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The Secret Service is running out of money because Donald Trump and his massive brood take so many trips.

On Monday, USA Today reported that more than 1,000 Secret Service agents have already hit the salary and overtime caps that were supposed to last them for the rest of this godforsaken year. A lot of agents are getting shafted for all the hours they have worked already. And, even though the agency has hired 800 more officers over the past year, the net gain is only 300 since people keep leaving. Seems like the grueling hours and lack of pay might have something to do with it.

Most of this is due to the fact that Trump keeps traveling to Trump properties—Mar-a-Lago, his golf club in New Jersey, Trump Tower—because he loves to enrich himself through the office of the presidency. But it’s also because Trump’s big family is traveling around the world hocking Trump-related properties and goods. As USA Today noted, even Tiffany Trump is sucking the Secret Service dry by taking overseas vacations with her boyfriend.

The most egregious outlay reported in the piece was the Secret Service spending $60,000 on golf cart rentals alone. Just one woman’s opinion, but wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to buy a fleet of golf carts?

November 21, 2018

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Trump pushed Justice Department to investigate James Comey and Hillary Clinton.

CNN is reporting that there is further evidence that President Donald Trump wanted to use his presidential powers to punish his political enemies. “President Donald Trump on multiple occasions raised with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Matt Whitaker, who was then-chief of staff to Jeff Sessions, whether the Justice Department was progressing in investigating Hillary Clinton, according to a source familiar with the matter,” the cable news network reports. “The President also wanted his previous White House counsel, Don McGahn, to ask the Justice Department to prosecute Clinton on numerous occasions, but McGahn rebuffed doing that, the source said.”

Buttressing the CNN account, a New York Times article added that McGahn and other White House lawyers prepared a memo outlining the problems with the president’s preferred course of action. “For starters, Justice Department lawyers could refuse to follow Mr. Trump’s orders even before an investigation began, setting off another political firestorm,” the Times summarizes. “If charges were brought, judges could dismiss them. And Congress, they added, could investigate the president’s role in a prosecution and begin impeachment proceedings.”

These accounts confirm Trump as an authoritarian president who has been saved from is worst instincts by staff resistance. The open question is whether staff shake-ups will now give Trump a White House more amenable to his autocratic tendencies.

November 20, 2018

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All romaine lettuce is unsafe to eat—again. Here’s why.

This past summer, I spoke with food policy expert Darin Detwiler, whose 17-month old son died in a food-borne E. coli outbreak. He told me that the infamous romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak of summer 2018, which killed five people, would not be the last.

He was right.

This stunning warning from the CDC, issued two days before Thanksgiving, advises Americans against eating any romaine lettuce—no matter where it’s from. “Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick,” the agency said. No deaths from this outbreak have been reported yet, but 32 people in 11 states have become sick, and 13 people have been hospitalized, the CDC said.

The reason CDC is warning against all romaine lettuce is because it has no idea where, specifically, the deadly bacteria is coming from. This is similar to the summer outbreak. As I wrote in July, “No single grower, harvester, processor, or distributor has been blamed [for that outbreak], and investigators are still unsure whether contamination happened during the growing, washing, chopping, or bagging process. So far, the agencies have only released one finding: That the same E. coli strain found in sickened people across the country was also in Arizona’s canal water, which is used to irrigate crops.”

But we don’t need to now where exactly this E. coli is coming from to know why America is experiencing yet another outbreak of food-borne illness from this deadly pathogen. It’s happening because the government has not acted quickly enough to fix well-known problems with our food-borne illness prevention system.

E. coli comes from poop. That means there was poop on the lettuce. Most likely, the poop was in the water used to grow, wash, chop, or bag the lettuce. America has poor regulation of water used on crops. Only very large farms, rather than all farms, are required to sample and test the water used to grow and clean produce. The E. coli tests they use are also ineffective. “They’re only measuring for E. coli total, not the specific types of E. coli that can make you sick,” one biologist told me.

Small farmers not subject to regulation also don’t have great incentive to go above and beyond to test their crops. “If I’m a farm owner, I ask myself: Do I pay to have a third party lab to test these water samples on a regular basis for me to use this water?” Detwiler told me. “Or do I consider the small likelihood of someone being able to tie the problem back to me, and decide against it?”

The CDC and the FDA will likely spend months trying to figure out the source of this new, Thanksgiving E. coli outbreak. Those resources might be better spent figuring out how to fix known problems in our system before more people die.

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Former Michigan State University president is charged with lying to police about Larry Nassar.

The Lansing State Journal is reporting that Lou Anna Simon, until earlier this year the president of Michigan State University (MSU), was “charged today in Eaton County District Court with two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts. She faces up to four years in prison if convicted.” The arrest is a byproduct of the case of Larry Nassar, who had served as sports physician at MSU from 1998 until 2016. The following year he pled guilty to charges of possessing child pornography and sexual assault in a case where more than 200 women have made allegations against him.

Simon served as president of Michigan State University (MSU) from 2005 until earlier this year. In Senate testimony this year, Simon claimed that nobody at the university was aware of Nassar’s abusive activities before 2016. This claim is contradicted by what she has now admitted to the police. As The Lansing State Journal notes, “Simon told State Police investigators that she was aware that in 2014 a sports medicine doctor was the subject of a Title IX investigation. According to the charging document filed by the AG’s Office, she knew it was Nassar who was the subject of that 2014 investigation.”

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Trump hedges epically on whether the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s death.

On Tuesday, the president of the United States issued a statement, rife with exclamation marks, explaining why he was standing with Saudi Arabia despite the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an American permanent resident. In the key passage of the statement, Trump expressed uncertainty on the key question: the culpability of Saudi leaders in the assassination.

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!

In fact, the CIA has leaked their conclusion that they are certain with a high degree of confidence that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder.

Aside from the comment indicating uncertainty, Trump also repeated smears against the late journalist (“Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood”), while appending provisos. (“My decision is in no way based on that—this is an unacceptable and horrible crime.”) Trump also repeated the falsehood that Saudi Arabia has “agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States,” creating “hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

As former CIA director John Brennan noted, Trump’s remarks mean that any accountability in the Khashoggi case will have to come from Congress.

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Walmart and other corporations are pulling support of senator after “public hanging” remark.

Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi is losing the support of major corporations in a backlash to comments she made earlier this month. On November 2, while standing next to a supporter, Hyde-Smith said, “if he invited me to a public hanging I’d be on the front row.” The remarks were widely seen as an allusion to lynching.

Walmart contributed $2,000 to Hyde-Smith’s campaign. After receiving public criticism for the donation, including a tweet from the actress Debra Messing, the retail juggernaut said it was asking for the donation back:

Two other corporations, Union Pacific and Boston Scientific, have also withdrawn their donations to Hyde-Smith.

On Monday, Boston Science tweeted:

Hyde-Smith is widely expected to win the run-off election later this month, but Democrats reportedly believe that her remarks might energize their base and make the election much closer than expected.

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Interpol’s crisis will only get worse if they pick Russian president.

Interpol, the international organization that helps police in more than 190 nations coordinate transnational problems, might soon be headed by Alexander Prokopchuk, a senior Russian official who has been active in targeting opponents of Vladimir Putin. Prokopchuk is a leading candidate for the position of Interpol president, which is voted on by member nations.

The selection of Prokopchuk comes at a strange juncture in Interpol’s history. The previous president of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, has been missing for two months. Meng is a Chinese national and disappeared after returning to his home country. It is widely believed that he is either detained by the Chinese government or was executed. Weng’s disappearance is as sharp an illustration as one could hope of the dangers of handing over rein of Interpol to a citizen of an autocratic regime.

Writing in Bloomberg Opinion, Eli Lake connected Prokopchuk to the Russian government’s habit of abusing international policing to target political opponents. “It’s not just that Russia itself has abused Interpol’s system of issuing notices for arrest warrants to the national police of member states, known as red notices,” Lake notes but also that Prokopchuk has been the most prominent Russian figure who has abused this system.

Lake adds that, “The most famous victim of this kind of abuse is the hedge fund manager William Browder. Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing embezzlement by government officials. Browder then lobbied, tirelessly and successfully, for the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions against government officials who commit grave human-rights abuses. Russia has issued red notices for Browder, an American-born citizen of the U.K.”

With many Western governments trying to ramp up Magnitsky Act style sanctions against Russia, the election of Prokopchuk to head Interpol would give Vladimir Putin’s government a powerful tool to retaliate.

Formed in 1923, Interpol was originally known as The International Criminal Police Organization (or Organisation internationale de police criminelle, the ICPC). In 1940, leadership of the ICPC was given to Reinhard Heydrich, a Nazi official and one of the key architects of the Holocaust. Heydrich moved the headquaters of ICPC to Berlin and made it a tool of the German state. The organization rebranded itself as Interpol after the war.

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Ivanka Trump used personal email account for voluminous government correspondence.

The Washington Post is reporting that Ivanka Trump, one of the president’s daughters and a White House advisor, has frequently used a personal account to carry out public business. The fact that Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, also a White House advisor, used personal email accounts has been known for a year but the extent of Trump’s email usage is now becoming apparent. 

“Ivanka Trump sent hundreds of emails last year to White House aides, Cabinet officials and her assistants using a personal account, many of them in violation of federal records rules, according to people familiar with a White House examination of her correspondence,” the newspaper notes. “White House ethics officials learned of Trump’s repeated use of personal email when reviewing emails gathered last fall by five Cabinet agencies to respond to a public records lawsuit. That review revealed that throughout much of 2017, she often discussed or relayed official White House business using a private email account with a domain that she shares with her husband, Jared Kushner.”

The reliance on personal emails is problematic both legally and also politically, given that Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign made much hay of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.  On November 6, 2016, the official account of the Republican Party tweeted:

November 19, 2018

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Piers Morgan just can’t help himself on International Men’s Day.

International Men’s Day has become an occasion to share messages about the importance of self-care for men to fend off physical and psychological ailments. Many on Twitter marked the day by discussing problems that men are particularly prone to, with a special emphasis on suicide:

But there was at least one prominent figure who wanted to use International Men’s Day for entirely different purposes. Piers Morgan is one of 46 people on Twitter followed by American president Donald Trump. Morgan decided to use his twitter account to spew forth tweets that made it clear that for him the day is an occasion to spite feminists.

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Donald Trump doesn’t actually seem all that keen on the military.

President Donald Trump’s bizarre decision to deride retired Admiral William McRaven on Sunday is symptomatic of a wider rift between the commander in chief and the military he oversees. 

Last year, McRaven said that the “president’s attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime.” Asked about these comments, Trump, in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday, inaccurately dismissed McRaven as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and “Obama backer.” 

The president also disparaged McRaven’s most famous achievement, commanding the raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.  “Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice?” Trump asked. “You know, living—think of this—living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan, in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer. But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there.”

The Navy SEAL who pulled the trigger responded to Trump’s words with a tweet:

Conversely, the official Twitter account of the Republican Party took the president’s side:

As The Washington Post notes, the tussle with McRaven raises “broader questions about Trump’s relationship with military matters.” The president has been widely criticized for not attending an armistice ceremony in France and a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.  He has also failed to visit soldiers fighting in the Middle East. He’s criticized his Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis as “sort of a Democrat.” The Post does note that Trump has earned some appreciation from the military thanks to his increases in the budget. But even that might end soon, since rising deficits are causing the administration to recalibrate the budget. The five percent cut Trump has ordered in the budget will mean $33 billion less for the Pentagon. 

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The White House Correspondents’ Dinner forgoes comedy as Trump continues slapfight with CNN.

Breaking with tradition, the The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) will not hire a comedian to host their next annual dinner, but instead will use the services of historian Ron Chernow. Known for his best-selling biographies of Alexander Hamilton (which inspired a popular musical) and Ulysses S. Grant, Chernow will speak about the importance of the First Amendment. The shift away from comedy is emblematic of the fraught relationship between the WHCA and the Trump White House. Last year, the president didn’t attend the WHCA dinner and comedian Michelle Wolf’s satirical routine was attacked by many of the president’s partisan supporters.

As the WHCA changes the tone of the dinner, the White House seems to be gearing up for another battle against CNN correspondent Jim Acosta. After a court order forcing the White House to return Acosta’s press pass, the White House is giving signs that they will only do so temporarily and are looking for another occasion to revoke it, which would ignite a wider conflict not just with CNN but also the WHCA.

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was interviewed on Fox News by Mike Huckabee (her father). Sanders said, “[T]radition has been in the past that the White House Correspondents’ Association determines who sits in [the press] room and who sits in those individual seats.” Huckabee noted, “But that’s tradition. It’s not law.” Sanders replied, “True.”

The implication of the exchange is that the White House could try to change the tradition of having the WHCA decide who sits in press conferences. On Sunday, President Donald Trump said about Acosta in a Fox News interview that, “If he misbehaves, we’ll throw him out or we’ll stop the news conference.”

The White House clearly sees a political advantage in stirring up strife with the press.