U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 16, 2017

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THE WEEK

1. North Korean missile test fails at launch
One day after celebrating the regime’s founding president with a military parade, North Korea conducted an unsuccessful missile test Sunday in which the missile exploded about five seconds after launch. The test took place in Sinpo, a coastal city from which Pyonyang launched a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan in early April. The type of missile tested Sunday is presently unknown, though early reports suggest it was not an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States. “This morning’s provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face every day in the defense of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defense of America in this part of the world,” Vice President Pence said while speaking to U.S. troops stationed in South Korea on Sunday as part of a previously scheduled visit.

Source: CNN, ABC News

2. Trump supporters and critics fight at California tax protest
Tens of thousand of people turned out for Tax Day protests nationwide on Saturday to demand the release of President Trump’s personal tax returns. Trump is not legally required to disclose the documents, but critics say they could reveal conflicts of interest. While most of the rallies were peaceful, fights broke out between the president’s supporters and opponents in Berkeley, California, resulting in about 20 arrests. Around a dozen people were injured, and police in riot gear reportedly used some sort of explosive device in the crowd. President Trump complained on Twitter Sunday that his taxes are still an issue post-election. “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday,” he added.

Source: The Hill, Reuters

3. Pope Francis urges peace, faith, and hope in Easter message
Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians alike celebrate Easter on Sunday thanks to an atypical convergence of the calendars used by different branches of the church to calculate the date. Pope Francis addressed a teeming crowd in Rome, giving his “Urbi et Orbi” homily — a message “to the city and the world” — on the subject of hope in the midst of global and personal suffering. “Jesus has risen from the dead,” he said. “And this is not a fantasy. It isn’t a party with lots of flowers. This is pretty, but [Easter is] not this. It’s more than this.” The resurrection of Christ is “a sign in the midst of so many calamities,” Francis continued, that gives us “a sense of looking beyond, of saying, ‘Don’t look to a wall, there’s a horizon, there’s life, there is joy.'”

Source: Crux, Fox News

4. Likely car bomb kills dozens of Syrian evacuees
An explosion believed to be caused by a car bomb killed at least 112 people fleeing villages near Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday, local news outlets reported. The bomb hit a convoy of buses heading into the city to escape fighting in or near the residents’ towns. Children are reportedly among the dead. The van thought to have been used in the attack was marked as a humanitarian relief vehicle. The death toll is expected to continue to rise.

Source: BBC News, Reuters

5. GOP raises $43 million for 2020
President Trump and the Republican National Committee together raised $42.6 million toward the 2020 race in the first quarter of 2017, Federal Election Commission reports released Friday night reveal, with much of the money coming from small donors giving $200 or less. During a comparable period in 2009, then-President Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised just $15.8 million. Politico reports three Trump reelection committees which together raised $13.2 million in the first quarter spent nearly half a million at Trump companies as well as thousands at companies owned by top White House staff.

Source: The Washington Post, The Week

6. Full Supreme Court set to hear religious establishment case
With Justice Neil Gorsuch officially installed on the bench, the Supreme Court is preparing to hear a First Amendment case concerning church and state relations on Wednesday. At issue is a Missouri program that offers funding to resurface playgrounds with recycled tires. The Missouri state constitution explicitly prohibits giving any public money to religious organizations, a rule Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri — which wants to resurface its playground — says is discriminatory. The case could have broad implications for related issues including school choice.

Source: The Associated Press, Reuters

7. Polls open in Turkish referendum on presidential powers
Turks began voting Sunday on a constitutional referendum that, if approved, would fundamentally restructure the country’s parliamentary system, giving broad new powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and ensuring Erdogan stays in office for at least another decade. Under the new proposal, the president would be able to dissolve the legislature, rule by executive order, and gain new authority over administrative and judicial appointments. Polling suggests a slight public preference for approving the new system, and unofficial results will be published by Sunday evening local time.

Source: Reuters, Al Jazeera

8. Last known survivor of the 19th century dies at 117
The oldest woman in the world and the last confirmed survivor of the 19th century, Emma Morano, died Saturday at her home in Italy. She was 117. Born in 1899 in Civiasco, a small town in northern Italy near Milan, Morano turned 117 this past November. She lived with a caregiver in Verbania, a lakeside town just 25 miles from her birthplace. In her latter years, Morano enjoyed television, raw eggs, chocolate, and the company of her grandchildren.

Source: The Week, AFP

9. SNL targets Spicer, Kushner, Bannon
Saturday Night Live set its sights on White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (Melissa McCarthy), senior adviser Jared Kushner (host Jimmy Fallon), and chief strategist Stephen Bannon (Skeletor) in its latest episode, skewering Spicer’s recent gaffer about Adolf Hitler and Kushner’s apparent ascendency over Bannon in President Trump’s affections. McCarthy’s Spicer appeared in an Easter Bunny costume to mis-explain Passover as an apology to the Jewish people, while Alec Baldwin’s Trump conducted an America’s Next Top Model-style elimination with his two advisers.

Source: CNN, The Week

10. Giraffe finally gives birth on web cam
A giraffe named April, who lives at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York, gave birth to a male calf on Saturday. April’s pregnancy was livestreamed online. She was expected to deliver in January or February, but her pregnancy stretched to 16 months, about a month longer than is typical for giraffes. The delay made April an internet sensation, and more than a million people tuned in for the birth. The calf weighs about 150 pounds, and both animals are healthy.

Source: The New York Times, Reuters

U.S. Politics

Robert Reich: Trump’s world is becoming increasingly dangerous, and the public is partly to blame

Robert Reich: Trump's world is becoming increasingly dangerous, and the public is partly to blame

(Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The president is not empowered to initiate warfare on his own — that’s our job

SALON

The starkest difference between dictatorships and democracies is that democracies are ruled by laws, and dictatorships are ruled by dictators.

The “rule of law,” as it’s often referred to, stands for laws that emerge from a process responsive to the majority, that are consistently applied, and are applicable to everyone regardless of their position or power.

President Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand this. Within a matter of days, Trump has bombed Syria and a group of fighters in eastern Afghanistan.

On April 12, Trump authorized the Pentagon to drop a 22,000-pound GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) on people described as “Islamic State forces” in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border.

It’s the first time this bomb — nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” and the largest air-dropped munition in the U.S. military’s inventory — has ever been used in a combat.

It’s the largest explosive device America has utilized since dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. (By comparison, U.S. aircraft commonly drop bombs that weigh between 250 to 2,000 pounds.)

Why, exactly? It’s not clear. And what was Trump’s authority to do this? Even less clear.

We still don’t know exactly why Trump bombed Syria. He said it was because Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons on innocent civilians, including children.

But it wasn’t the first time Assad had used chemical weapons. When he did in 2013, Trump counseled against bombing Syria in response.

And where did Trump get the authority to bomb Syria? Assad is a vicious dictator who does terrible things to his people. But U.S. law doesn’t authorize presidents to go to war against vicious dictators who do terrible things to their people.

The Constitution leaves it up to Congress, not the president, to declare war.

In 2014, President Barack Obama began hostilities against the Islamic State, arguing that Congress’s approval of George W. Bush’s wars against Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2002 provided him sufficient to authority.

Well, maybe. But there’s no way Trump can rely on Congress’s approval of these wars to bomb Syria.

And it’s a stretch to argue that a group claiming or alleged to be connected to ISIS, but located in eastern Afghanistan far away from where ISIS is attempting to establish an Islamic State, is the same as the Islamic State.

In a democracy, the rule of law means that we the people are supposed to be in charge, through our elected representatives in Congress.

It can be a heavy responsibility. It is especially weighty when it comes to warfare, to the destruction and annihilation of human beings.

As commander-in-chief, a president is empowered to manage the military might of the nation. But he is not empowered to initiate warfare on his own. That’s our job.

The world according to Trump is becoming increasingly dangerous, in part because we are not doing our job.

, ROBERTREICH.ORG

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie “Inequality for All” is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

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U.S. Politics

Donald Trump Wants to ‘Ride Like Vladimir’ in Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Carriage

Donald Trump Wants to ‘Ride Like Vladimir’ in Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Carriage

Vladimir Putin and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II shared a carriage (the 1902 State Landau) from Horse Guards Parade to Buckingham Palace, in London | Wikimedia Commons

POLITICUS USA

Trump wants to be like his hero, Vladimir Putin, who rode in the royal carriage when he visited in 2003, or President Xi, who rode it in 2015

Kids in the U.S. used to want to “be like Mike.” Donald Trump has very different aspirations, as we’ve all noticed by now. He wants to be like Vladimir.

The Times of London says Donald Trump has insisted on a ride in Queen Elizabeth’s golden carriage when he visits the United Kingdom in October.

The White House has made clear it regards the carriage procession down the Mall as an essential element of the itinerary for the visit currently planned for the second week of October, according to officials.

It was a task the times says President Obama “spared his hosts” during his own visit, riding in an armored limousine instead. Some of us never leave childhood behind, it seems. Like Trump’s hero, Vladimir Putin, who rode in the royal carriage when he visited in 2003.

With a big ole smile on his face.

The New York Daily News is characterizing the White House insistence as a “demand.” So the Donald is willing to stomp his little feet if he has to, apparently, to enjoy the same experience.

Well, like sugar daddy like son, I guess. If it helps to further understand Trump’s motivation here, Chinese President Xi Jinping also used the golden carriage during his 2015 visit.

Things become much clearer indeed.

The ride would be from the Royal Mews down The Mall to Buckingham Palace. It would be a very slow, very exposed ride, in a flimsy cart pulled by horses. If someone starts shooting, it won’t stop bullets, and horses don’t make much of a getaway vehicle.

And Trump is not very popular in Great Britain. When Trump starts to realize the danger, perhaps he will change his mind?

Or perhaps the allure of the thing for a man with a golden potty but no access to a golden carriage will override caution. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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U.S. Politics

Nationwide Tax Day Marches Demand Donald Trump Releases His Tax Returns

THE HUFFINGTON POST

The demonstrations were among the largest since the Women’s March.

WASHINGTON ― Tens of thousands of activists demonstrated in cities across the country on Saturday ― the date when Americans’ taxes are normally due ― to demand the release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

The largest marches took place in New York City and Washington, D.C. Some 100 other cities hosted smaller marches.

Protest organizers estimated that over 25,000 people attended the rally in Washington, D.C., and 20,000 people participated in New York City.Together, the rallies across the country were among the largest anti-Trump demonstrations since the Women’s March drew millions of people into the streets on Jan. 21.

“Trump says only the media cares about this taxes. Today, we’ve proved him wrong. It’s time for Trump to come clean, so we know who he’s really working for,” said Working Families Party national membership director Nelini Stamp, a keynote speaker at the New York City, in a statement following the march.

In Washington, D.C., the march began with a rally at the U.S. Capitol followed by a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the Internal Revenue Service headquarters and the Trump International Hotel ― where protesters chanted “shame” in unison. The rally at times played the role of an all-purpose demonstration against Trump, replete with derisive condemnations of the president ― including references to alleged collusion of staff members from his presidential campaign with the Russian government.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, gave one of the most impassioned speeches at the U.S. Capitol. Waters, who has become a leading voice of opposition to Trump, vowed to impeach the president for his “contemptible” actions, as she led the crowd in a chant of “impeach 45.”

“I have laryngitis. But the only way I would not have been here with you today is if they cut my throat and stopped me from talking,” she declared. “If he thinks he can get away with playing king, he’s got another thing coming!”

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SILive.com

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, declared during his speech, “We are taking the gloves off to say knock off the secrecy Mr. President and publicly release your own tax returns!”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) was another leading Democrat to address the D.C. crowd, along with several policy experts and progressive leaders.

The rallies also featured Donny the Tax March Chicken, an inflatable chicken made to resemble Trump. The gag is intended to mock Trump for being too “chicken” to reveal his tax returns.

The march’s speakers were also calling for a fairer taxation system, which they argue is unfairly skewed to the advantage of wealthy people including Trump.

The progressive organizations and labor unions sponsoring the march include Indivisible, Americans for Tax Fairness, MoveOn.org, Public Citizen, Demos, Credo, the Working Families Party, the National Women’s Law Center and the American Federation of Teachers.

The coalition of liberal groups organized the “Tax March,” as they called it, to coincide with April 15, because it’s usually Tax Day ― the final day for individuals to submit their tax returns.

This year, individual tax returns are due on Tuesday, April 18, since April 15 is a Saturday and on Monday, federal government workers have the day off work for Emancipation Day, a Washington, D.C. holiday.

Trump is the first president in four decades who has not released his tax returns or comparable financial information. The practice became a tradition when former President Richard Nixon released his returns after he was audited.

In January, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway insisted that Trump would never release his returns, arguing that his election proved that “people didn’t care” about it.

But Trump’s critics believe his refusal to disclose his tax returns is a sign that he has something to hide. Questions about his motives have led to speculation that they contain evidence of either major tax avoidance or financial ties to figures close to the Russian government.

The FBI confirmed in March that it is investigating Trump associates for their possible ties to Russia, raising the possibility that the president’s allies participated in the alleged Russian interference efforts in some capacity.

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U.S. Politics

How to fix the Supreme Court

(Shutterstock)

VOX

It’s worth taking a step back to realize just how broken the process for selecting Supreme Court justices now is.

In 2016, Senate Republicans responded to Antonin Scalia’s death by inventing and establishing the absurd faux principle that open seats on the Supreme Court cannot be filled in an election year. Given that America hosts national elections one out of every two years, that means, in theory, that Supreme Court seats should remain unfilled fully 50 percent of the time.

But it gets worse. Democrats, infuriated by the GOP’s treatment of President Obama and Merrick Garland, filibustered Neil Gorsuch — the kind of broadly qualified nominee who would’ve passed easily in previous eras. In response, Senate Republicans eliminated the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations.

What we are seeing here is a case of what the political scientist Steven Smith calls “Senate syndrome”: One side breaks a norm or rule, then the other side breaks another in response, and the tit-for-tat escalates until the underlying process is in ruins. That’s now happened with Supreme Court nominations.

Here, in truth, is where the past few years have left us. The minority party no longer holds a scintilla of power over Supreme Court picks. The majority party can and will jam whomever they want onto the Court, where that person will serve for life. But in times when the Senate and the White House are controlled by different parties — which happens fairly often — there’s almost no chance that any seat on the Court will be filled.

This is an insane way to manage one of the most powerful institutions in American life. Bu the decorous, gentle equilibrium of yesteryear was also nonsensical. There’s always been something bizarre about the idea that a position as important, as long-serving, and as irreversible as Supreme Court justice should be made based on qualifications rather than ideology.

Politics isn’t a résumé competition, it’s a contest for power, and the wielding of that power has real consequences. In practice, the Supreme Court decides how elections are funded, whether abortions are legal, whether millions of people will continue to have health insurance — if elected politicians and activist groups see its composition as a matter of life and death, that’s because it often is.

Yes, Garland was relatively moderate, but if he had replaced Scalia, he would’ve swung the Court to a 5-4 liberal majority, leading to a slew of transformative rulings Republicans would find abhorrent. Yes, Gorsuch is qualified, but he will rule in ways Democrats find awful, and the clarity of his opinions will not soften their effects.

For that reason, I don’t blame Republicans for blocking Garland. Nor do I blame Democrats for filibustering Gorsuch. But the result of both sides taking SCOTUS nominations as seriously as they deserve to be taken is disastrous — it will become common for seats on the Court, perhaps multiple at one time, to remain open for years, and when they are filled, they will be filled with more extreme candidates.

The core problem here is the stakes of Supreme Court nominations: They’re too damn high. Candidates serve for life — which, given modern life spans and youthful nominees, can now mean 40 years of decisions — and no one knows when the next seat will open. President Jimmy Carter served four years and saw no open seats. President George H.W. Bush served four years and filled two.

The result isn’t merely an undemocratic branch of government but a randomly undemocratic branch of government. And that randomness, and the stakes of seeing it play out in your side’s favor, makes it necessary to game the system in ways that are bad for everyone. It creates incentives for justices to stay on the bench long after the point at which they should’ve retired, in the hopes that they can outlast an ideologically unfriendly administration. It biases presidents toward nominating the youngest qualified jurist they can find, rather than the best jurist they can find.

We need to deescalate Supreme Court fights. The most obvious way to do that is to limit terms. Holding justices to a 10-year, nonrenewable term would lower the stakes of any individual Supreme Court nomination as well as make the timing of fights more predictable. An idea like this could have bipartisan support — Gov. Rick Perry proposed 18-year terms in the 2012 campaign — and it would be a step toward repairing and normalizing a process that is now dangerously broken and infuriatingly random.

Will that be enough? Probably not. But it would be a start.

Ezra Klein

U.S. Politics

Sunday Talk: Peace of Cake

WarGames.png

attribution: WarGames

SUNDAY KOS

Just like Martin Luther King before him, President @realDonaldTrump has a dream.

Despite all of Trump’s (purported) wealth and power, there is one thing (other than his father’s love) that had long eluded him—the respect/approval of the so-calledelites” that he claims to disdain.

But that all changed last week, when Trump ordered a (completely ineffectual) missile strike on Syria over dessert at his parasite-infested private club; suddenly, the haters and losers in the VERY FAKE NEWS media found him “presidential.”

Clearly, Trump took this lesson to heart.

This week, he (may or may not have) authorizedhis military” to drop the biglyest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on Afghanistan—and, once again, the media swooned.

Trump seems unbothered by the fact that many of his most ardent supporters oppose this type of foreign interventionafter all, it was never really their approval that he was after.

____________________

Morning lineup:

Meet the Press: Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly; Sen. John McCain (R-AZ); Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI); Roundtable: Pastor T.D. Jakes (Potter’s House Church of the Living God), Rabbi David Saperstein (Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism) & Pastor JoAnn Hummel (Cent Tree Bible Fellowship).

Face The Nation: Former Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein; Historian David McCullough; Author Chris Whipple. Faith in America Panel: Rod Dreher (American Conservative), Russell Moore (Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), Author Abigail Pogrebin & Consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat of Communication Father James Martin; Roundtable: David Ignatius (Washington Post), David Nakamura, Jamelle Bouie (Slate) & Robin Wright (The New Yorker).

This Week: National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster; Former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Christopher Hill; Roundtable: Jonathan Cheng (Wall Street Journal), Jennifer Jacobs (Bloomberg Politics) & Rick Klein (ABC News).

Fox News Sunday: Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland; Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX); Roundtable: Michael Needham (Heritage Action for America), Jennifer Griffin (Fox News), Former National Security Council Member Gillian Turner & Bob Woodward (Washington Post).

State of the Union: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT); Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA); Roundtable: Former South Carolina State Rep. Bakari Sellers (D), Rep. Mia Love (R-UT), Bill Kristol (Weekly Standard) & Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D).

Evening lineup:

60 Minutes will feature: a report on legacy foundations founded by the families of Newtown victims (preview); a report on claims by New Orleans public defenders that innocent people have gone to jail because they’ve lacked the resources and time to defend them properly (preview); and a report from Burma (Myanmar) where two eye surgeons are bringing their program that has already reversed blindness in over 4 million people and could help to eliminate cataract and other reversible blindness in the developing world (preview).

Late night shows:

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Monday: Singer Jennifer Hudson; Chris Hayes (MSNBC); Actor Christian Borle.

Tuesday: Actor Alec Baldwin; Radio Personality Charlamagne Tha God; Comedian Moshe Kasher.

Wednesday: Actress Rose Byrne; Comedian Lewis Black; Musician PJ Harvey.

Thursday: Actress Elisabeth Moss; Actor Anthony Atamanuik; Singer-Songwriter Sheryl Crow.

Friday: Actress Rosario Dawson; Actress Renee Elise Goldsberry; Comedian Keith Alberstadt.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

Monday-Thursday: TBA.

Elsewhere…

Following his Hitler “gaffe,” the Anti-Defamation League has offered to give Sean Spicer a remedial lesson on the Holocaust.

“While you have apologized,” it said, “this week’s incident as well as others (notably, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement omitting Jews and your vociferous defense of it), have exposed a serious gap in your knowledge of the Holocaust, its impact, and the lessons we can learn from it.”

Holocaust education is one of the core activities of the ADL, which also works with law enforcement and companies like Facebook and Google to crack down on modern-day hate groups. The organization has taught classes on Hitler’s murderous campaign — which exterminated 6 million Jews and millions more LGBT people, Poles, socialists and others — to more than 130,000 law enforcement professionals and 35,000 teachers, it said.

It’s prepared to teach the same class to Spicer.

“ADL would be happy to conduct one of these trainings at your convenience for you, your staff, and anyone at the White House who may need to learn more about the Holocaust,” the letter said. “We know you are very busy, but we believe a few hours learning this history will help you understand where you went wrong and prevent you from making these mistakes in the future.”

Meanwhile…

A North Carolina state lawmaker compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler.

The Republican General Assembly member from Cabarrus County this week called the 16th president “the same sort (of) tyrant” as Adolf Hitler, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Pittman made the comparison on Facebook while responding to a commenter who was critical of legislation the lawmaker has introduced that seeks to bring an end to same-sex marriage in North Carolina, the Observer reported.

Pittman’s bill maintains that the “U.S. Supreme Court overstepped with its 2015 ruling that effectively voided an amendment to North Carolina’s constitution forbidding same-sex marriage,” according to the Associated Press.

Pittman appeared to be arguing that the definition of marriage should be left to the states, the Observer reported, when he wrote that North Carolina should ignore same-sex marriage “in spite of the opinion of a federal court.”

“And if Hitler had won, should the world just get over it?” he added. “Lincoln was the same sort if (sic) tyrant, and personally responsible for the deaths of over 800,000 Americans in a war that was unnecessary and unconstitutional.”

Oy vey.

– Trix