December, 2017

Judge Says Pennsylvania Districts Are Not Illegal

“A Pennsylvania judge said Friday the state’s Congressional districts were drawn to give Republicans an advantage, but they did not violate the state Constitution, ruling in a high-profile gerrymandering case with the potential to have major consequences on the 2018 midterm elections,” the New York Times reports.

“The case now goes to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has agreed to fast-track it. If the court rejects Judge Brobson’s conclusion, it could order new maps drawn in time for the 2018 midterm elections. Pennsylvania is expected to be fiercely fought terrain next year in elections turning on President Trump’s popularity.”

Trump Is Slashing the Federal Bureaucracy

Washington Post: “By the end of September, all Cabinet agencies except Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and Interior had fewer permanent staff than when Trump took office in January — with most shedding many hundreds of employees.”

“The diminishing federal footprint comes after Trump promised in last year’s campaign to ‘cut so much your head will spin,’ and it reverses a boost in hiring during the Obama era. The falloff has been driven by an exodus of civil servants, a diminished corps of political appointees and an effective hiring freeze. Even though Congress did not pass a new budget in his first year, the drastic spending cuts Trump laid out in the spring — which would slash more than 30 percent of funding at some agencies — also has triggered a spending slowdown.”

Is Running Against Trump Enough for Democrats?

Dan Balz: “Despite the positive indicators about the midterms, Democrats face questions about their future as a party that now controls nothing in Washington and far less in the states than they did at the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency. Among those questions are such basics as their agenda, their geographic limitations and their leadership.”

“Democrats could assume they can push those vulnerabilities to the sidelines during a midterm election year with a campaign message that is almost exclusively anti-Trump. But as even many Democrats acknowledge, something more than that will be needed to regain widespread trust of voters across the country and begin the process of rebuilding the party in places where it suffered losses over the past decade.”

Escalating Attacks on Mueller Divide Republicans

New York Times: “A growing campaign by President Trump’s most ardent supporters to discredit the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and the law enforcement agencies assisting his investigation is opening new fissures in the Republican Party, with some lawmakers questioning the damage being done to federal law enforcement and to a political party that has long championed law and order.”

How the Russia Inquiry Began

New York Times: “During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.”

“About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign.”

“Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear. But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts.”

FBI Investigating Trump Surrogate

“According to federal court filing made public today, the FBI has executed a search warrant on an e-mail address associated with Trump surrogate and former sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.,” NBC News reports.

The Daily Beast notes it involves “a January incident with a passenger on a plane… Clarke, a vocal Trump surrogate, had a minor disagreement with fellow passenger Dan Black on a Milwaukee-bound plane. Clarke texted one of his officers, asking him to detain Black when the plane landed.”

The Year the News Accelerated

New York Times: “One year out, this may be Mr. Trump’s greatest trick: His tornado of news-making has scrambled Americans’ grasp of time and memory, producing a sort of sensory overload that can make even seismic events — of his creation or otherwise — disappear from the collective consciousness and public view.”

“He is the magician who swallows a sword no one thought was part of the act, stuffs a dozen rabbits into a hat before the audience can count them — and then merrily tweets about ‘Fox & Friends’ while the crowd strains to remember what show it had paid to attend in the first place.”

America and the Great Abdication

Richard Haass: “When great powers fade, as they inevitably must, it’s normally for one of two reasons. Some powers exhaust themselves through overreach abroad, underinvestment at home, or a mixture of the two. This was the case for the Soviet Union. Other powers lose their privileged position with the emergence of new, stronger powers. This describes what happened with France and Great Britain in the case of Germany’s emergence after World War I and, more benignly, with the European powers and the rise of the United States during and after World War II.””To some extent America is facing a version of this—amid what Fareed Zakaria has dubbed “the rise of the rest”—with China’s ascendance the most significant development. But the United States has now introduced a third means by which a major power forfeits international advantage. It is abdication, the voluntary relinquishing of power and responsibility. It is brought about more by choice than by circumstances either at home or abroad.”

Coming next week from Haass: A World in Disarray.

Trump Binges on ‘No Collusion’ Talk

Jack Shafer: “Bringing up collusion unbidden, Trump returned to it again and again, scratching it like a suppurating wound, probing his own threshold of pain… If you witnessed this tic at the movies, you’d reckon that the scab-picker was a little bit nuts. But if the scab-picker got caught searching the face of his interviewer for a reaction, you’d ask yourself, ‘What is the old fox up to?'”

“Like advertising writers, sloganeers and propagandists, Trump appreciates the power repetition has on the lax mind. Properly executed, the right catchphrase can work as both setup and punch line and occupy mind-space in friends and adversaries even when spoken out of context. By repeatedly pressing the ‘no collusion’ hotkey, Trump challenges his foes, who believe he has compromised his country, to prove it—or to shut up. He also succeeds in cueing his allies to ridicule his enemies.”

Newspaper Calls on Brownback to Resign

The Kansas City Star called on Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who is still awaiting Senate confirmation to be the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, to resign:

The job you’ve been waiting on might or might not materialize now, we know, and you do, too.

That’s because those in your own Republican Party didn’t put a vote for your confirmation as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom on the Senate calendar by the end of the year.

They did not simply run out of time, either. After all, you were nominated by President Donald Trump in July, and dozens of other long-deferred votes on appointments were cleared in a flash before senators left town for the holidays.

Was it something you said, at that confirmation hearing for which you appeared so ill-prepared?

Justice Department Wants Citizenship Question on Census

“The Justice Department is pushing for a question on citizenship to be added to the 2020 census, a move that observers say could depress participation by immigrants who fear that the government could use the information against them. That, in turn, could have potentially large ripple effects for everything the once-a-decade census determines — from how congressional seats are distributed around the country to where hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent,” ProPublica reports.

“Observers said they feared adding a citizenship question would not only lower response rates, but also make the census more expensive and throw a wrench into the system with just two years to go before the 2020 count. Questions are usually carefully field-tested, a process that can take years.”