Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!
“America’s economy grew much faster than previously thought in the third quarter, a sign that the Federal Reserve’s battle to cool the economy to fight inflation is having only limited impact,” CNN reports.
“The Commerce Department’s final reading Thursday morning showed gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the US economy, grew at an annual pace of 3.2% between July and September. That was above the 2.9% estimate from a month ago.”
In the first months of his presidency, Joe Biden vented his frustration about Vice President Kamala Harris, telling a friend that she was “a work in progress,” Politico reports.
“The new details of the tensions between the vice president and the president are among the many revelations in the book due out on Jan. 17 that traces the highs and lows of Biden’s first two years.”
Said author Chris Whipple: “I think Biden’s presidency is the most consequential of my lifetime. His legislative record is comparable to LBJ’s and he’s been underestimated every step of the way. But it’s also been a tale of two presidencies –- the first year and the second year.”
“At first glance, the income-tax data released this week by a House committee seems to show a turnaround in 2018 for former President Donald Trump. After a decade in which he declared no taxable income, his 2018 return reported taxable income of more than $24 million. He paid nearly a million dollars in federal income taxes,” the New York Times reports.
“In fact, his year in the black appears to have resulted largely from the final windfall of the vast inheritance that financed much of his business career — more than $14 million in gains from the sale of his father’s 1970s investment in the Brooklyn housing development of Starrett City.”
“But precedent soon reasserted itself. Because of business losses, he paid no income taxes in 2020, his last year in the White House.”
“Before Donald Trump became president and after, his exceedingly complex and voluminous tax returns came under regular scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service. The number of agents assigned to the audit team: one,” the New York Times reports.
“After he left office, the IRS said it was beefing up the audit team, to three. The tax agency itself acknowledged that it was still overwhelmed by the complexity of Mr. Trump’s finances and the resistance mounted by the former president and his sophisticated army of accountants and lawyers, which included a former IRS chief counsel and raised questions early last year about why even three revenue agents should be assigned to audit him.”
Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig, and Mike McIntire writing for The New York Times about the questions and red flags raised by Number 45’s tax returns, newly released by the House Ways and Means Committee.
The new material, obtained by the House Ways and Means Committee after a yearslong legal battle, raised a multitude of questions about the methods Mr. Trump had employed while president to lower his income taxes, and about failures by the Internal Revenue Service to fully investigate those deductions.
The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, a bipartisan panel that is known for reviewing the impact of tax legislation and has a staff with deep tax law expertise, reviewed the Trump returns and found dozens of red flags that it believed required further investigation. […]
The congressional report said the I.R.S. explored whether Mr. Trump correctly deducted the $21 million he had paid to settle a series of fraud claims against the now-defunct Trump University. It was not clear, the report said, whether Mr. Trump had received any insurance proceeds that offset some portion of the settlement. The outcome of that review was not known.
“When a U.S. military aircraft landed on the tarmac in Rzeszow, Poland, on Tuesday, the plane crew thought they were picking up the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and a few high-level Ukrainian officials,” the Washington Post reports.
“What they didn’t know, until they saw him exit a U.S. vehicle, was that one of those officials was Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who with American help had just completed a dangerous trip from Bakhmut — the site of some of the war’s bloodiest fighting, more than 400 miles from Kyiv — to the Polish border for a covertly planned visit to Washington.”
“The top-secret planning around Zelensky’s departure underscored the uniquely perilous nature of a visit by a wartime leader who faces daily risks to his life — a top Russian goal, after all, is to destroy the government he heads. But given the astronomical stakes, he and President Biden were eager to meet face-to face, and Zelensky was willing to brave the risks of leaving his country for the first time since the Russian invasion began in February.”
The White House said that the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company, has taken delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster its forces as it fights side-by-side with Russian troops in Ukraine, the AP reports.
Jonathan Last: “Ron DeSantis is an opportunist. His team is happy to pop off about the omnibus spending bill, or masking policies in Philadelphia—or anything really—if they think it helps him with Republican voters.”
“So this strategic silence is a clear indication that DeSantis sees Republican voters as, at best, split on Ukraine and Russia. And so he wants to side-step the issue until the pendulum comes to rest and he can see where Republican voters settle.”
Tara Palmeri: “By suggesting Scalise, the Never Kevin bloc has subtly demonstrated that they’re not just interested in chaos for chaos’ sake. They have a real viable alternative, and it’s not just anybody: Scalise, after all, is one of the most popular, well-liked members of the House, who came out of the conference vote unanimously elected as Majority Whip, or McCarthy’s No. 2.”
“Meanwhile, McCarthy himself hobbled out of the same vote with at least 36 members not willing to vote for him.”
Said one source: “They just hate Kevin, and he’s not Kevin.”
“House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told then-White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson in the days before Jan. 6, 2021, that Donald Trump had privately acknowledged losing the 2020 election, according to a newly disclosed interview Hutchinson gave to the Jan. 6 select committee,” Politico reports.
Ruby Cramer: “It is true that Elise Stefanik has changed. She set aside the posture of a moderate politician and pursued new ambitions inside Trump’s world. She set aside some of her optimism about the potential of politics and replaced it with the language of a hardened partisan warrior. In the halls of Congress, where she was once celebrated in magazines as the face of a more transparent, collaborative government, she now operates from a place of distrust, poised for a fight with the reporters she believes have or will attack her ‘in vicious, vicious ways.’”
“The change, and her path to ‘this chapter,’ is what put her at the top of Republican leadership in Congress, where she will serve a second term as House conference chair, the No. 4 role in the GOP majority, climbing where others couldn’t survive in a party defined by its loyalty to one man. In January, when Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) steps down as speaker, Stefanik will become the most powerful woman in the nation’s legislative branch.”
“It is also true that the change has come at a personal cost. Behind the ‘moderate to MAGA’ shorthand, a human transformation has taken place, too. Stefanik has lost friendships. She has lost ties to institutions that once mattered dearly to her. And she has responded in kind by making her world smaller and more insulated.”
NBC News: “Overall, it’s been a rough two years for McConnell. He lost his majority on the eve of Jan. 6 in a major upset. He watched a Democratic Congress spend trillions in party-line bills against his fierce objections. He feuded acrimoniously with former President Donald Trump. His party underperformed in the 2022 election, consigning him to the minority for another two years.”
“Yet a reflective McConnell is celebrating two things in the final days of the Democratic trifecta: saving the filibuster against a progressive campaign to nix it and resetting the table on military spending.”
“A campaign staffer trying to raise money for Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) called up donors last year pretending to be Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s chief of staff,” the Washington Times reports.
“State GOP operatives found out the scheme by the Santos campaign staffer involved not only impersonating McCarthy Chief of Staff Dan Meyer but sending follow-up emails to the donors from a fake email address.”
Associated Press: “An attorney for Santos didn’t answer questions about his personal history but suggested he was being targeted by people ‘threatened’ by his politics.”
Dominion Voting Systems seems to be gaining some traction in its billion-dollar defamation lawsuit against Fox News over its broadcast of bogus conspiracy theories blaming the company for 2020 election fraud. The company presented evidence in court Wednesday to establish that Fox News figures knew the claims about Dominion were false but aired them anyway.
“I did not believe it for one second,” Sean Hannity reportedly said in his Dominion deposition.
New York Times: “Mr. Hannity’s disclosure — along with others that emerged from court on Wednesday about what Fox News executives and hosts really believed as their network became one of the loudest megaphones for lies about the 2020 election — is among the strongest evidence yet to emerge publicly that some Fox employees knew that what they were broadcasting was false.”
“The high legal standard of proof in defamation cases makes it difficult for a company like Dominion to prevail against a media organization like Fox News. Dominion has to persuade a jury that people at Fox were, in effect, saying one thing in private while telling their audience exactly the opposite.”
Christoph Giesen of Der Spiegel chronicles China’s journey from the extremes of a zero-COVID policy that has utterly failed to contain the Omicron variant within its borders.
For almost three years, the Chinese leadership stubbornly pursued its zero-COVID strategy, with the state-controlled media gushing with praise for the “dynamic zero.” Almost every day, news outlets in the country made a point of saying that it was only thanks to the wise leadership of state and party leader Xi Jinping that China had been able to defeat the treacherous virus. In the United States and Europe, Chinese media has been fond of pointing out, cases are rampant, and people are dying – but in China, all is well.
But the highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus also began spreading in China. And instead of adjusting its strategy to meet the challenge, by launching a new vaccination offensive and preparing the country for a cautious opening as has been done in places like Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, Beijing opted for severity. In Shanghai, 26 million people were forced to spend several weeks isolated in their apartments in April and May. In almost all other Chinese metropolises, residents had to submit to a PCR test every two to three days in order to be permitted to take part in everyday life.
That, though, is a thing of the past. The country’s complete isolation is now being followed by an equally radical opening. The pressure from the street, which erupted in late November in the form protests against the government’s corona policies in more than 20 cities, apparently had an effect. And that in a country where the regime almost never bends in the face of protests. Nevertheless, Xi Jinping now finds himself in a dilemma: Winter has hardly even begun and the lockdowns and massive number of tests have already likely cost hundreds of millions of euros. But Xi didn’t slowly back away from that approach, he reversed course suddenly – with the result that the People’s Republic is now staggering from one extreme to the next.
“A Shanghai hospital has told its staff to prepare for a ‘tragic battle’ with Covid-19 as it expects half of the city’s 25 million people will get infected by the end of next week, while the virus sweeps through China largely unchecked,” Reuters reports.
“From the moment President Biden’s Afghanistan pullout began to go wrong — chaos at Kabul’s airport, 13 U.S. service members killed by a suicide bombing, Afghans falling to their deaths from departing planes — the White House braced for withering congressional inquiries,” the Washington Post reports.
“But it never had to face one from an empowered opposition — until now. While much attention is focused on Republicans’ plans to investigate Biden’s son Hunter, some White House and other administration officials privately say an Afghanistan probe could prove more emotionally difficult and politically damaging.”
The former president tried an end run around New York Attorney General Letitia James’ massive civil fraud case against the Trump Org by suing her in Florida. It failed. A federal judge Wednesday rejected Trump’s request for an emergency injunction and warned in a footnote to his ruling: “This litigation has all the telltale signs of being both vexatious and frivolous.” The same judge recently sanctioned Trump lawyers in a different case for filing a frivolous lawsuit.
“A federal judge in Florida on Wednesday denied former President Donald Trump’s request to block the New York attorney general’s office from seeking materials from his private trust,” CNN reports.
“Donald Trump plans to argue that a New York law allowing a writer to sue the former U.S. president over claims that he raped her decades ago is unconstitutional,” Reuters reports.
“Lawyers for Trump said in a filing made on Monday in Manhattan federal court that they would move to dismiss the lawsuit filed last month by E. Jean Carroll in part on grounds that the law spurred by the #MeToo movement is invalid.”
Charles Blow of The New York Times thinks that the Teflon which seemed to appear around Number 45 may be gone. “Years, decades, of twisted propaganda had turned working-class white people into a victimized class. These white people saw themselves as the new Negro, in a turned-tables alternate reality. Society’s rules threatened to — or, had already begun to — work against them.”
Trump, the trickster and rule-breaker, emerges as an amalgamation of their anxieties and rebellion. He was a politician, but to them, above politics. The Donald was approaching deity. His followers embraced a cultish zealotry.
But things have changed.
Trump’s announcement of a third run for the White House landed with a thud. High-profile Republicans have refused to sign on as early endorsers. Trump himself is cloistered at Mar-a-Lago, having not held a single public campaign event since his announcement. In fact, he has been reduced to the low and laughable position of personally hawking digital trading cards of himself. (Trump has always seen his die-hard supporters as customers to whom he could sell a product, whether a candidacy or a card.) […] So, what happened? In short, God bled. And once you see God bleed, you can no longer believe that someone is God.”
Rich Lowry: “Donald Trump’s continued outrages and provocations are sure to bring swift condemnation by his fellow Republicans — of some unnamed person.”
“Republicans are increasingly willing to call out Trump as his strength wanes, although there is still, on the part of many in the party, a strange hesitancy to say his name. They will criticize him obliquely or, at most, refer to him as the ‘former president.’”
“The man who has spent a lifetime putting his name on everything can still keep it off the lips of people appalled by something he has said or done. It’s a GOP taboo that became so deeply ingrained during his presidency and the immediate aftermath that it will only lift slowly, if ever.”
Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg says Truth Is Reasserting Itself Over Trump’s Lies.
“Too many Republican members of Congress still believe in conspiracies about the 2020 election, but voters seem to be moving on. “Mark, when we lose Trump we lose our Republic,” Representative Brian Babin of Texas texted Meadows on Nov. 6. “Fight like hell and find a way.”
It’s disturbing that so many who prospered under the nation’s democratic rules could be so eager to subvert them — or to equate a republic with a cult of personality. But it’s even more remarkable to witness members of Congress, each of whom represents more than a half million Americans and employs a government staff to help sift and analyze information, as broken as a Q-Anon devotee awaiting the second coming of JFK Jr.“
Edward Luce: “An enduring debate about Donald Trump is whether he stands for a clear ideology or just for Donald Trump. The latter was never in doubt. But it has taken Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor and the former U.S. president’s chief rival, to fashion a worldview from Trump’s gut instincts, whether you agree with them or not.”
“The irony is that it is Trump’s likeliest nemesis, other than himself, who is doing the most to build Trumpism into a lasting force. Little wonder that Rupert Murdoch’s media empire now prefers ‘DeFuture,’ as the New York Post recently dubbed DeSantis.”