federal agencies for 18 days.

In a nine-minute speech that made no new arguments but included multiple misleading assertions, the president sought to recast the situation at the Mexican border as a “humanitarian crisis” and opted against declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress, which he had threatened to do, at least for now. But he excoriated Democrats for blocking the wall, accusing them of hypocrisy and exposing the country to criminal immigrants.

“How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” the president asked, citing a litany of grisly crimes said to be committed by illegal immigrants. Asking Americans to call their lawmakers, he added: “This is a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is about whether we fulfill our sacred duty to the American citizens we serve.”

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump sniffs his way through pointless half-awake border wall speech, Bill Palmer, Jan. 8, 2019. We told you Donald Trump’s speech tonight wouldn’t amount to much of anything. We knew he wouldn’t try to declare a “national emergency” during his speech tonight, because even he’s not stupid enough to think such a plan would get him anywhere. We also knew Trump would probably sniff his way through this speech, which he did. But even we didn’t think he would come off as this weak, listless, half-awake, and pretty much finished.

bill palmer report logo headerDonald Trump began by tepidly reading from a script, repeating his usual lie-filled talking points about immigration and the border. At no point did he ever sound fully conscious, instead sounding like one of his advisers slipped him a bunch of horse tranquilizers just before he went on the air. But as the speech went on, his heavy breathing turned into heavy sniffing, leading to the usual social media debates about whether it’s a nervous tic or evidence that he’s been snorting illegal drugs.

In any case, this speech was a complete non-event. Twenty-four hours from now, no one will even remember it happened, just as we predicted. Interestingly, Trump even tried to go out of his way to avoid using the word “wall” – perhaps in recognition of just how deeply unpopular the wall concept is, and perhaps because he’s now obsessively pushing some kind of steel slat monstrosity instead of a wall.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump claimed ex-presidents told him they wanted to build a wall. Four of them say it’s not true, Eli Rosenberg, Jan. 8, 2019 (print edition). President Trump made the remark during a lengthy appearance in the White House’s Rose Garden on Friday, in the midst of an extended soliloquy about the border wall that he has yet to find funding or widespread political support for.

The government is shut down over the president’s demand that Congress allocate $5.7 billion for the wall.

“This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me,” Trump said. “And they all know it. Some of them have told me that we should have done it.”

The president has made 7,600 false or misleading statements since he became president, and some have proved more difficult than others to fact-check. This one was not. There are only four living ex-presidents.

The Washington Post reached out to them to see whether they ever told Trump that a border wall should have been built before he was in office: All said they hadn’t. A spokesman for former president George H.W. Bush declined to comment, saying it was too soon for Bush, who died in November, to be “dragged into such debates."

 djt wall is coming meme jan 5 2018

President Trump's Twitter promo, shown above

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump edges toward declaring wall emergency, but a court fight is likely, Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, Jan. 8, 2019 (print edition). The president, who will address the nation this evening, increasingly views a national emergency declaration as a viable, if risky, way to build a portion of his long-promised barrier, according to senior officials.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Nancy Pelosi just played Donald Trump like a fiddle, Bill Palmer, Jan. 8, 2019. Donald Trump lost his border wall / nancy pelosi twittergovernment shutdown gambit a long time ago. Most Americans don’t want his racist wall, most Americans blame him for the shutdown, and there’s nothing he can do to change either of those things. His “national emergency” threat is a laugh out loud fantasy that would be shut down by the courts in about five minutes. He’s lost the issue; it’s over.

Now Nancy Pelosi (right) is goading him into losing everything.

bill palmer report logo headerDonald Trump’s only possible way of surviving this debacle would be if he quietly reopened the government without his wall funding, tried to change the subject, and hoped everyone would forget about the whole thing as his next ten scandals quickly overtake the headlines. But Nancy Pelosi is too smart to let him off the hook like that.

So instead Pelosi has spent the past week baiting Trump, through a combination of public statements and leaks about their private meetings, into doubling down on his wall/shutdown failure. Now he’s giving a nationally televised prime time speech tonight, something he never does, in order to try to make the case for why the government should remain closed until his wall is funded.

That’s political suicide, because in so doing, he’ll be taking full ownership of the shutdown, and he won’t change a single person’s mind about the wall in the process. Then he plans to travel to the border on Thursday, and whatever he and his inept advisers have planned for while he’s there, it’ll incompetently fail, and the whole trip will have been for nothing. Trump will have simply married himself to this disaster.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: ‘This president lies daily’: Critics demand networks fact-check Trump’s live immigration speech, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Jan. 8, 2018. The networks that have agreed to carry his remarks on immigration and his demands for a wall at the southern border won’t have it so easy.

They are in uncharted waters, not because Trump is the first president to request airtime for a major address. But because “Trump is unlike any president that the country has ever had in the sense that he frequently and routinely says things that are untrue,” said Mike Ananny, an expert in media and technology at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

By the end of the 2016 campaign, Trump had earned about $5 billion worth of free media coverage, dwarfing the amount earned by his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, according to the data analytics firm MediaQuant. Critics howled during the early days of the campaign, when cable news carried Trump’s rallies live and uninterrupted. These objections resurfaced as the president returned to the campaign trail ahead of the midterm elections in November.

The stakes are made clear by the sheer number of falsehoods that emanate from the president’s lips, and from his Twitter account. As of the end of 2018, Trump had made 7,645 false or misleading claims since assuming office, according to a tally maintained by The Post’s Fact Checker. Members of his administration keep repeating a false claim about the number of terrorists apprehended at the southern border, as White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did when she appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” drawing a rebuke from host Chris Wallace.

Manafort Shared Secret 2016 Data With Putin Ally

ny times logoNew York Times, Manafort Accused of Sharing Trump Campaign Data With Russian Associate, Sharon LaFraniere, Kenneth P. Vogel and Maggie Haberman, Jan. 8, 2019. As a top official in President Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort [shown in a mugshot] shared political polling data with a business paul manafort mugassociate tied to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday. The document provided the clearest evidence to date that the Trump campaign may have tried to coordinate with Russians during the 2016 presidential race.

Mr. Manafort’s lawyers made the disclosure by accident, through a formatting error in a document filed to respond to charges that he had lied to prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, after agreeing to cooperate with their investigation into Russian interference in the election.

The document also revealed that during the campaign, Mr. Manafort and his Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, discussed a plan for peace in Ukraine. Throughout the campaign and the early days of the Trump administration, Russia and its allies were pushing various plans for Ukraine in the hope of gaining relief from American-led sanctions imposed after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Prosecutors and the news media have already documented a string of encounters between Russian operatives and Trump campaign associates dating from the early months of Mr. Trump’s bid for the presidency, including the now-famous meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton. The accidental disclosure appeared to some experts to be perhaps most damning of all.

“This is the closest thing we have seen to collusion,” Clint Watts, a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said of the data-sharing. “The question now is, did the president know about it?”

The document gave no indication of whether Mr. Trump was aware of the data transfer or how Mr. Kilimnik might have used the information. But from March to August 2016, when Mr. Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, Russia was engaged in a full-fledged operation using social media, stolen emails and other tactics to boost Mr. Trump, attack Mrs. Clinton and play on divisive issues such as race and guns. Polling data could conceivably have helped Russia hone those messages and target audiences to help swing votes to Mr. Trump.

Turkey Snubs, U.S., Bolton

washington post logoWashington Post, Turkey’s president publicly scolds Bolton on U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, Kareem Fahim​, Jan. 8, 2019. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan scolded and snubbed visiting White House national security adviser John Bolton on Tuesday, saying that recep erdogan thronehe had made a “very serious mistake” by demanding protection for U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Turkish media reported that Erdogan [shown in a file photo] refused to meet with Bolton, though a Turkish presidential spokesman said the meeting was “never confirmed.”

Erdogan’s remarks, during a speech in Ankara, were a response to comments Bolton made Sunday in Israel outlining conditions for a U.S. troop departure from Syria. Those conditions included protection for thousands of Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been trained and armed by the United States to fight the Islamic State militant group.

Turkey, which views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists, has vowed to launch a military operation against them in northeastern Syria, while also continuing the fight against the Islamic State.

“The message that Bolton gave in Israel is unacceptable. It is not possible for us to swallow,” Erdogan said. He suggested that he might ignore the Trump administration’s request to delay the Turkish military operation.

“Very soon, we will take action to neutralize terrorist organizations in Syria,” Erdogan said. “We have completed our preparations for the operation to a large extent.”

Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Turkey Rejects New U.S. Syria Plan - Humiliates John Bolton, b. Jan.8, 2019. On Sunday National Security Advisor John Bolton tried to set conditions for a U.S. retreat from Syria:

john bolton youtube guardianBolton (left), on a trip to Israel and Turkey, said he would stress in talks with Turkish officials, including President Tayyip Erdogan, that Kurdish forces must be protected.

Asked whether a U.S. withdrawal would not take place in Syria until Turkey guaranteed the Kurdish fighters would be safe, Bolton said: “Basically, that’s right.”... "We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum,” Bolton said, “so they don’t endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.”

Turkey was not amused. The YPG Kurds, which the U.S. uses in Syria as cannon fodder to fight the Islamic State, are the same john bolton turkey joseph dunford vivian salaman photo jan 8 2019organization as the PKK which acts as a terrorist group in Turkey. Turkey cannot allow that group to exist on its border as an organized military force.

When Bolton landed in Turkey today he received a very cold welcome. The planned meeting with the Turkish President Erdogan did not take place. The meeting John Bolton, Joint Chief of Staff Joe Dunford and Syria envoy James Jeffrey held with the Turkish National Security Advisor Ibrahim Kalin was downgraded and took less than two hours. A planned joint press conference was canceled.

The U.S. delegation [with Bolton at left and Dunford in uniform at center] did not look happy, or even united, when it left the presidential compound in Ankara. (Vivian Salaman photo).

turkey flagShortly after Bolton's meeting Erdogan held a speech to his parliament group. It was a slap in Bolton's face. Via Raqip Solyu: "Erdogan says he cannot accept or swallow the messages given by US National Security Advisor Bolton in Israel."

Erdogan's communication director gave the last kick: "I hope that he got a taste of the world-famous Turkish hospitality during his visit."

An editorial in the Erdogan aligned Daily Sabah called Bolton's ideas a soft coup against Trump. And with that, Bolton was humiliated and the issue of the U.S. retreat from Syria kicked back to Trump.

Southfront, Syrian War Report: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Expands Further In Idlib De-Escalation Zone, Staff report, Jan. 8, 2019 (3:27 min. video).  russian flag wavingUnits of the Russian Military Police have started patrolling the surroundings of the northern Syrian city of Manbij in the Aleppo governorate, near the border with Turkey, spokesman Yusup Mamatov told media on January 8.

“Today we started patrolling the security zone near the city of Manbij and its surroundings. The task is to ensure safety within the zone of responsibility, to control the positions and movement of armed groups,” he stressed adding that the route of military police patrols will change regularly.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) continued its expansion within the Idlib de-escalation zone. After a successful capture of the opposition-held areas in western Aleppo, the terrorist group has kicked off an advance in southern Idlib.

Trump's Businesses

washington post logoWashington Post, 7 key questions about the state — and the troubles — of Trump’s business, David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell, Jan. 8, 2019. The president's company is already dealing with a retrenchment of the Trump brand and a slew of investigations.

Russian Corruption Probe

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian Lawyer in Meeting at Trump Tower Is Charged in Case That Shows Kremlin Ties, Benjamin Weiser, Jan. 8, 2019. 
Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who in 2016 met with Trump campaign officials in Trump Tower, was charged on Tuesday in a separate case that showed her close ties to the Kremlin.

natalia veselnitskaya youtube crop screengrabMs. Veselnitskaya (shown at right in a screengrab from YouTube), a pivotal figure in the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election, was charged by federal prosecutors in New York with seeking to thwart an earlier Justice Department investigation into money laundering that involved an influential Russian businessman and his investment firm.

The money-laundering case was not directly related to the Trump Tower meeting. But a federal indictment returned in Manhattan seemed to confirm that Ms. Veselnitskaya had deep ties to senior Russian government officials.

Mueller Wins Grand Jury Test

Palmer Report, Analysis: Supreme Court sides with Robert Mueller, rules against mystery foreign-owned company, Bill Palmer, Jan. 8, 2019. Two weeks ago, after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in Robert Mueller’s favor against a mystery foreign-owned company, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a temporary stay so that the Supreme Court could decide whether it wanted to take up the case.

bill palmer report logo headerThis afternoon the Supreme Court announced that the temporary stay has been vacated and the original request has been denied, meaning Mueller has won, and that the court battle is over. So now what?

Because the Supreme Court has decided not to take up the case, it means the appeals court ruling stands. The mystery company can asked for a re-hearing, but that never works.

More On Shutdown

Vanity Fair, “There Is No Endgame”: White House Aides Fear Trump Has Turned the Border Wall into His Alamo, Gabriel Sherman, Jan. 8, 2019. “The president put himself in a box” as Trump tries to fight his way out, his new chief of staff already eyes the exits, and Giuliani worries about Mueller’s possibly “horrific” report. Inside the West Wing, Trump has told aides he’s prepared to stake his presidency on making a last stand. “He has convinced himself he can’t win re-election in 2020 unless he gets a lot of the wall built. It’s fundamental to his id,” a former West Wing official said. “The problem is, the Democrats know that.”

Trump’s aides fear he has given himself no way out. “The president put himself in a box,” the former official in touch with the White House told me. “The problem is there’s no endgame. Right now the White House is at a seven on the panic scale. If this thing goes on past the State of the Union they’re going to be at an 11.” Another prominent Republican close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described Trump’s handling of the shutdown as “total fucking chaos.”

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, installed in the job just before Christmas, may already be looking at escape routes. Unlike his long-suffering predecessor, John Kelly, Mulvaney has indicated he’s prepared to walk away if things go south with the president. “Mick has both eyes open,” said a person who spoke with Mulvaney recently. “So far, Trump has been more DIY than ever before. It’s a continuation of where things left off with Kelly. Mulvaney is not going to stick around and get ground up.” Before Christmas, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told people that Mulvaney wouldn’t last long, according to a person who spoke with Lewandowski. Last night, The New York Times reported Mulvaney is interested in becoming president of the University of South Carolina.

Meanwhile, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been underwhelmed with Mulvaney’s political skills, two people familiar with their thinking said. The sources said Jared and Ivanka have discussed recruiting Blackstone executive Wayne Berman to serve as White House strategist, but so far Berman hasn’t been interested a source familiar with his thinking said. Blackstone declined to comment.

The shutdown has pushed the Russia investigation out of the news cycle. But Trumpworld knows it hasn’t gone away. Rudy Giuliani recently told a friend that he expects Mueller’s report to be “horrific,” a person briefed on the conversation said (Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment). “You’re already hearing people speculate Trump could do a deal and resign.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Pence calls on Democrats to accede to demand for wall money, end shutdown, John Wagner​, Jan. 8, 2019. The vice president did not rule out the possibility that President Trump would declare an emergency to build the wall without lawmakers’ approval.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: This shutdown is already one of the longest ever. Here's how others ended, Kevin Schaul and Kevin Uhrmacher, Jan. 8, 2019 (updated). The partial government shutdown has stretched 17 full days, which is four days short of the longest federal funding gap since 1980. A compromise did not seem imminent as newly empowered Democrats passed a package of bills to reopen the government without border wall funding, despite a veto threat from President Trump.

The funding gap — the third this year — shuttered large parts of several key Cabinet departments and federal agencies starting on Dec. 22 when Congress failed to pass a budget. About 75 percent of the government has already been funded by Congress, but major departments such as Homeland Security, Justice, Agriculture and Interior remain unfunded.

washington post logoWashington Post, Democrats pledge to paralyze Senate as shutdown negotiation tactic, Seung Min Kim, Erica Werner and Jeff Stein, Jan. 8, 2019 (print edition). Senate Democrats are coalescing behind a strategy to block any legislation on the floor that doesn’t re-open the federal government — planning to paralyze the Senate as the partial government shutdown enters its third week with no end in sight.

Privately, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has told the rest of his caucus that he would vote against advancing the first bill on the Senate floor this year, which would authorize security assistance to Israel and include provisions aimed at promoting security in the Middle East.

democratic donkey logoDemocrats plan to vote against the measure to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to pass legislation funding the government, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss party strategy.

A growing coalition of Senate Democrats — hailing primarily from states that have a large population of federal workers, as well as the contingent of senators eyeing presidential bids in 2020 — say the chamber should not vote on anything else until the shutdown ends. Those tactics were first proposed by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

Civil Rights / Self-Censorship

angela davis rasmeh odeh 2015 twitter incite news

Angela Davis, left, with Palestinian human rights activist Rasmeh Odeh in 2015 (via Twitter and Incite News).

Mondoweiss, News & Opinion About Palestine, Israel & the United States: ‘An attack against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice,’ Angela Y. Davis statement on the cancellation of Birmingham Civil Rights Institute award, Angela Davis, Jan. 8, 2019.

On Saturday January 5, I was stunned to learn that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Board of Directors had reversed their previous decision to award me the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. Although the BCRI refused my requests to reveal the substantive reasons for this action, I later learned that my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue.

This seemed particularly unfortunate, given that my own freedom was secured – and indeed my life was saved – by a vast international movement. And I have devoted much of my own activism to international solidarity and, specifically, to linking struggles in other parts of the world to U.S. grassroots campaigns against police violence, the prison industrial complex, and racism more broadly. The rescinding of this invitation was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.

The trip to Birmingham, where I was born and raised, to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Award, was certain to be the highlight of my year—especially since I knew Rev. Shuttlesworth personally and attended school with his daughter, Patricia, and because my mother, Sallye B. Davis, worked tirelessly for the BCRI during its early years. Moreover, my most inspirational Sunday School teacher Odessa Woolfolk was the driving force for the institute’s creation. Despite the BCRI’s regrettable decision, I look forward to being in Birmingham in February for an alternative event organized by those who believe that the movement for civil rights in this moment must include a robust discussion of all of the injustices that surround us.

Angela Y. Davis is a political activist, scholar, author, and speaker. She is an outspoken advocate for the oppressed and exploited, writing on Black liberation, prison abolition, the intersections of race, gender, and class, and international solidarity with Palestine. She is the author of several books, including "Women, Race, and Class" and "Are Prisons Obsolete?" She is the subject of the acclaimed documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners and is distinguished professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

DC Priest Named: #MeToo Settlement

washington post logoWashington Post, Opus Dei paid $977,000 to settle sexual misconduct claim against prominent Catholic priest, Michelle Boorstein​, Jan. 8, john mccloskey priest2019 (print edition). The Catholic order Opus Dei in 2005 paid $977,000 to settle a sexual misconduct suit against the Rev. C. John McCloskey, a priest well-known for preparing for conversion big-name conservatives -- Newt Gingrich (shown below left in a Gage Skidmore photo), Larry Kudlow and Sam Brownback, among others.

The survivor is a devout, D.C.-area Catholic who was among the many who received spiritual direction from McCloskey newt gingrich gage skidmore3through the Catholic Information Center, a K Street hub of Catholic life in downtown D.C. She told the Post McCloskey groped her several times while she was going to pastoral counseling with him to discuss marital troubles and serious depression.

The guilt and shame over the interactions sent her into a tailspin and, combined with her existing depression, made it impossible for her to work in her high-level job. She spoke to him about her “misperceived guilt over the interaction” in confession and he absolved her, she said.

"I love Opus Dei but I was caught up in this cover-up – I went to confession, thinking I did something to tempt this holy man to cross boundaries,” she said.

The complaint was not made public by the order until Monday but behind the scenes the ministry of the well-known priest had been sharply curtailed. A lot of D.C.-area Catholics have wondered for years what happened to McCloskey, who was the closest thing to a celebrity the Catholic Church had in the area.

One other woman told the order that McCloskey’s touches had made her uncomfortable, an Opus Dei spokesman said Monday night. He said Opus Dei is also investigating a third claim -- so far unsubstantiated -- that spokesman Brian Finnerty called potentially “serious.” He declined to provide details.

McCloskey, who is now in his 60s, recently moved back to the D.C. region, where he has family. The order said Monday that he “suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s. He is largely incapacitated and needs assistance for routine daily tasks. He has not had any pastoral assignments for a number of years and is no longer able to celebrate Mass, even privately.”

Jan. 7

U.S. Shutdown

Palmer Report, Commentary: Nancy Pelosi fires back after Donald Trump’s last ditch border stunt, Bill Palmer, Jan. 7, 2019. Now that everything else has failed when it comes to his border wall and government shutdown, Donald Trump is about to escalate his failure. He’s planning to give a nationally televised speech on Tuesday evening, presumably full of racism and lies, aimed at convincing the American people to support his idiotic wall. Nancy Pelosi (right) isn’t having any of it.

nancy pelosi obill palmer report logo headerDonald Trump is, in effect, asking the major television networks for the opportunity to spread lies, without any host or moderator to intervene and call him out. Because of this, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are firing back. They’ve jointly issued the following public statement:

“Now that the television networks have decided to air the President’s address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime.”

We’ll see what the television networks do. But given that MSNBC and CNN have begun employing tactics such as a split screen so that Donald Trump and his people can be fact checked in real time while giving live speeches, it’s difficult to imagine they won’t at least consider giving Nancy Pelosi equal time to provide a rebuttal after Trump’s debacle.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Plans TV Address and Visit to Border to Make Case for Wall, Maggie Haberman, Michael M. Grynbaum and Eileen Sullivan, Jan. 7, 2019. President Trump said that he would address the nation on Tuesday evening. The White House also said that later in the week he would travel to the border. The major broadcast networks confirmed receiving the request for Mr. Trump to speak, but producers had not decided whether to grant him the time.

ny times logoNew York Times, I.R.S. Will Issue Tax Refunds During Shutdown, Trump Official Says, Jim Tankersley and Michael Tackett, Jan. 7, 2019. Millions of taxpayers who typically file for refunds at the beginning of the year have been unsure when they will get their money back from the Internal Revenue Service due to the government shutdown.

irs logoThe Trump administration will direct the Internal Revenue Service to issue tax refunds during the ongoing federal government shutdown, reversing previous policy, officials said Monday. “Tax refunds will go out,” Russell T. Vought, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told reporters in an afternoon briefing.

The move seeks to circumvent a potential political problem for the Trump administration by allowing taxpayers to claim refunds despite the protracted government shutdown, which is already dragging into Day 17.

Millions of taxpayers who typically file for refunds at the beginning of the year have been unsure when they will get their money back from the Internal Revenue Service. Under previous shutdown plans — and interpretations of federal law — the I.R.S. was prohibited from dispensing tax refunds when Congress has not approved money to fund the Treasury Department, as is the case now.

By Feb. 2 last year, the earliest point in the I.R.S.’s 2018 statistics, 18 million individual returns had been filed with the agency. The I.R.S. had issued more than 6 million refunds, totaling $12.6 billion — an average refund of $2,035. The agency issued more than $324 billion in refunds for all of 2018.

Democrats have criticized the administration over the shutdown and its potential to delay refunds. Administration officials have been looking for ways to ensure refunds could go through, even if President Trump and congressional Democrats fail to resolve their dispute over whether to fund construction of a wall on America’s southern border.

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee said they began to see indications over the weekend that the White House was looking for a legal justification to reverse existing policy and allow refunds to be issued. But committee lawyers believe the law prohibits such a move, because refunds are paid out of the government’s general fund.

Committee staff said Monday they were struggling to get clarity from administration officials, many of whom are out on furlough. “We keep trying to call people at I.R.S. and Treasury,” said Daniel Rubin, a spokesman for the Ways and Means Committee, “and there’s no one there.”

 washington post logoWashington Post, Meeting yields no deal as shutdown enters its third week, Seung Min Kim, Robert Costa and Anne Gearan, Jan. 7, 2018 (print edition). Vice President Pence, at a meeting that included top White House officials and senior congressional aides, refused to budge from the more than $5 billion President Trump has demanded for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, two Democratic officials said. The shutdown has halted paychecks for hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

Democrats, meanwhile, are standing firm on offering no taxpayer money for the project, which Trump had long asserted would be funded by Mexico.

nancy pelosi twitterHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), right, said in a statement Saturday that the House will begin passing separate bills to reopen the government in the coming week, starting with the funding bill that covers the Treasury Department “so that the American people can receive their tax refunds on schedule....The senseless uncertainty and chaos of the Trump Shutdown must end, now.”

On Saturday evening, Trump tweeted that he would travel to Camp David on Sunday for “meetings on Border Security and many other topics” with aides attending a White House staff retreat. He then followed up with a tweet of his “Game of Thrones”-style poster saying, “The Wall is Coming” (below).

Ex-Felon Voting Restored

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Joyous day’ ahead as 1.4 million Florida ex-felons will have voting rights restored, Lori Rozsa, Jan. 7, 2018 (print edition). The change will come when a state constitutional amendment approved in November takes effect Tuesday. Organizations and volunteers have been ramping up their efforts to encourage ex-felons to quickly register to vote.

Mueller Probe

Politico, Judge blasts lawyers for Russian firm charged by Mueller, Josh Gerstein, Jan. 7, 2019. A judge publicly slammed the defense lawyers for a Russian company criminally charged by special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing the firm’s attorneys of submitting unprofessional and inappropriate court filings attacking Mueller’s office and of unwisely peppering legal briefs with jarring quotes taken from movies like Animal House.

“I’ll say it plain and simple: knock it off,” U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich told lawyers for the Russian company, Concord Management and Consulting, at a brief court hearing in Washington Monday morning.

The tone and content of the submissions from Concord’s combative attorneys, Eric Dubelier and Kate Seikaly, in past months has been unusual for lawyers practicing in federal court. A filing last week quoted both the British 19th Century historian Lord Acton and a slightly sanitized expletive uttered by the somewhat less erudite “Otter,” a fraternity brother in the 1970s classic Animal House.

A stern-faced Friedrich, the newest of President Donald Trump’s three appointees to the district court in Washington, made clear Monday that she was not amused by what she called the “clever quotes.” She also chastised Dubelier for ad hominem attacks on Mueller’s attorneys and other prosecutors in the case.

“I found your recent filings, in particular your reply brief filed Friday, unprofessional, inappropriate and ineffective,” the judge said. She suggested the submissions were an effort to bully her into granting pending defense motions to give the owners and officers of Concord greater access to materials Mueller’s office has turned over to permit the defense to prepare for trial.

Media / U.S. Propaganda

jacob hornberger headshotFuture of Freedom Foundation, Opinion: Why Isn’t Radio Marti Shut Down During the Shutdown? by Jacob G. Hornberger (right, a Libertarian non-profit executive, attorney, author and book publisher), Jan. 7, 2019. When it comes to nonessential federal programs, Radio Marti has to rank near the top of the list.

Radio Marti uses Channel 153 on Sirius XM to broadcast its official anti-communist propaganda. During the past three weeks of Trump’s shutdown, Radio Marti has continued propagandizing listeners of Channel 153 on SiriusXM.

The larger question, of course, is why Radio Marti wasn’t shut down permanently a long time ago. Established during the conservative reign of President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the mission of Radio Marti has always been to meddle in the internal affairs of Cuba by targeting the Cuban people with pro-U.S., anti-communist propaganda.

Needless to say, Radio Marti’s propaganda has had the same effect on the Cuban communist regime as the decades-old U.S. economic embargo has had, which is none. One reason for that is that the communist government has always done its best to block Radio Marti’s broadcasts and also made it a criminal offense for Cubans to listen to it.

cuba flag saving CustomBut one thing is certain: the Cold War ostensibly ended in 1989. Therefore, why wasn’t Radio Marti shut down 30 years ago?

Equally important, if not more so, why is Radio Marti broadcasting its propaganda on Sirius XM, a privately owned U.S. company whose customer base consists primarily of American citizens? I thought that the position of the United States has always been that it’s wrong for governments to propagandize their own citizens? Didn’t U.S. officials rail against the Nazi regime’s use of propaganda to mold the minds of the German people? Don’t they also rail against the Cuban communist regime’s use of propaganda to mold the minds of the Cuban people?

Then why in the world is the U.S. government using Radio Marti to propagandize the American listeners of SiriusXM? And why is SiriusXM permitting Radio Marti to use SiriusXM to broadcast its propaganda?

Here’s another problem, at least from the standpoint of the First Amendment. Every Sunday morning at 7 a.m., Radio Marti broadcasts a Catholic mass on SiriusXM. What business does the federal government have targeting people with religious propaganda, whether its target is Cuban citizens or American citizens?

Why should American taxpayers, many whom aren’t even Catholic, be forced to underwrite that sort of religious propaganda? What business does a private company like SiriusXM have in participating in such a scheme?

U.S Politics

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Sees Himself as Democrats’ Best Hope in 2020, Allies Say, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, Jan. 7, 2019. joe biden oFormer Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (right) 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.

Many Democratic voters, and nearly all major Democratic donors, are keenly interested in Mr. Biden’s plans because of their consuming focus on finding a candidate who can beat a president they believe represents a threat to American democracy. But there is also a rising demand in the party for a more progressive standard-bearer who reflects the increasingly diverse Democratic coalition.

Mr. Biden would instantly be the early front-runner if he ran, but he would have to bridge divides in a primary that would test whether Democrats are willing to embrace a moderate white man in his 70s if they view him as the best bet to oust Mr. Trump.

ny times logoNew York Times, Posing as Prohibitionists, 2nd Effort Used Online Fakery in Alabama Race, Scott Shane and Alan Blinder, Jan. 7, 2019. 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. In a political bank shot made in the last two weeks of the campaign, 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.

Media: Crickets Attack In Cuba?

Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Fake News Reports Blamed Cuba, Russia And China Of 'Sonic Attack' On U.S. Diplomats -- The Culprits Were Cricketss, b, Jan. 7, 2019. In the autumn of 2016 U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba started to complain about being affected by some mysterious noise. Twenty four embassy staff and family claimed a bizarre list of symptoms - from headaches, dizziness and sleeping difficulties to problems with balance, vision and hearing. Doctors were not sure what affected these people. There were all kinds of speculations about a mysterious 'sonic weapons' with which the diplomats were 'attacked', but no convincing evidence was found.

Cuba fully cooperated with an FBI investigation into the mystery. Scientist dispelled the idea of a 'sonic weapon' attack. The medical evidence turned out to be dubious. Nevertheless anti-Cuban politicians in the U.S. successfully used the issue to pressure the White House to penalize the country. The Trump administration recalled 60% of its embassy personal in Havana and expelled Cuban diplomats from the embassy in Washington. It issued a travel warning for its citizens going to Cuba and stopped issuing visas for Cubans in Havana.

Last Friday the New York Times reported that U.S. scientists found that the mysterious noise identified by the diplomats was indeed from crickets: "Alexander Stubbs of the University of California, Berkeley, and Fernando Montealegre-Z of the University of Lincoln in England studied a recording of the sounds made by diplomats and published by The Associated Press."

Diplomatic relations with Cuba are still reduced. The State Department still has a travel warning for Cuba "due to attacks targeting U.S. Embassy Havana employees". In the public record Russia is still accused of causing this non-issue in which it was never involved.

Not one of the 'journalists' involved in the fear campaign will be punished for ignoring the earlier AP report of the Cuban finding. None of the media that smeared Russia over the issue will retract those reports or expose the officials who initiated them.

More On Syrian War

Southfront: Opinion: Trump’s Latest Hedge on US Withdrawal from Syria is Only Postponing the Inevitable, Peter Ford, Jan. 7, 2019. Peter Ford is the former British Ambassador to Syria (2003-2006) and Bahrain (1999-2002). Every day that passes seems to bring fresh evidence that Trump’s decision is being walked back. But appearances can be misleading.

Trump’s ultra-hawkish National Security Adviser, John Bolton, is touring the Middle East apparently setting new conditions for the withdrawal with every stop he makes. We are currently told that U.S. troops will not leave until the remnants of ISIS are mopped up, until there is certainty they cannot re-merge, until Erdogan promises not to slaughter the Kurds, and until Israel’s security is absolutely assured.

kurd flag wavingIn this game for the prize of Kurdish affections, Damascus holds most of the cards. To begin with the Kurds have never fought or wanted to fight the SAA and never wanted independence. They do want a measure of autonomy which they would like to see guaranteed in a new federal constitution. Damascus will have difficulty swallowing that, not least because other restive areas like the South might also want autonomy. Assad will probably reckon that he can clinch a deal with a few concessions rather than a federal constitution: use of Kurdish language in schools, incorporation of the peshmerga into the SAA.

syrian flag wavingHe can afford to sit on his hands indefinitely: the small US presence in the remote Syrian Far East is no existential strategic threat to him, while the endless lingering will be a constant embarrassment to Trump. Most crucially of all, the Kurds know now, if they hadn’t realised it before, that one day the US tripwire will indeed be removed and they will get no deal at all from Damascus if they do not strike one now.

We can expect to see bluster, smoke screens, reversals and and posturing on all sides in the coming days but ultimately it must be considered likely that at some point the Kurds, when they judge that no more concessions can be extracted from Assad, could ask the US to leave. Ah! That would upend everything. Actually they won’t even need to ask. All they have to do is conclude a deal. Then it will be game, set and match to Assad and the Russians.

Jan. 6

U.S. War In Syria

washington post logoWashington Post, Contradicting Trump, Bolton says U.S. troops will stay in Syria until ISIS is eradicated, Karoun Demirjian, Jan. 6, 2019. President Trump’s national security adviser sought to reassure allies Sunday that the United States would be methodical about withdrawing troops from Syria, promising that the pullout would not occur until the Islamic State was fully eradicated from the country and Turkey could guarantee the safety of Kurdish fighters.

John Bolton’s comments, reported by the Associated Press, contradict Trump’s mid-December promise to bring troops home from Syria “now,” an announcement that surprised allies and advisers, sparked an outcry from lawmakers, and prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It is also the clearest statement yet from any of the president’s surrogates about how they plan to slow the implementation of his pullout plans, though Trump himself has not yet publicly endorsed the shift.

"There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” national security adviser John Bolton said in Jerusalem. The president’s abrupt promise in December to bring troops home “now” surprised allies and prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s resignation.

Saudi Human Rights Abuses

fahad albutairi loujain al Hathloul Small

Saudi advocate for women's driving rights Loujain al-Hathloul, left, and her husband, comedian Fahad Albutair (personal photo)

 washington post logoWashington Post, Personal Commentary: The tragedy of Fahad Albutairi and Loujain al-Hathloul, Kirk Rudell, Jan. 4, 2019. A couple years ago, when I was writing for “American Dad!,” I needed an Arabic speaker for a small part. Our casting director recommended a Saudi comedian named Fahad Albutairi, who happened to be in Los Angeles for a couple of months shooting a television show. I looked him up. He was the first Saudi stand-up comedian to appear on stage professionally in the kingdom, the “Jerry Seinfeld of Saudi Arabia.” He had a couple million Twitter followers. (He has none now; I’ll get to that.) He was, frankly, way more interesting than the part.

The day of the recording, I walked to the booth to meet Fahad and direct his session. It was just a couple lines, so I figured I’d say hi, run it a few times, and we’d both be on our way. Fahad was standing with a woman, whom he introduced as his wife, Loujain. She didn’t know anyone in LA, so she was tagging along with Fahad for the day. They were young, cool, cosmopolitan and incredibly nice. I liked them right away. We chatted.

And then I realized who she was . . . one of the women’s rights activists who had been arrested for driving in Saudi Arabia.

then, last March, they were both grabbed, blindfolded, and taken to Saudi Arabia — Fahad from Jordan, and Loujain from the UAE. Ten months later, Loujain is still in jail; her father reported that she has been brutally tortured. I don’t know where Fahad is. He deactivated his Twitter. I can find no trace of him online since last spring. I read that they are no longer married.

They weren’t trying to be revolutionaries, or martyrs. They were just young, creative people, trying to make stuff and share the same fundamental human rights.

Kirk Rudell is a writer and producer based in Los Angeles. This essay was adapted from his recent Twitter thread.

Jan. 5

Trump Probes

nancy pelosi oPalmer Report, Opinion: The real reason Donald Trump is truly scared of Nancy Pelosi, Bill Palmer, Jan. 5, 2019. It’s been two days since Nancy Pelosi (right) became Speaker of the House, and Donald Trump still has yet to publicly attack her. There’s a reason why.

bill palmer report logo headerIt’s not Jerry Nadler who decides when to advance articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, even though Nadler is the Chairman of the committee where that’ll happen. And it’s not Elijah Cummings or Adam Schiff who will decide which of Trump’s criminal scandals to begin exposing in nationally televised hearings first, even though they’re in charge of the two committees that’ll make the biggest splash.

No, these folks all answer to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She’ll decide when Donald Trump gets impeached. She’ll decide which of his dirty laundry gets aired. She’ll be the one Trump is begging for mercy once things truly turn bad for him. While she’s an entirely fair person, she’ll show him no mercy, because he deserves none. And he knows it – which is why he’s more afraid of her than everyone else combined.

Trump: Shutdown For 'Months...Years'

donald trump flag mouth

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump: Shutdown could last ‘months or even years,’ Seung Min Kim, Erica Werner and Josh Dawsey, Jan. 5, 2018 (print edition). President Trump on Friday threatened to use emergency powers to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a move that would defy a Congress that — amid Democratic opposition — has thus far refused to allocate any new money for a border wall.

Asked Friday if he would declare a national emergency to get the wall built, Trump (shown above in a file photo) responded: “We can do it. I haven’t done it. I may do it. I may do it.”

The government has been partially shut down since Dec. 22, as Trump has demanded any budget deal include more than $5 billion in wall funding.

President Trump told congressional leaders Friday he would keep the federal government closed for “months or even years” amid a dispute over border wall funding, as the White House scrambled to unify the GOP behind Trump while some Republicans showed impatience with the now two-week old shutdown.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that during a contentious and nearly two-hour meeting inside the White House situation room, Democrats told Trump: “We needed the government open.”

“He resisted,” Schumer said. “In fact, he said he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Offers a ‘Steel Barrier,’ but Democrats Are Unmoved, Michael Tackett and Catie Edmondson, Jan. 6, 2019. 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.”

The president characterized the second day of talks between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic congressional aides as “productive” after saying earlier in the day that he did not anticipate much progress. 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.

washington post logomike pence o SmallWashington Post, Pence leaves White House meeting with no breakthrough seen on shutdown, Robert Costa, Anne Gearan and Seung Min Kim​, Jan. 5, 2019. The three-hour meeting included congressional aides, not the lawmakers whose sign-off would be needed for any deal to end the partial government shutdown. And the vice president (right) did not have President Trump’s blessing to float new or specific numbers, according to two Trump aides.

Roll Call, Democrats skeptical weekend talks will hold beyond next Trump tweet, John T. Bennett, Jan. 5, 2019. ‘No one on the president’s staff ... speaks for the president, except the president,’ Dem source says. Congressional leaders deployed senior aides for talks Saturday talks in Vice President Mike Pence’s office on ending a partial government. But Democrats remain skeptical that any discussions will last beyond the next presidential tweet.

democratic donkey logoThree hours before the talks were set to begin in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across the street from the White House, the president fired off a series of eyebrow-raising tweets. Several kept up his harsh criticism of Democrats and another painted them as missing in action even though the president himself on Friday predicted progress during the weekend talks.

The president last month said he would be “proud” to “take the mantle” of a partial shutdown before nine Cabinet agencies and other federal offices were shuttered. But 15 days in, he is blaming Democrats even after telling their top leaders in mid-December he would not do so.

Trump Dictatorial Powers?

djt wall is coming meme jan 5 2018

President Trump issued the above meme to his Twitter followers on Jan. 5, provoking much ridicule among other reactions.

The Atlantic, The moment the president declares a “national emergency” — a decision that is entirely within his discretion — he is able to set aside many of the legal limits on his authority, Elizabeth Goitein, January/February 2019 Issue.

It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.

But will they? 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. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. 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.

washington post logoWashington Post, While federal workers go without pay, senior Trump administration officials are poised to get $10,000 raises, Lisa Rein and Peter Whoriskey, Jan. 5, 2018 (print edition). While hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay and the government is partially shut down, scores of senior Trump political appointees are poised to receive annual raises of about $10,000 a year.

mike pence o SmallThe pay increases for Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, top administrators and even Vice President Pence (right) are scheduled to go into effect Saturday without legislation to stop them, according to documents issued by the Office of Personnel Management and experts in federal pay.

The raises, for hundreds of appointees, including ambassadors, appear to be a consequence of the shutdown: When lawmakers failed to pass bills Dec. 21 to fund multiple federal agencies, an existing pay freeze lapsed. It was enacted by Congress in 2013 for top executives and was renewed each year since then. The raises will occur because that freeze will expire Saturday without legislative action, allowing the increases that accumulated over those years to kick in. The raises start with paychecks to be issued next week.

Cabinet secretaries would be entitled to a jump in annual salary from $199,700 to $210,700. Deputy secretaries would be entitled to a raise from $179,700 to $189,600. Others affected are under secretaries, deputy directors and other top administrators.

Pence’s pay is scheduled to rise from $230,700 to $243,500. It was unclear whether the White House had the authority to stop the increases.

U.S. Presidential Primaries

washington post logoWashington Post, Commentary: How the California primary will change the Democratic nomination process, Karen Tumulty, Jan. 5, 2019 (print edition). As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sweeps across Iowa this weekend, the starting gun for the 2020 Democratic presidential race has sounded. On Feb. 3 of next year, the very day that Iowans convene for the caucuses that kick off the primary season, the early-voting window will open in California, which has moved up its primary from the customary June date.

democratic donkey logoThe nation’s most populous state will be part of a March 3 “Super Tuesday’’ round of contests that will include another giant trove of delegates in Texas, as well as votes in Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. How to allocate a candidate’s time and money among all these states may well be the most crucial tactical decision that any of the campaigns will have to make.

This is a healthy development in many respects. California and other large, diverse states will no longer be relative bystanders in a process that gives outsize importance to the preferences of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are both predominantly white and less urban than the Democratic base as a whole.

The virtue of putting two small states first is that they put a premium on organization and force candidates to get out and hear the concerns of individual voters face to face.

Supreme Court / Far Right

washington post logoWashington Post, How the Federalist Society became much more than the conquerors of the courts, David Montgomery, Jan. 5, 2019. The conservative and libertarian society for law and public policy studies has reached an unprecedented peak of power and influence. Brett brett kavanaughKavanaugh (right), whose membership in the society dates to his Yale Law School days, has just been elevated to the Supreme Court; he is the second of President Trump’s appointees, following Neil Gorsuch, another justice closely associated with the society.

They join Justice Clarence Thomas (who said last spring he’s “been a part of the Federalist Society now since meeting with them … in the 1980s”), Chief Justice John Roberts (listed as a member in 1997-98) and Justice Samuel Alito (a periodic speaker at society events).

The newly solidified conservative majority on the court will inevitably decide more cases in line with the society’s ideals — which include checking federal power, protecting individual liberty and interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning. In practice, this could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people.

Global News

congo democratic republic map formerly zaire

Map of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire)

ny times logoNew York Times, Opposition Leader Is Seen by Church as Winning Congo Vote, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, Jan. 5, 2019 (print edition). The martin fayulucongo democratic republic formerly zaire flagCatholic Church, one of the few trusted institutions in Congo, has determined that a leading opposition candidate won this week’s presidential elections, a senior Western official and a presidential adviser said on Friday, setting up a potential confrontation with the Congolese government.

joseph kabilaThe candidate, Martin Fayulu, right, a United States and French-educated oil executive, had led President Joseph Kabila’s handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, by nearly 30 points in recent polls.

The Western official, who had talked to church officials, spoke on condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic protocol. Kabila is shown at left.

Media / Global Affairs

ny times logoNew York Times, China’s Campaign Against Uighurs Has a New Target: Their Top Thinkers, Austin Ramzy, Jan. 5, 2019. The mass detention of Uighur artists, journalists and scholars has become an alarming symbol of the Communist Party’s most intense social-engineering drive in decades.

china flag SmallAs a writer and magazine editor, Qurban Mamut promoted the culture and history of his people, the Uighurs, and that of other Turkic minority groups who live in far western China. He did so within the strict confines of censorship imposed by the Chinese authorities, who are ever wary of ethnic separatism and Islamic extremism among the predominantly Muslim peoples of the region.

It was a line that Mr. Mamut navigated successfully for 26 years, eventually rising to become editor in chief of the Communist Party-controlled magazine Xinjiang Civilization before retiring in 2011.

“My father is very smart; he knows what is the red line, and if you cross it you are taken to jail,” said his son, Bahram Sintash, who now lives in Virginia. “You work very close to the red line to teach people the culture. You have to be smart and careful with your words.”

Then last year, the red line moved. Suddenly, Mr. Mamut and more than a hundred other Uighur intellectuals who had successfully navigated the worlds of academia, art and journalism became the latest targets of a sweeping crackdown in the region of Xinjiang that has ensnared as many as one million Muslims in indoctrination camps.

Drug Trafficking

daniel hopsickerMadcow News, The Lie at the Heart of the Trial of El Chapo Guzman, Daniel Hopsicker, right, Jan. 5, 2019. The lie at the heart of the trial of El Chapo Guzman is one familiar to every American who understands what happened to this country during Prohibition: Men and women are human. They can be bought, bribed, threatened or cajoled. It is the basis of organized crime.

In the trial of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman (shown below in a file photo), hints of what’s happening in every country south of the U.S. border have been allowed to surface, if only briefly.

But not a word has — or will be — spoken about the elephant in the room: It’s not just happening in Mexico. It happens here too.

joaquin el chapo guzmanThose being rewarded today look remarkably similar to the people on the take during Prohibition: corrupt politicians in both political parties, the DEA, law enforcement officials, Southern Sheriffs… and most importantly: Bankers, from the world’s most powerful banks.

Fernando Blengio Cesena knows a lot about corruption, especially at the top of the Mexican government. He was a transportation and aviation manager purchasing dozens of American-registered aircraft, ‘go-fast’ boats, and ocean-going vessels, for use by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Blengio was also at onetime a personal pilot to former Mexican president Vicente Fox.

Two-thirds of the way through the trial of El Chapo Guzman, it is common knowledge that the most egregious evidence of corruption isn’t and won’t be heard; that the prosecution, aided by the judge, have nixed all testimony implicating American politician and banks, without whose cooperation the drug trade could not exist in its present gargantuan state.

daniel hopsicker barry boys coverHowever none of the witnesses for the prosecution will breath of word of this in their testimony, for fear of jeopardizing their ‘most favored nation’ status — their get out of jail, if not free, then more quickly — card.

So it comes as no surprise that in the secrecy-obsessed trial of El Chapo currently underway in New York, an unscrupulous federal prosecutor in Miami, who has been called a “serial offender” in newspaper reports, used false accusations to prevent top Sinaloa cartel figure Blengio from testifying in the trial of El Chapo, as well as the trial of Vicente Zambada, the government’s chief witness against El Chapo.

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, "Welcome to Terrorland" and "Barry & the Boys" (shown at right).

Global News: Syria

Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Turkey Fails In Syria's Idleb, Is Unwilling To Take The Northeast, b, Jan. 5, 2019. The neoconservatives in the Trump administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and the Syria envoy James Jeffery, are scrambling to save their plans for Syria that President Trump disposed of when he ordered a complete retreat.

Those plans were for a permanent U.S. occupation of northeast Syria, the reduction of Iranian influence within the government held parts of Syria and an eventual disposal of the Syrian government under President Assad through negotiations. These were unicorn aims that had no chance to ever be achieved.

Moreover Trump had never signed off on these ideas. Back in April he had announced that he wanted U.S. troops out of Syria. He gave his staff six month to achieve that. But instead of following those orders Pompeo and Bolton tried to implement their own plans:
Trump recognized that those plans were nonsense and ordered to end them. In that process he came up with a likewise unicorn idea - to hand northeast Syria to Turkey to fight the already defeated Islamic State. Turkey does not want northeast Syria. It does not want to risk a bloody war against the Kurds that would be required to sustain such an occupation.

The only appropriate solution is to hand control of northeast Syria (yellow) back to the Syrian government (red). Damascus would disarm the Kurds or integrate them within its national army. They would be under control and no longer a threat to Turkey. Everyone could live with such an easy solution.

Everyone but the neocons.

Jan. 4

Democrats Vote To End Shutdown

washington post logoWashington Post, House approves bill to deny new border wall funding, defying Trump’s veto threat, Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and Seung us house logoMin Kim​, Jan. 4, 2018 (print edition). The House approved a set of bills this evening that would reopen federal agencies that have been closed since the partial shutdown began Dec. 22. The measures would need support from the Senate and the president’s signature, but Trump has promised a veto and GOP Senate leaders say they won’t take up a measure that does not have his support.

Despite the broad GOP opposition, two Senate Republicans who are up for reelection in 2020 broke with Trump and party leaders, saying it was time to end the impasse even if Democrats won’t approve border funding.

cory gardner o CustomThe comments from Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo., shown at left) and Susan Collins (Maine) — the only Senate Republicans running for reelection in states Trump lost — pointed to cracks within the GOP that could grow as the shutdown nears the two-week mark.

nancy pelosi twitterMcConnell’s stance also prompted angry attacks Thursday from new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats, who insisted they were trying to give Republicans a way out of the standoff by passing two pieces of legislation: one a package of six spending bills that were negotiated on a bipartisan basis in the Senate and would reopen nearly all the federal agencies that have been shuttered since before Christmas, and the second a stopgap spending bill through Feb. 8 covering only the Department of Homeland Security.

As the impasse dragged on, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said for the first time that the stalemate could continue for “months and months.”

• Pelosi [shown below in a screenshot at podium with children and grandchildren of House members] reclaims House speaker’s gavel as spending fight simmers
• The Fix: Trump seems to like Pelosi  

nancy pelosi swearing in wgn screenshot jan 3 2018

Roll Call, Here are the lawmakers diverting pay in solidarity with shutdown employees, Emily Kopp,Jan. 4, 2019. Thousands of civilian workers will not receive paychecks due next week if deal to end shutdown isn’t reached.

Global Affairs: Syria

Daily Beast, Trump Referred to Shutdown as ‘Strike’ in Profanity-Laced Meeting With Democratic Leaders, Asawin Suebsaeng and Sam Stein, daily beast logoJan. 4, 2019. The president also dropped three f-bombs and claimed Democrats wanted him impeached.

During Friday’s meeting at the White House over the ongoing shutdown standoff, President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made little substantive progress as Pelosi and Schumer urged Trump to reopen the government by Tuesday, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

One of these knowledgeable sources told The Daily Beast President Trump kicked off the meeting with a rant lasting roughly 15 minutes that included his $5.6 billion demand for a border wall, and threatened that he was willing to keep the government closed for “years” if that’s what it took to get his wall.

Along with saying the word “fuck” at least three times throughout the meeting, the president bizarrely stated that he did not want to call the partial government shutdown a “shutdown,” according to the source. Instead, he referred to it as a “strike.” (Many of the federal employees affected by the weeks-long shutdown have been working without pay. That is essentially the opposite of a strike.)

During the course of this meeting, the Democrats in the room were visibly shaking their heads in exasperation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was one of the Republicans in the room. An aide to McConnell did not provide a readout of the meeting — citing office policy — but noted that the senator rarely talks in such sessions.

Another person familiar with the meeting disputed that Trump said “fuck” three times, though conceded he said it once.

ny times logoNew York Times, Democrats Lay Out Their Agenda as Shutdown Fight Casts Shadow, Nicholas Fandos, Jan. 4, 2019. House Democrats will present an ambitious bill proposing changes to ethics, campaign finance and voting laws. But the rollout is at risk of being overshadowed by the impasse over President Trump’s demand for $5 billion to fund a border wall.

democratic donkey logoHouse Democrats will unveil on Friday the details of ambitious legislation devised to lower barriers to the ballot box, tighten ethics and lobbying restrictions, and require presidents and candidates for the nation’s highest offices to release their tax returns.

Democrats were expected to detail the bill — a patchwork of dozens of changes to ethics, campaign finance and voting laws known as the For the People Act — late Friday morning on Capitol Hill.

Changing Congress

elections voting photo pbs screengrab dcma

U.S. voting (file photo from a screengrab from a PBS broadcast, via DMCA)

Alternet via OpEdNews, Commentary: Democrats in Congress unveil ambitious plan to fix our election system, Steven Rosenfeld, Jan. 4, 2018. On the second day of the 116th Congress, the new House Democratic majority will introduce H.R. 1, the most comprehensive democracy reform legislation seen this century. It addresses voting rights and electoral procedures, campaign finance rules and loopholes, and seeks to institute higher ethical standards for federal officeholders and more.

One can look at the For The People Act as a wish list of inclusive, transparent and publicly accountable solutions and best practices that seek to come to grips with today's world of voting, election advocacy and voter engagementor suppression. Or one can look at its dozens of focal points as a catalog of everything that has broken down in a system that vainly labels itself the world's greatest democracy.

"When they trust you on this issue, they trust you on other issues as well," said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-MD, chair of the House Democrats' Democracy Reform Task Force and a longtime public financing advocate, describing H.R. 1. "That confidence is what democracy is all about."

The bill's overall framing is to counter systemic corruption that blocks some citizens -- but not others -- from voting; or allows large donors to hide their identity while funding attacks they wouldn't publicly want to be associated with; or enables current and recent office-holders to personally profit from serving in the highest levels of the federal government.

"The anti-corruption stuff isn't new," said Miles Rapoport, Senior Practice Fellow in American Democracy at Harvard Kennedy School, who previously led the government reform groups Common Cause and Demos. "People always say it's rigged. It's corrupt, etc., I think what's new now is people say our democracy itself, our elections themselves, are screwed up, rigged, incompetently run -- one thing or another."

"What I am excited about is these things [specific anti-democratic facets and remedies] are having real resonance," Rapoport continued. "It's not just 'Drain the Swamp,' which everyone can say, right and left, and means different things to different people."

The bill is a compendium of 22 previously introduced political reform bills and some new provisions. Most of the reforms have been proposed by Democratic lawmakers to counter abuses pioneered or deployed this century by Republicans -- whether extreme gerrymanders, voter suppression, or stealth financing -- or rulings from the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that have deregulated campaigning.

"Throughout the last two years, we have heard people say they didn't just want to be part of a resistance, they wanted to insist on a set of values," said Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-MN, one of the newly elected freshmen from 2018's blue wave, in a press conference about the bill late last year. "I think, for us, it's really important to remember that accessibility, transparency and the trust of the public is the cornerstone of our democracy... They didn't want to send us here to resist [President Trump] and only work on oversight. They want to make sure we are insisting on furthering a set of values."

AOC Dance Tape

Excerpted college dance tape (a spoof on a then-hit movie "The Breakfast Club") by future congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that went viral last week after conservatives mocked her for it on social media

Palmer Report, Opinion: One day into the Democratic House, and Trump supporters have already lost what little was left of their minds, Bill Palmer, Jan. 4, 2019. Like many of my fellow liberals and Democrats, I’m still forming my opinion of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s said and done several things I agree with, and a few things I don’t agree with. She’s also only officially been a member of Congress for one day, so we’ll see who she decides to be once she settles into office. In the meantime, the jury is already in when it comes to one aspect: the Republican attacks on her are completely out of control, and need to be pushed back against.

bill palmer report logo headerYesterday, some Republican folks on the far-right dug up a “scandalous” eight year old video of – get this – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing. That’s it. It’s just a video of her showing off some dance moves on a rooftop with some other people. Apparently, Trump supporters think it’s a startling revelation that a current Congresswoman had some harmless innocent fun during her college-age years.

Let’s be real about why this is happening. The Republicans keep inappropriately attacking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for two reasons. The first is that her political views are on the far left edge of the Democratic party, and the GOP is hoping to paint the entire Democratic Congress as being as far left as she is. This is a dumb strategy, so I’d say let them go for it, if not for the second reason why they’re doing this. Ocasio-Cortez is a young outspoken ambitious woman of color, and insecure middle-aged conservative white men just can’t allow that to go unchallenged.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to this nonsense by posting a new video of herself showing off similar dance moves outside of her new office in the House of Representatives. It was the perfect response. She’ll be fine. She can clearly take care of herself. But the GOP’s decision to disingenuously attack her every move is sexist and racist in nature – and the rest of us need to push back against it for that reason alone. Whether you’re a fan of hers or not, this crap needs to be called out for what it is.

In the video above, shot in 2010 while she was still a student at BU, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (CAS’11) appears with other BU students in a version of the national Brat Pack Mashup, set to Phoenix’s “Lisztomania.” Video filmed and edited by Howard Thurman Center student ambassadors Julian Jensen (COM’12) and Eric Calvin Baker (COM’13)

BU [Boston University] Today, The Story Behind Ocasio-Cortez’s Dancing Video — from Those Who Made It, Staff report, Jan. 4, 2019 (4:20 min. video, full version). “Breakfast Club” stars Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy Welcome Congresswoman to their Brat Pack club.

It was a quiet winter week for Eric Baker (COM’13) and Raul Fernandez (COM’00, Wheelock’16) — until their phones started blowing up.

A silly four-minute dance video they helped make eight years ago on the rooftop of the College of Arts & Sciences at Boston University was suddenly all the rage on YouTube. In a matter of 48 hours, it went from having about 50,000 views on Wednesday to almost 2 million by Friday.

What happened? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez happened. The same day the BU alum and newly elected New York congresswoman was sworn in on Capitol Hill on Thursday, an anonymous poster on Twitter shared an edited, 30-second version of the old video featuring clips only of Ocasio-Cortez with some less-than-flattering words: “Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is.” But instead of finding agreement on social media, the tweet exploded in the other direction, with people finding the video harmless, charming, goofy, light-hearted—pretty much anything but damaging to Ocasio-Cortez (CAS’11).

And Ocasio-Cortez, in a nod to the video, posted footage of herself on Twitter Friday morning, dancing to Edwin Starr’s “War” as she prepared to enter her new Capitol Hill office, along with the words, “I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous. Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too!”

washington post logoWashington Post, Ocasio-Cortez, booed for her Pelosi vote, fires back: ‘Don’t hate me cause you ain’t me,’ Lindsey Bever, Jan. 4, 2018. Newly minted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has attracted endless amounts of attention after becoming the youngest woman democratic donkey logoever elected to Congress, was jeered as she cast her vote for Nancy Pelosi as House speaker on Thursday.

Then the 29-year-old congresswoman responded on social media, where she has become something of a star.

alexandria ocasio cortezOcasio-Cortez (left) quote-tweeted a video showing some GOP lawmakers booing her as she entered her vote. Pelosi (D-Calif.) was elected in a 220-192 vote over House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

“Over 200 members voted for Nancy Pelosi today, yet the GOP only booed one: me,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “Don’t hate me cause you ain’t me, fellas,” she added, along with an emoji of a woman flipping her hand.

It was perhaps Ocasio-Cortez’s most Ocasio-Cortez response ever, and it had been retweeted tens of thousands of times by Friday morning.

washington post logoWashington Post, When ex-spies go rogue by becoming lawmakers, Ian Shapira, Jan. 4, 2018 (print edition). Once Rep. Abigail Spanberger (right) embraced the secret life of a CIA operative, she never imagined breaking cover. She handled and recruited spies in Europe, where she abigail spanberger twitterspecialized in counterterrorism and nuclear proliferation issues. She aspired to an appointment somewhere as chief of station, the Langley equivalent of ambassador. Instead she wound up leaving the agency in 2014 in search of a less nomadic life after having three children.

Then came the Trump presidency and an overheated climate in which partisanship often triumphed over facts.

So Spanberger (D-Va.), a proudly apolitical collector of evidence, decided to do something profoundly radical for an ex-spy. She ran for the House of Representatives — and won, upsetting Rep. Dave Brat (R) in Virginia’s 7th District. On Thursday, as the 116th Congress convened, she joined a small vanguard of ex-intelligence officers becoming Instagram-friendly lawmakers.

“Leaving the CIA was the biggest loss of my life. I mourned the agency. I miss it every day,” said Spanberger, 39, one of three former CIA officers serving in the new Congress.

The idea of CIA officers running for national political office would have struck previous generations of agency spies as sacrilegious, said leon panetta official portraitwformer CIA director Leon E. Panetta (left), who headed the agency after more than 15 years as a California congressman. For one thing, agency officers, more than others in the intelligence community, usually maintain low profiles, even after they leave Langley.

And even if CIA people do take on a modicum of celebrity — television punditry or Hollywood are popular career paths — they typically have avoided Congress, whose oversight of the agency has generated lingering ill will.

CIA LogoSpanberger, who worked for the CIA for eight years, is serving alongside two other former agency officers: Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), 42, an analyst who deployed to Iraq three times and won a seat representing Michigan’s 8th District by beating a Republican incumbent; and Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), 41, who worked undercover in the Middle East and South Asia, and has served Texas’s 23rd District since 2015.

“For so many of us with national security backgrounds, bringing our history of public service without a partisan lens is important — and it’s a skill set,” Spanberger said. “We served the mission under Republican and Democratic presidents.”

huff post logoHuffPost, New Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib Vows To Impeach ‘Motherf**ker’ Donald Trump, Lee Moran, Jan. 4, 2018. Hours earlier, the Michigan Democrat become one of the first Muslim women in Congress. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) went from her swearing-in as one of the first Muslim women in Congress to cursing out President Donald Trump within a matter of hours on Thursday. Tlaib told the crowd at an event hosted by progressive group MoveOn:

“And when your son looks at you and says, ‘Mama, look, you won. Bullies don’t win.’ And I say, ‘Baby, they don’t.’ Because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker.” The Wrap’s media editor Jon Levine shared footage of Tlaib’s speech to Twitter:

Tlaib is the first Palestinian-American congresswoman. She donned a traditional thobe dress for her swearing-in on Thomas Jefferson’s Koran, and shared moments from the day on Twitter.

The congresswoman defended her comments in a statement on Friday. “Donald Trump is completely unfit to serve as President,” her spokesperson said in a statement. “The congresswoman absolutely believes he needs to be impeached.”

walter jones oRoll Call, Ailing Rep. Walter Jones to have private swearing-in ceremony, Emily Kopp, Jan. 4, 2019. NC Republican has been sidelined since September but has shared few details about his health. Rep. Walter Jones, right, will be sworn into the new session of Congress privately at his home in Farmville, North Carolina, because he could not be in Washington this week due to an unspecified illness.

U.S. Politics: California

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘What Will I Not Miss?’ In California, a Long Farewell From Jerry Brown, Adam Nagourney, Jan. 4, 2019 (print edition). The governor is entering his final days in public life — and is out to make the most of it. It’s time to add another name to the farewell tour circuit in this year of Elton John, Joan Baez, Paul Simon and Ozzy Osbourne: Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., the governor of California [shown in his Twitter photo].

jerry brown twitterThere was the invitation-only reception for 2,000 guests at a Sacramento basketball arena; the appearance on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday to talk about President Trump and offer dark warnings about global warming; the sold-out Sacramento Press Club forum and the interviews with The Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento Bee and many others.

On a recent Saturday alone, as Mr. Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, shivered in front of a fire in their new home at the family ranch here in Williams, there were five separate interview and photography sessions.

Not that anyone should consider this any kind of long goodbye for Mr. Brown, whose successor will be sworn in on Monday.

“No, we’ve got a lot to do,” Mr. Brown said. “I’ve been doing pardons. We have regulations we have been putting out. Appointments. So there’s a lot — the activity has continued apace.”

U.S. Markets, Jobs

washington post logoWashington Post, Dow bounces higher as Fed chief Jerome Powell signals patience on rate hikes, Taylor Telford​, Jan. 4, 2019. Federal jerome powellReserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank would “watch to see how the economy evolves,” suggesting it would ease the rate of interest rate hikes if the economy falters. Related story: U.S. economy added 312,000 jobs in December and wage growth gained steam, marking a strong finish to 2018.

Prisons, Justice, Violence

ny times logoNew York Times, Misconduct in federal prisons is tolerated and routinely covered up, according to a congressional report, Timothy Williams, Jan. 4, 2019. Misconduct in the federal prison system is widespread, tolerated and routinely covered up or ignored, including among senior officials, according to a congressional report released this week.

The report, by the House Subcommittee on National Security, found that a permissive environment in the Bureau of Prisons had often made lower-ranking employees targets of abuse — including sexual assault and harassment — by prisoners and staff members.

Inmates can easily exploit that culture of permissiveness, the report said. “If they know that an employee will get little support from management if harassed, that employee becomes a target.”

The study underscores a New York Times investigation of federal prisons last year that found rampant sexual harassment, retaliation for those who spoke out and few consequences for those responsible.

Military / Transgender Policy

ap logoAssociated Press via HuffPost, Court Rules In Favor Of Trump Administration’s Transgender Military Ban, Staff report, Jan. 4, 2018. LGBTQ and civil rights advocates have fought against the policy. A federal appeals court is siding with the Trump administration in a case about the Pentagon’s policy of restricting military service by transgender people.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Friday that a lower-court judge was wrong to block the Pentagon from implementing its preferred policy. The unsigned ruling will not allow the Pentagon to put in place its desired policy, however, because three other judges have entered orders blocking the administration in similar cases.

Military policy until a few years ago had barred service by transgender people. That changed under President Barack Obama, but President Donald Trump said he would reverse course, leading to lawsuits by transgender people. The administration already has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue. The high court has not said whether it will.

Trump World

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Commentary: Trump's legal woes may now extend to Chicago, Jan. 4, 2019. Longtime Chicago Alderman Edward M. Burke was indicted by the U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois on January 3 in a crowded magistrate's courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Office Building in Chicago on charges of running an extortion racket.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s sons are running the business — and their big hotel expansion is at a standstill, Jonathan O'Connell and Justin Vicory, Jan. 4, 2019. A year and a half after President Trump's sons announced a new line of hotels, progress has been slow. Meanwhile, the company has lost deals and been the target of investigations.

Shortly after Donald Trump entered the White House, his eldest sons announced ambitious plans to open a new line of hotels called Scion that would target young, hip customers mostly in places where their father had proven popular with voters.

The first Scion would open in the Mississippi Delta in early 2018. A second line of hotels, called American Idea, would soon follow, with three in Mississippi and more than a dozen elsewhere. In all, the Trump Organization said it had preliminary agreements to open 39 new properties.

This was the brothers’ primary and boldest idea for expanding the family business — a push into markets that it had long overlooked, they said. A year and a half later, progress has been slow.

Honest Elections: Supreme Court

supreme court building

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court to hear cases on partisan gerrymandering, Robert Barnes, Jan. 4, 2018. The justices will review rulings from lower courts that found congressional maps in North Carolina and Maryland so infected with politics that they violated voters' rights.

The Supreme Court once again will take up unresolved constitutional questions about partisan gerrymandering, agreeing Friday to consider rulings from two lower courts that found congressional maps in North Carolina and Maryland so extreme that they violated the rights of voters.

The North Carolina map was drawn by Republicans, the Maryland districts by the state’s dominant Democrats.

While the Supreme Court regularly scrutinizes electoral districts for racial gerrymandering, the justices have never found a state’s redistricting map so infected with politics that it violates the Constitution. Such a decision would mark a dramatic change for how the nation’s political maps are drawn.

Mueller Probe

washington post logoWashington Post, Mueller grand jury’s term extended, Spencer S. Hsu​, Jan. 4, 2018.  For the probes being conducted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, the grand jury’s tenure, originally set to end Saturday after 18 months, will continue, though it’s not clear for how long.

House Statehood Push For DC

washington post logoWashington Post, House leadership gives its blessing to D.C. statehood, Jenna Portnoy​, Jan. 4, 2018. The Democratic-controlled House on Friday included the measure in a sweeping package of voting rights, campaign finance and ethics reform. It was the first time in a generation that House leadership has endorsed statehood for the District.

More On Shutdown: Parks

washington post logoWashington Post, Millions face delayed tax refunds, cuts to food stamps as White House confronts shutdown’s effects, Damian Paletta and Erica Werner, Jan. 4, 2018. The Trump administration recognized only this week the breadth of the potential impact, senior administration officials said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Three dead in national parks as shutdown wears on, Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin, Jan. 4, 2018. Trump administration officials decided to leave the scenic parks open even as the Interior Department has halted most of its operations -- a departure from previous extended shutdowns.

Three days after most of the federal [parks] workforce was furloughed on Dec. 21, a 14-year-old girl fell 700 feet to her death at the Horseshoe Bend Overlook, part of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area in Arizona. The following day, Christmas, a man died at Yosemite National Park in California after suffering a head injury from a fall. On Dec. 27, a woman was killed by a falling tree at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee.

The Park Service estimates that up to 16,000 of its 19,000-person workforce is furloughed during the shutdown. Officials said services such as cleanup and maintenance vary from park to park, due to agreements with concessions and surrounding municipalities that are donating services, such as trash collection and road clearing.

National Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum said in an email that an average of six people die each week in the park system, a figure that includes “accidents like drownings, falls, and motor vehicle crashes and medical related incidents such as heart attacks.”

Courts: Puppy Death Trial

CBS News, Idaho teacher accused of feeding sick puppy to turtle found not guilty, Jan. 4, 2019. An Idaho jury found the teacher accused of feeding a sick puppy to a snapping turtle in front of his students not guilty of animal cruelty, CBS Idaho Falls affiliate KIDK reports. In a recording of an interview with investigator that was presented at the trial, Robert Crosland said "I honestly thought I was doing the right thing by putting it out of its misery."

The six-person jury found Crosland not guilty after the two-day trial at Franklin County Courthouse in Preston, a rural community of about 5,300 people. According to the Idaho Statesman, the courtroom was packed with friends, family, students and teachers who came to support Crosland.

Prosecutors argued the puppy may not have been sick and may have been able to survive. On Friday morning, the students who witnessed the puppy being fed to the turtle testified.

One student testifed that when the puppy was put in the water with the turtle, it paddled a few times before the turtle grabbed it and pulled it under the water.

Defense attorneys asked the case be dismissed, saying the puppy didn't suffer. The judge ruled that that question was best left to the jury.

Jan. 3

Pelosi Poised For Power

ny times logoNew York Times, Nancy Pelosi, Icon of Female Power, Will Reclaim Role as Speaker and Seal Place in History, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Jan. 3, 2019 (print edition). nancy pelosi oThere was a brief moment in Nancy Pelosi’s life when she worried she had too much power. She had so many titles in the California Democratic Party, including chairwoman, that she told Lindy Boggs, a Louisiana congresswoman, that she was thinking of giving some up.

That was in 1984, and Ms. Boggs “said, ‘Darlin’, no man would ever think that. Don’t you give anything up,’” Ms. Pelosi  said in a recent interview, leaning forward as she mimicked Ms. Boggs’s Southern accent. “And then she said, ‘Know thy power.’”

More than three decades later, Ms. Pelosi (shown at right) is all but assured on Thursday of reclaiming her former title as speaker of the House, the first lawmaker in more than half a century to hold the office twice. With the gavel in hand, she will cement her status as the highest-ranking and most powerful elected woman in American political history.

democratic donkey logoRoll Call, Here are the 15 Democrats who didn’t vote for Pelosi as speaker, Staff report, Jan. 3, 2019. Some Democratic House ran on pledge for new blood in Democratic leadership.

Roll Call, Trump congratulates Pelosi in briefing room, stumps for ‘wall’ by any other name, John T. Bennett,  Whatever you want to call it.’ President Donald Trump made a surprise appearance Thursday in the White House briefing room, congratulating Speaker Nancy Pelosi on taking back the gavel and predicting they will work together on substantial legislation.

President Donald Trump official“It’s a very very great achievement and hopefully we’re going to work together and get lots of things done, like infrastructure,” Trump said.

“I think it’ll work out and be a little bit differently than a lot of people are thinking,” he said, referring to forecasts from both parties that the two cannot work together.

Trump, flanked by federal law enforcement personnel he described as helping secure the southern border, used his appearance to make another pitch for his border barrier.

nancy pelosi swearing in wgn screenshot jan 3 2018

ny times logoNew York Times, New Congress Live: the 116th House Gavels in with Democrats in Control, Staff report, Jan. 3, 2018. The 116th Congress, us house logowith the House in Democratic control, comes to order at noon. Shortly after, lawmakers will vote on whether to elect Representative Nancy Pelosi as the next speaker. Right on schedule, the House gaveled in for the 116th Congress, with Democrats now in control. The name plate wasn’t on the door of the Capitol’s sumptuous speaker’s suite yet, but Ms. Pelosi strode out of the speaker’s office toward the chamber, grandchildren in tow.

Lawmakers and their children and grandchildren waved from the well of the House to family members seated in the galleries above. The press section was packed standing-room-only with journalists, and visitors clogged the hallways waiting their turn to go through full-body security scanners and take seats in the balcony overlooking the floor.

Trump v. House 

Democratic-Republican Campaign logos

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump rejects Democrats’ plan to reopen government, Damian Paletta and Erica Werner, Jan. 3, 2019 (print edition. After a meeting with congressional leaders ended with no resolution on President Trump's demands for border-wall funds, another meeting was set for Friday. But neither side offered any sign a deal was within reach, suggesting the partial government shutdown could continue indefinitely.

Trump v. Generals

 washington post logoWashington Post. Analysis: A defensive Trump calls a Cabinet meeting and uses it to boast, deflect and distract, Anne Gearan​, Jan. 3, 2018 (print edition). President Trump, 12 days into a government shutdown and facing new scrutiny from emboldened Democrats, djt handwave fileinaugurated the new year Wednesday with a Cabinet meeting. It quickly became a 95-minute stream-of-consciousness defense of his presidency and worldview, filled with falsehoods, revisionist history and self-aggrandizement.

Trump trashed his former secretary of defense, retired four-star Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, as a failure after once holding him out as a star of his administration.

“What’s he done for me?” Trump said.

He claimed to have “essentially” fired Mattis, who had surprised the White House by resigning in protest last month after the president’s abrupt decision to pull U.S. forces from Syria.

And Trump, who did not serve in the military and received draft deferments during the Vietnam War, suggested he would have made a good military leader himself.

“I think I would have been a good general, but who knows?” Trump said.

Global News

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia has formally charged Paul Whelan, an American citizen, with espionage, Interfax news agency reports, Amie Ferris-Rotman, Jan. 3, 2018. An American (shown at right) arrested in Russia has been formally charged with espionage, a Russian news agency reported Thursday, moving the case into Russia’s justice system and possibly deepening the diplomatic tensions with the United States.

paul whelanThe Interfax news agency report on Paul Whelan’s status could not be independently verified. “An indictment has been presented. Whelan dismisses it,” Interfax reported, citing a person familiar with the situation.

There was no immediate comment from Russian officials, but Interfax and other Russian news agencies have been used to give the first word on some sensitive domestic issues.

Russian lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov, who was appointed to represent Whelan, was quoted as saying the American will remain in custody in Moscow until at least Feb. 28. It was unclear whether court proceeding could begin before that date, or where Whelan could be held after February. Whelan was arrested by Russia’s security services Dec. 28, while he was in Moscow on a personal trip.

Inside DC

washington post logoWashington Post, House ethics panel says Garrett misused official resources, was ‘trying to run out the clock’ on probe, Felicia Sonmez, tom garrett oJan. 3, 2018.​ Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-Va.), right, repeatedly asked his staff to run his personal errands, from buying cigarettes and carrying groceries to helping his children apply to schools, in violation of House rules, the House Ethics Committee said Wednesday in a lengthy report.

republican elephant logoBut Garrett, who announced in May that he is struggling with alcoholism and would not seek reelection, will not have to repay the federal government for the time his staff spent on unofficial tasks, the committee said.

In its 47-page report, the panel’s nonpartisan staff suggested that Garrett and his wife, Flanna Garrett, were dragging their feet during the investigation in an effort to avoid censure.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump flubs his second meeting with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, Bill Palmer, Jan. 3, 2019. At least this time Donald Trump had the sense to get his butt kicked by the Democrats without television cameras in the room. Last month Trump famously met with incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the whole world got to see Trump get outwitted.

bill palmer report logo headerNow he’s met with the Democratic leaders again, this time in private – and based on what’s leaked out, Trump arguably flubbed it even worse this time.

The Democrats are absolutely not going to give Donald Trump any funding for his racist border wall, which is also a fence, and has already been built, and has already been paid for by Mexico, or whatever nonsense Trump is pushing this time around.

ryan zinke owashington post logoWashington Post, Justice Dept. weighing whether Zinke lied to inspector general, Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, Juliet Eilperin and Lisa Rein​, Jan. 3, 2019. Ryan Zinke resigned as Trump’s interior secretary amid inquiries tied to his real estate dealings in Montana and his role in reviewing a proposed casino project by Native American tribes in Connecticut.

Roll Call, House adopts rules package with few Democratic defections over PAYGO provision, Lindsey McPherson, Jan. 3, 2018. The House on Thursday adopted the bulk of a rules package for the 116th Congress that featured dozens of changes designed to restore more committee and bipartisan involvement in the legislative process, increase transparency and clamp down on ethics violations.

us house logoThe measure, adopted 234 to 197, was crafted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., with input from members across all factions of the House Democratic majority.

Thursday’s vote was on Title I, which encompasses the vast majority of the rules package. On Friday the House will vote on Title II, which would establish a Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, and on Wednesday the House will vote on Title III, which would authorize the general counsel on behalf of the speaker to intervene in the Texas v. United States lawsuit to defend the constitutionality of the 2010 health care law and ensure that protections for pre-existing conditions continue.

Only three Democrats — Reps. Ro Khanna of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii — voted “no.” Give the existence of the law, which like the House rule can be waived by a vote of Congress — and often is — many progressives did not feel the need to vote against the rules package despite opposing PAYGO as a principle.

In an atypical move, three Republicans — Reps. Tom Reed and John Katko of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania — voted for Democrats’ rules package. They did so because of changes the bipartisan Problems Solvers Caucus, of which they are members, pushed to help facilitate more two-party legislating. This was the first occasion since 2001 in which anyone from the minority party has voted for the majority party’s rules package.

Media Commentarywilliam arkin nbc screenshot

Medium, Opinion: Full email from William Arkin, leaving NBC and MSNBC, William Arkin (shown above), Jan. 3, 2018. January 4 is my last day at NBC News nbc news logoand I’d like to say goodbye to my friends, hopefully not for good. This isn’t the first time I’ve left NBC, but this time the parting is more bittersweet, the world and the state of journalism in tandem crisis. My expertise, though seeming to be all the more central to the challenges and dangers we face, also seems to be less valued at the moment. And I find myself completely out of synch with the network, being neither a day-to-day reporter nor interested in the Trump circus.

I first started my association with NBC 30 years ago, feeding Cold War stories to Bob Windrem and Fred Francis at the Pentagon. I became an on-air analyst during the 1999 Kosovo War, continuing to work thereafter with Nightly News, delighting and oftentimes annoying in my peculiar position of being a mere civilian amongst THE GENERALS and former government msnbc logo Customofficials. A scholar at heart, I also found myself an often lone voice that was anti-nuclear and even anti-military, anti-military for me meaning opinionated but also highly knowledgeable, somewhat akin to a movie critic, loving my subject but also not shy about making judgements regarding the flops and the losers.

Somewhere in all of that, and particularly as the social media wave began, it was clear that NBC (like the rest of the news media) could no longer keep up with the world. Added to that was the intellectual challenge of how to report our new kind of wars when there were no real fronts and no actual measures of success.

david petraeus wTo me there is also a larger problem: though they produce nothing that resembles actual safety and security, the national security leaders and generals we have are allowed to do their thing unmolested. Despite being at “war,” no great wartime leaders or visionaries are emerging. There is not a soul in Washington who can say that they have won or stopped any conflict. And though there might be the beloved perfumed princes in the form of the Petraeus’ [left] and Wes Clarks’, or the so-called warrior monks like Mattis and [below left] McMaster, we’ve had more than a generation of national security leaders who sadly and fraudulently have done little of consequence.

james mattisAnd yet we (and others) embrace them, even the highly partisan formers who masquerade as “analysts”. We do so ignoring the empirical truth of what they have wrought: There is not one county in the Middle East that is safer today than it was 18 years ago. Indeed the world becomes ever more polarized and dangerous.

As perpetual war has become accepted as a given in our lives, I’m proud to say that I’ve never deviated in my argument at NBC (or at my newspaper gigs) that terrorists will never bedefeated until we better understand why they are driven to fighting. And I have maintained my central view that airpower (in its broadest sense including space and cyber) is not just the future but the enabler and the tool of war today.

U.S. Crime

ABC News, Idaho nurse under investigation in case of missing Colorado mother Kelsey Berreth: Sources, Clayton Sandell, Carol McKinley and abc news logokelsey berreth croppedBecky Perlow, Jan. 3, 2019. A woman being investigated for her role in the case of missing Colorado mother Kelsey Berreth has been identified as a 32-year-old nurse from Twin Falls, Idaho, two of the woman's family members and a law enforcement source told ABC News.

ABC News is withholding reporting the woman's name because she has not been publicly identified by law enforcement investigators. Berreth’s fiancé, Patrick Frazee, was formally charged Monday with two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of solicitation to commit murder.

The last confirmed sighting of Berreth was on Thanksgiving Day, when surveillance cameras videotaped her going into a Safeway supermarket near her home in Woodland Park, Colorado, with her 1-year-old daughter, police said.

patrick frazee booking croppedIn the three months before Berreth vanished, Frazee allegedly tried three times to find someone to kill her, according to formal charges filed by prosecutors.

Frazee (shown in a mug shot) told police that he met up with Berreth on Thanksgiving Day to pick up their daughter.

Berreth was reported missing to the police on Dec. 2 by her mother. Frazee was arrested Dec. 21, though details of what led police to arrest him have not been disclosed. Affidavits in the case were sealed by the court, prosecutors said. Police no longer believe the mother is alive, officials said. The crime may have occurred at her home, police said.

Immigration / Indiginious Peoples' Rights

native americans dcma

Without adequate language skills US immigration agents and judges are unable to communicate with the asylum seekers
(Image via strategic-culture.org, with permission via DMCA)

Strategic Culture Foundation via OpEdNews, Opinion: Fourth World Under Unprecedented Threat, Wayne Madsen, Jan. 3, 2018. Never in recent times has the Fourth World the 370 million indigenous peoples who have no states of their own been under assault, as it is now, from a combination of proto-fascist governments and resource-grabbing corporations.

The basic tenets of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) are being undermined by governments that are serving the interests of mining and drilling companies eager to displace indigenous peoples from their natural resources, much of which are found on sacred ancestral lands.

Mr. Trump has opposed the sovereign immunity of the Native American tribes ever since the advent of casino gambling on tribal reservations. Trump, fearful of competition for his three Mafia-infused casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, did what he always does project his worst traits on to others. In the late 1990s, using a fake "pro-family" front group, the "New York Institute for Law and Society," Trump accused the St. Regis Mohawk tribe, which planned to open a casino in the New York Catskills, of being violent criminals and drug dealers. Running the dirty tricks campaign against the Mohawk tribe was Trump's longtime dark propagandist, Roger Stone. Stone commissioned media advertisements that falsely accused the Mohawk Nation, which sits astride the US-Canadian border, of smuggling liquor and cigarettes and dealing with mobsters. Stone is currently and unsurprisingly under investigation by the Department of Justice's special counsel, Robert Mueller, for 2016 political campaign and criminal conspiracy violations.

Trump's demonization of Native Americans does not stop with ancestral lands and "Indian gaming." Trump who racially slurs US Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts by calling her "Pocahontas" and his supporters' constant criticism of political refugees seeking asylum from violence in their native Guatemala omits any knowledge of who they are and why they want to live in safety in the United States. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are so ignorant about the human rights situation in Central America, they employ Spanish-speakers to deal with the asylum seekers. Yet, these unfortunate souls speak neither Spanish nor English. Many of them only speak Ixil, a Mayan language. Others speak different Mayan languages K'iche', Q'eqchi, Achi, Xinca, Mam, Kaqchekel, Yucatec Maya, Awakatek, Akateko, Jakaltek, and Q'anjob'al, among others for which there are few interpreters in government or even academia.

Without adequate language skills, US immigration agents and judges are unable to communicate with the asylum seekers.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen showed her total ignorance about the refugee situation at the border by stating at a White House briefing, "All US Border Patrol personnel in the Southwest border are bilingual every last one of them." What Nielsen failed to mention, either by design or because she is inept at her job, is that personnel bilingual in English and Spanish are not what is required at the border to deal with asylum seekers.

Jan. 2

Trump v. House

ny times logous house logoNew York Times, In Newly Divided Government, Who Will Control the Political Agenda? Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Jan. 2, 2019 (print edition). Democrats taking power in the House plan to push an anti-corruption agenda. But President Trump appears set on keeping the focus on immigration. The first order of business will be to end the shutdown, now heading into its 12th day over an impasse on border wall funding. Mr. Trump invited lawmakers to a Wednesday meeting.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump doesn’t understand his leverage is gone, Jennifer Rubin (right), Jan. 2, 2019. One wondrous result of the 2018 election, we will discover, is the near-total irrelevance of Trump’s tweets. He can say whatever wacky thing he wants, throw out jennifer rubin new headshotwhatever insults he pleases, but Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, is not going to be thrown off track or even alarmed. She takes his tweets as confirmation he is clueless and unstable.

We’ll have to see how Pelosi manages Trump’s temper tantrums, lies and incoherence but so far the approach has been four-fold.

First, engage the president publicly and correct him/fact-check him in real time. This reminds voters that Trump is not operating in the real world and his positions aren’t tethered to reality. Second, make certain Trump is on the wrong side of public opinion. In the case of the border wall and the shutdown, voters oppose both. This further diminishes Trump’s leverage and puts pressure on Republicans to split from him.

Third, make clear, concise statements of policy. This gives voters a sense that she is in command while Trump blathers on for days, changing his mind and contradicting his advisers. Finally, don’t negotiate against herself. Trump, as she wisecracked, has gone from a wall to slatted fence to “a beaded curtain.” Mocking Trump and pointing out his weakness infuriate him, demoralize his cult-followers and delight her base.

U.S. Immigration Policy

ICE logo

 washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s shutdown has paralyzed immigration courts. Oh, the irony, Editorial Board, Jan. 2, 2019 (print edition). The president who decried ‘catch and release’ is now, by his own actions, encouraging permanent release. Irony of ironies, that shutdown has paralyzed the nation’s immigration courts, shuttering many of them and allowing several hundred undocumented immigrants to dodge deportation orders each day the shutdown continues. They are among many hundreds of others whose cases will be postponed for years — or, in effect, indefinitely — for every day the closure lasts.

Donald TrumpThose are among the more perverse effects of the Trump shutdown, which has resulted in many of the nation’s roughly 400 immigration judges receiving furlough orders, barring them from coming to work or hearing cases. (Judges who handle cases involving detained migrants in Department of Homeland Security custody remain at work, but not those handling non-detained migrants, whose cases are more numerous.)

The immigration courts are already massively jammed: The backlog is now 1.1 million cases. That means in the 11 days of the shutdown so far, thousands of cases have already been postponed.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Agents Fire Tear Gas Across Mexican Border, Alan Yuhas, Jan. 2, 2019 (print edition). About 150 migrants who tried to enter the United States near San Diego early Tuesday were forced back. American border officers sent tear gas into Mexico early Tuesday to drive away about 150 migrants trying to cross the border into the United States, the authorities said.

In a statement, the Customs and Border Protection agency said that the migrants tried to climb over and crawl under the border fence near San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico — the same area where American officers fired tear gas across the border late last year and where Mexico is struggling to handle thousands of migrants who have fled violence and poverty in Central America.

Early Tuesday, as migrants gathered at the border fence there, several teenagers with heavy jackets, blankets and rubber mats tried to cross or cover concertina wire at the barrier. Others began throwing rocks over the fence at the American officers, according to the statement.

U.S. Shutdown

ny times logoNew York Times, Shutdown Leaves Food, Medicine and Pay in Doubt in Indian Country, Mitch Smith and Julie Turkewitz, Jan. 2, 2019 (print edition). For one tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the government shutdown comes with a price tag: about $100,000, every day, of federal money that does not arrive to keep health clinics staffed, food pantry shelves full and employees paid.

The tribe is using its own funds to cover the shortfalls for now. But if the standoff in Washington continues much longer, that stopgap money will be depleted. Later this month, workers could be furloughed and health services could be pared back. “Everything,” said Aaron Payment, the chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, “is on the table.”

Donald Trump Logo Make America Great AgainFor many Americans who are not federal workers or contractors, a shutdown is a minor inconvenience. A trip to a national park may be canceled. A call to a government office may go unanswered. But for Native American tribes, which rely heavily on federal money to operate, a shutdown can cripple their most basic functions.

All across Indian Country, the federal shutdown slices deep. Generations ago, tribes negotiated treaties with the United States government guaranteeing funds for services like health care and education in exchange for huge swaths of territory.

U.S. Politics

ny times logojoe biden headshotNew York Times, How Biden Has Paved the Way for a Possible Presidential Run, Kevin Sack and Alexander Burns, Jan. 2, 2019 (print edition). A series of careful financial decisions and the creation of nonprofits and academic centers staffed by close advisers would help a campaign-in-waiting for Joseph R. Biden Jr. He is expected to reveal his plans early this year.

When officials at the University of Utah invited Joseph R. Biden Jr. [shown in a file photo] to speak there in December, Mr. Biden’s representatives listed a number of requirements for the appearance. His booking firm, Creative Artists Agency, said the school would need to fly Mr. Biden and his aides to Salt Lake City by private plane. It would have to buy 1,000 copies of his recent memoir for distribution to the audience. There would be no insertion of the word “former” before “vice president” in social media promotions. And the speaking fee would be $100,000 — “a reduced rate,” it was explained, for colleges and universities.

But three days before the event, Mr. Biden’s aides learned that the public university would be using state funds to pay his fee. They already had a policy against taking tuition dollars, and decided that accepting taxpayer dollars for such a windfall might appear just as politically distasteful. Mr. Biden made the trip anyway but declined to take a check.

That costly last-minute reversal exposes the complicated balance Mr. Biden has attempted since leaving the vice presidency two years ago: between earning substantial wealth for the first time and maintaining viability as a potential 2020 presidential contender.

He has done so while building a network of nonprofits and academic centers that are staffed by his closest strategists and advisers, many making six figures while working on the issues most closely identified with him. It has effectively become a campaign-in-waiting, poised to metamorphose if the 76-year-old Mr. Biden announces his third bid for the presidency.

Honest Elections

whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, Opinion: Will Georgia Double Down on Non-Transparent, Vulnerable Election Machines? Jennifer Cohn, Jan. 2, 2019. Georgia officials may ignore the recommendation of independent cybersecurity experts in their selection of new voting equipment for the state.

How could Georgia make its current voting system worse? Officials seem to have found a way.

Even before the 2018 midterm election, the Peach State had achieved notoriety based on, among other things, its use of hackable paperless voting machines. Paperless voting machines are considered an especially attractive target for hackers and corrupt insiders because they provide no independent paper record of voter intent that can be used to determine whether electronic tallies are legitimate.

Thus, Georgia is one of just a handful of states that still exclusively use such paperless machines.

Rise Of Right

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: What connects Trumpish figures around the world? The Internet is the best answer, Megan McArdle, Jan. 2, 2019 (print edition). The Internet is disrupting politics the way it has disrupted everything else.

U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog, The chief justice’s 2018 year-end report: The federal judiciary and #MeToo, Amy Howe, Dec. 31, 2018. Chief Justice John Roberts released his annual report on the john roberts ofederal judiciary today, focusing on the judiciary’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Roberts (shown at right) had discussed this issue in his 2017 report, after several female law clerks accused Judge Alex Kozinski – then a prominent judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit – of inappropriate sexual conduct.

A working group created to review the safeguards in place to protect law clerks and other employees concluded, Roberts reported, that “inappropriate workplace conduct is not pervasive within the Judiciary, but it is also not limited to a few isolated instances involving law clerks” and “frequently goes unreported.” Roberts endorsed the recommendations made by the group, which included making changes to the codes of conduct for both judges and employees to make clear that both harassment and retaliation against employees who report misconduct are prohibited.

Roberts observed that he was “pleased” that the judiciary has “mobilized to ensure that” it is “the exemplary workplace that we all want,” but he added that “the job is not finished until we have done all that we can to ensure that all of our employees are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.”

U.S. Regional Justice Issues

washington post logoWashington Post, Attorneys in N.Va. face primary challengers with progressive agenda on death penalty, pot, other issues, Rachel Weiner and Justin Jouvenal, Jan. 2, 2019 (print edition). The clash is part of a national movement for criminal justice reform that has come to Northern Virginia and could radically reshape law and order in Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun.

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, Beyond ‘no comment’: The White House has no response — at all — to many media questions, Paul Farhi, Jan. 2, 2019 (print edition). The New York Times published a powerful story last week about President Trump’s growing isolation in the White House, with colorful details such as Trump’s tendency to interrupt advisers during meetings to call them “freaking idiots” (except he doesn’t use the word “freaking”).

djt handwave fileAsked to comment by the Times’s reporters about this, the White House said nothing. It did not respond. Similarly, it offered no response when The Washington Post asked the White House about Trump’s false claim during a post-Christmas Day visit to U.S. troops in Iraq that he boosted military pay by 10 percent.

Reporters are used to officials who respond to their inquiries with a terse “no comment.” This was typically the practice in prior presidential administrations when officials saw no strategic value in rebutting an unflattering story.

But as in so many things, the Trump administration is different. Instead of “no comment,” Trump’s press representatives often don’t bother saying anything at all.

“This is the least responsive White House press operation I’ve ever dealt with by far,” said Peter Baker, a veteran White House reporter for the New York Times and one of the co-authors of the story about Trump’s isolation. “There are certainly individuals there who are professional and try to be helpful when they can, and I appreciate their efforts, I really do. But as a whole, I’ve learned not to expect answers even to basic questions.”

Trump Attacks On Generals

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump’s attacks on the U.S. military reach a disgusting new low, Robert Harrington, Jan. 2, 2019. Donald Trump is not (merely) a dishonest leader who has abrogated his role as POTUS, he’s a petty, childish, stupid, spoiled, career criminal and traitor who stole the presidency and will, if not stopped, utterly destroy America. He isn’t possibly the worst president in my lifetime, he’s the worst in history, worse than anyone could have thought possible or even imagined.

bill palmer report logo headerNow that we’re clear on that, retired four-star Army General Stanley McChrystal’s remark to ABC’s Martha Raddatz that, “I don’t think he (Trump) tells the truth,” can be examined in context. It doesn’t go far enough, obviously, as so many assessments of Donald Trump’s “presidency” don’t go far enough.

Trump’s response to the General’s mild denigration was a staggeringly childish and outrageously stupid tweet. “’General’ McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama. Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!” Say what you will about this tweet, and you would be justified in condemning it in language dripping in bile and contempt, it nevertheless reflects the level of outraged discourse that we should parallel word for word and line for line.

Donald Trump has made this a screaming contest. He has the volume but we have both the volume and the content. The year 2019 is the year we need to finally take the gloves off.

War In Syria

SouthFront, Syrian MoD Says 400 Kurdish Fighters Withdrew From Manbij (Video), Staff report, Jan. 2, 2018. A convoy of the People’s Protection syrian flag wavingUnits (YPG), consisting of 30 vehicles, has withdrawn from the city of Manbij to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) of Syria announced on January 2.

kurd flag waving“The information indicates that around 400 Kurdish fighters have left Manbij so far,” the Syrian MoD added. The MoD said that the supposed withdrawal was a part of an agreement between the the Damascus government and Kurdish group. The agreement is aimed at “restoring normal life to northern Syria.”

Few hours ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) claimed that the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) has withdrawn all of its forces from the frontlines around Manbij. Syrian opposition sources said that the step was taken upon direct orders from Turkey.

jacob hornberger headshotFuture of Freedom Foundation, Opinion: It’s Too Soon to Celebrate Trump’s Syria Withdrawal, Jacob G. Hornberger (right), Jan. 2, 2019. Yes, it’s possible that President Trump will follow through with his announcement that he’s going to pull out all U.S. troops from Syria. Just don’t bet the farm on it. Already Trump has shifted from pulling out the troops immediately to pulling them out four months from now. No one should be surprised if, four months from now, he comes up with a reason for keeping them there even longer.

After all, don’t forget that last October Trump promised to release those JFK records that the CIA has been keeping secret for 55 years, on grounds of “national security” of course. The day before the deadline for release, Trump declared that he was going to follow through with his promise to release the long-secret records. The next day — the day of the deadline — Trump announced that he was granting the CIA’s request to extend the time for secrecy for another three years. It was a testament to the power of the CIA and the rest of the national-security establishment.

Now, I don’t mean to rain on the parade of those who are celebrating Trump’s supposed rebirth of non-interventionism. But there are two factors at work here that need to be emphasized: One, Trump is clearly not a non-interventionist and, two, the enormous power of the national-security establishment to bend U.S. presidents into complying with its will.

Deep State: JFK Scholarship

Assassination Archives and Research Center, Publication Spotlight: 'A Certain Arrogance -- The Sacrificing of Lee Harvey Oswald and the Wartime Manipulation of Religious Groups by U.S. Intelligence,' Charles R. Drago, Jan. 2, 2018. Book review and introduction for A Certain Arrogance by Dr. George Michael Evica, shown above, (TrineDay, second edition, 2011; University of Hartford Press; 1st edition (1978).

George Michael EvicaGeorge Michael Evica (left), one of the preeminent prosectors of the malignant growth that disfigured the American body politic on November 22, 1963, for decades focused his intellect and intuition on the search for a cure for the underlying disease. In the course of forty years of research, analysis, writing, broadcasting, and teaching, he followed its devastating metastasis through the vital organs of politics (deep and otherwise) to the extremities of business, culture, and religion. All the while he cut away necrotic tissue and struggled valiantly, in the company of a surgical team as distinguished as it is obscure, to keep the patient alive.

Professor Evica, author of And We Are All Mortal: New Evidence and Analysis in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (1975; University of Hartford), must be numbered among the most honored of the so-called second generation of Kennedy assassination researchers. Their labors to refine, reinforce, expand upon, and draw attention to the discoveries of their predecessors validate this direct statement of fact:

Anyone with reasonable access to the evidence in the homicide of JFK who does not conclude that the act was the consequence of a criminal conspiracy is cognitively impaired and/or complicit in the crime.

george michael evica certain arrogance coverA Certain Arrogance stands as Professor Evica’s response to the unavoidable question: How do we define and effect justice in the wake of the world-historic tragedy in Dallas?

Clearly he understood that, at this late date, being content merely to identify and, if possible, prosecute the conspiracy’s sponsors, facilitators, and mechanics would amount to hollow acts of vengeance. Cleaning and closing the wound while leaving the disease to spread is simply not a survivable option.

With the nobility of knowledge comes obligation: How can we utilize all that has been learned through our post-Dallas investigations to heal and immunize the long-suffering victims of the malady of which the assassination of John F. Kennedy is but the most widely appreciated and putrescent manifestation?

The method by which Professor Evica honored his noblesse oblige is, at first blush, hardly novel. Like many other researchers, he chose to begin his exploration by focusing on an aspect of the complex life of the lead character in the assassination drama, Lee Harvey Oswald. To carry the cancer metaphor forward: Think of the falsely accused killer as a tumor cell whose sojourn through the host organism in theory can be traced back to its source.

Oswald’s movements, however, are not easily discerned. False trails and feints abound. Promising clues have been obscured by a host of ham-handed interlopers and sinister obfuscators.

Rather than traverse well-worn pathways, Professor Evica set out by following one of the few remaining under-examined passages of an otherwise over-mapped life. His uniquely painstaking investigation of Oswald’s involvement with Albert Schweitzer College (hereinafter ASC), including the processes and implications of his application, acceptance, and nonattendance, has led both to major discoveries and to significant refinements of previously developed hypotheses.

In the former category our attention is drawn to what Professor Evica termed “one of U.S. intelligence’s last important secrets,” the involvement by the Central Intelligence Agency and psychological operations (psyops) in student and youth organizations – especially those with religious affiliations.

lee harvey oswald marine corbis via getty imagesMarine Lee Harvey Oswald, left, in uniform. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The U.S. government’s faith-based initiatives, it seems, did not originate with George W. Bush’s alleged presidency.

As he meticulously followed Oswald’s ASC paper trail, the author was led not toward the Swiss campus, but rather into brick walls and empty rooms. A prime example: Oswald applied to the college on March 19, 1959. Less than two months later, when the chairman of ASC’s American Admissions Committee (and, at the time, the pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Providence, Rhode Island) submitted to Switzerland the applications and related materials of prospective American students, Oswald’s folder was included.

Today those documents – critically important evidence in the investigation of the crime of the 20th century – do not exist in any official repository. Yet copies, or perhaps even originals, were in the Providence ASC file seized by the FBI after the assassination. This troubling absence, within a broader context fully substantiated in A Certain Arrogance, inevitably lead the author to conclude that Oswald’s application to ASC is “a still-protected American intelligence operation.”

I do not wish to spoil the bittersweet joy of discovery to be experienced as readers accompany Professor Evica on his journey through terra incognita. Yet the methodology and ultimate value of A Certain Arrogance as a “whodunit” (as opposed to the “howdunit” nature of the overwhelming majority of JFK assassination-related volumes) must be fully appreciated. To discover the identities of Oswald’s early manipulators is to be drawn into the necrotic nucleus of the disease. And so, thanks to the Evica investigation of the ASC charade, we are left with a preliminary, shattering conclusion regarding the “who” we seek.

CIA Logo“Whoever directed the Oswald [assassination] Game was thoroughly knowledgeable about both the OSS’s and CIA’s counterintelligence manipulations of Quakers, Unitarians, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed clerics and World Council of Churches officials as intelligence and espionage contacts, assets, and informants.”

From the mountains and snowfields and quaint villages of Switzerland, Professor Evica chose to escort us through a darker, more mysterious inner landscape. Examinations of what he neatly summarized as “U.S. covert intelligence operating under humanitarian cover” leads us to a confrontation with psychological operations – psyops and its propaganda, disinformation, and morale operations alter egos.

Professor Evica was the first to understand the Kennedy assassination and other intelligence operations as by-design theatrical productions, replete with all the essential elements of drama – including shameless manipulations of audiences’ minds and emotions. Within these pages he further supported and refines this hypothesis.

“Psychological manipulations of individuals and groups, whatever the procedure may have been called in the 18th and 19th centuries, drew upon discoveries in anatomy, mesmerism, hypnotism, counseling, studies in hysteria, rhetorical theory, psychoanalysis, advertising, behavior modification, and psychiatry. In the same periods, the literary forms of irony, satire, and comedy and the less reputable verbal arts of slander, libel, and manufactured lies were applied.”

While contemplating the implications of Professor Evica’s research, I was reminded of how Francis Ford Coppola struggled to find the best thematic hook on which to hang the plot of The Godfather, Part III. It is said that he considered and ultimately rejected a treatment of the Kennedy assassination as the most cinematically viable expression of systemic evil in full flower. Instead – perhaps wisely, perhaps not – he opted to dramatize the Vatican Bank scandal.

Upon initial examination, the conjoined stories of the looting of the Banco Ambrosiano, the perfidy of Roberto Calvi and P2, the assassination of John Paul I, and the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church at its highest levels present as the cellular components of yet another tumor, arguably the most horrific manifestation imaginable of the disease being probed by Professor Evica.

We are incredulous. We are outraged.

Then reason returns.

The manipulations of religious institutions for unholy purposes by elements of the deep political structure should provoke neither surprise nor anger. For is not organized religion merely politics by other means? Are not the most powerful bishops – of the wandering and Maurice varieties, among others – devoted to the same dark liturgy.

Jan. 1

U.S. Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s character falls short, writes incoming senator Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney, Jan. 1, 2019. ‘A president should unite us.’

republican elephant logoThe Trump presidency made a deep descent in December. The departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president’s mitt romney wthoughtless claim that America has long been a “sucker” in world affairs all defined his presidency down.

It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination. After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not.

When he won the election, I hoped he would rise to the occasion. His early appointments of Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Kelly and Mattis were encouraging. But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions this month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.

Mitt Romney, above left, a Utah Republican and 2012 nominee for president, will be sworn into the Senate on Thursday.

U.S. Shutdown

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Agrees to Slower Withdrawal of Troops in Syria, Eric Schmitt and Maggie Haberman, Jan. 1, 2019 (print edition). The president backtracked from an abrupt order that the military pull out within 30 days, administration officials said. By extending the timetable to about four months, President Trump stuck to his commitment while heeding warnings of the dangers of a quick exit.

djt official portraitPresident Trump has agreed to give the military about four months to withdraw the 2,000 United States troops in Syria, administration officials said on Monday, backtracking from his abrupt order two weeks ago that the military pull out within 30 days.

Mr. Trump confirmed on Twitter that troops would “slowly” be withdrawn, but complained that he got little credit for the move after a fresh round of criticism from retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal (shown in a file photo) and reports from the departing White House chief of stanley mcchrystal 2010 wstaff, John F. Kelly, himself a retired Marine general, about the president’s impulsive decision-making.

“If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero,” Mr. Trump wrote. “ISIS is mostly gone, we’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants.”

For a president who has looked to the military for affirmation throughout his campaign and presidency and boasted about stocking his cabinet with what he called “my generals,” his decision on Dec. 19 to withdraw quickly from Syria was a significant split from his military and civilian advisers.

The criticism from General McChrystal, who commanded American-led troops in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, echoed longstanding denunciations by former senior intelligence officials, who have warned that Mr. Trump’s approach to national security is reckless.

Global News

Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang on Jan. 1, 2019 in his New Year’s Day speech (Korean Central News Agency, via Reuters)

Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, in Pyongyang on Tuesday. In his New Year’s Day speech, he said he was ready for a second meeting with President Trump.CreditCreditKorean Central News Agency, via Reuters

ny times logonorth korea flagNew York Times, Kim Jong-un Warns U.S. to End Sanctions, Motoko Rich and David E. Sanger, Jan. 1, 2019 (print edition). In his New Year’s Day speech, the North Korean leader said he was ready to meet with President Trump again but warned against continued sanctions.  

ny times logojair bolsonaro brazilNew York Times, Even Before Taking Office, Jair Bolsonaro Delivers Change, Ernesto Londoño and Manuela Andreoni, Jan. 1, 2019.  Brazilian voters signaled a desire for a radical shift in electing Mr. Bolsonaro [shown in a file photo], a far-right politician who becomes president on Tuesday. It is already underway.

washington post logoWashington Post, Family of American arrested in Russia on spy charges fears for his safety: ‘His innocence is undoubted,’ Amie Ferris-Rotman​, Jan. 1, 2019. Paul Whelan, a 48-year-old retired U.S. Marine, was detained last week in Moscow by Russia’s domestic security services. Relatives said Whelan was visiting for a friend's wedding; Russian authorities said he was on a "spy mission."

Whelan, who is based in Michigan, works in corporate security for BorgWarner, a U.S.-based automotive parts supplier that has business contracts in Russia.

Global News

Al-Monitor, Analysis: Russia, Turkey content with talks on Syria but fate of YPG still unclear, Maxim A. Suchkov, Jan. 1, 2019. On Dec. 29, a high-level Turkish delegation composed of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (right), Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and mevlut cavusoglu turkeypresidential aide Ibrahim Kalin came to Moscow for talks on Syria.

Since US President Donald Trump made the snap announcement on the drawdown of US troops from Syria, there has been no shortage of speculation about ultimate winners and losers. Yet the main pacesetters in Syrian dynamics these days — Russia, Turkey, and Iran — have all had similar concerns over the possible immediate complications the snap Trump decision may entail politically and operationally.

While the dominant view in Moscow seems to have been that the move empowers Turkey, many in Ankara suggest that the Trump decision further reinforces Russia’s role as a dealmaker in Syria and that all roads involving the situation in Idlib and the east of the Euphrates now lead to the Kremlin.

Both parties are probably right in their respective views about this situation.

Maxim A. Suchkov, is editor of Al-Monitor’s Russia / Mideast coverage. He is a non-resident expert at the Russian International Affairs Council and at the Valdai International Discussion Club. He was a Fulbright visiting fellow at Georgetown University (2010-11) and New York University (2015).

Inside DC

npr logoNational Public Radio, Here's What Could Be Ahead In The Russia Investigations In 2019, Philip Ewing, Jan. 1, 2019. The Russia imbroglio is barreling into another year that could deliver even more revelations and political heat than the last one — and maybe even a big finale.

The criminal cases of several key players are unresolved, new charges could be ripe and House Democrats are set to sweep into Washington with huge ambitions about how to use their investigative and oversight powers now that they wield the majority. Here's what you need to know:

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump claims there’s a 10-foot wall around the Obamas’ D.C. home. Neighbors say there’s not, Michael Brice-Saddler​, Jan. 1, 2019 (print edition). The 8,200-square-foot house has several security features but is completely visible from the street. Some found the president’s tweet irresponsible. Fred Guttenberg, the father of one of students killed in the Parkland school shooting, tweeted, “Are you seriously trying to put our former President at risk?”

bo michelle obama college tshirts may 5 20154

The former president and first lady are shown in a White House file photo wearing t-shirts with their college insignia.

Media News

Guardian, 'It's astonishing': The demise of the daily White House press briefing, David Smith, Jan. 1, 2019. The press briefing has become a monthly event in the era of Trump, and concerns are that it may soon disappear altogether.

sarah huckabee sanders 2017 05 05Then a voice on the public-address system: “The press briefing will begin at 1.20pm. Thank you.” The hundred-or-so journalists crammed into the seats and aisles erupt in knowing laughs and groans. Sarah Huckabee Sanders [shown in a file photo] eventually enters at 1.35 pm. It will be the White House press secretary’s sole briefing in the whole of November – a paltry total she will match in December.

The question-and-answer session was described as must-see television in the early months of the Trump administration, gripping millions of viewers and earning the accolade of parody on the TV variety show Saturday Night Live. But now the daily press briefing is no more. It has effectively become a monthly press briefing, raising concerns that it might soon disappear altogether.

That would be a tragedy and a campaign point in 2020,” said Anthony Scaramucci, who served as White House communications director for 11 days in 2017. “I pray that that does not happen. For the president to be successful, you don’t want that to be a campaign talking point in 2020. The American people intuitively know that there needs to be an open communication between the White House and the free press.”

The first official White House press secretary was George Akerson under President Herbert Hoover in 1929. In recent decades the position became best known to the outside world for the briefing, in which the press secretary stands at a podium and fields questions from reporters in a briefing room (formerly a swimming pool) in the west wing.

 

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