Trump targets Amazon in call for postal service to hike prices

2017 12 29T131847Z 1 LYNXMPEDBS0QA RTROPTP 0 USA TRUMP 1 150x150 - Trump targets Amazon in call for postal service to hike prices

U.S. President Donald Trump departs the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump departs for holiday travel to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, from the White House in Washington, U.S. December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

December 29, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday targeted online retailer Amazon<AMZN.O> in a call for the country’s postal service to raise prices of shipments in order to recoup costs.

“Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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South Africa’s top court to rule on Zuma impeachment motion Friday

December 29, 2017

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s top court will rule on Friday on a bid to compel parliament to hold President Jacob Zuma to account over a scandal related to state-funded upgrades to his private home.

The Economic Freedom Fighters and other small opposition parties brought the constitutional issue to the court.

Its decision could trigger impeachment proceedings against Zuma, who has faced widespread public demands to step down as president of Africa’s most industrialized economy before a general election in 2019.

Zuma, 75, is in a weakened position after Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was narrowly elected leader of Zuma’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) last week, although Zuma’s faction still retains key positions in the party and he has already survived no-confidence votes.

South Africa’s rand edged firmer early on Friday ahead of the decision, which was expected to be handed down at 0800 GMT. It has gained close to 10 percent against the dollar since Ramaphosa’s election.

In March 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that Zuma pay back some of the roughly $15 million in state money spent upgrading his private home.

The unanimous ruling by the 11-judge court said Zuma had failed to “uphold, defend and respect” the constitution by ignoring the findings of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, whose office is an anti-graft watchdog with a strong constitutional mandate.

Zuma has since repaid 7.8 million rand ($631,000) – the sum determined by the Treasury as the “reasonable cost” he should bear – while also surviving a no-confidence motion in parliament where members of own his party voted to oust him.

But opposition parties have argued that parliament has not done enough, given the gravity of the court’s findings.

Zuma has denied wrongdoing over many of the corruption allegations that have swirled around his presidency. Last week he sought leave to appeal a court ruling ordering him to set up a judicial inquiry into influence-peddling in his government.

(Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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Media Spends 2017 Attacking Melania Trump

GettyImages 880270642 1 e1511885774404 150x150 - Media Spends 2017 Attacking Melania Trump

This past year was marked by relentless media attacks and fake and misleading headlines about President Donald Trump. But when the media couldn’t get enough dirt on Trump in 2017, they turned their attention on first lady Melania.

Melania lives a relatively quiet life in the White House compared to previous first ladies, but whenever she stepped out in public, the media was champing at the bit for a scandal.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the most ridiculous media attacks on Melania since her husband took office.

Journos ‘Baffled’ By Melania Wearing High Heels To Texas

Media outlets accused Melania of being pretentious when she wore a pair of stilettos while boarding a plane to Texas. Melania and her husband were visiting areas ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, and critics said her shoes showed she was ill-prepared and insensitive to the suffering of Texans.

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 29: U.S. President Donald Trump walks with first lady Melania Trump prior to their Marine One departure from the White House. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

However, when Melania de-boarded in Texas, she was rocking a pair of Converse sneakers and a “FLOTUS” hat, clearly ready to get to work.

Media Mocks ‘Horror Show’ Christmas Decorations

Melania turned into a Christmas snow queen when she decorated the White House for the holiday season, and some of the pictures are simply stunning. Nonetheless, a number of media outlets called the set-up “horrific,” a “nightmare before Christmas,” and “creepy.”

Melania was clearly going for an ethereal, magical look as opposed to a kitschy red-and-green theme, but the media mocked her for daring to be different.

US First Lady Melania Trump walks through Christmas decorations in the East Wing as she tours holiday decorations at the White House in Washington, D.C., on November 27, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)

Newsweek: Melania Kills Historic White House Tree 

A misleading Newsweek headline suggested that Melania was “ordering” the removal of an historic Jackson magnolia at the White House for no apparent reason.

“Melania Trump orders removal of the near-200-year-old tree from the White House,” Newsweek claimed.

However, once readers clicked into the article they discovered that the 200-year-old tree was on its last leg and could fall and seriously injure someone at any moment. After exhausting all other options, tree specialists recommended the tree be removed. Melania even asked that the wood from the tree be preserved, and a new Jackson magnolia is set to be planted in the old tree’s place.

Melania’s Slovakian Accent Becomes Fodder For Comedians

Comedians, many of whom claim to be pro-immigration, used Melania’s Slovakian accent as fodder for skits and jokes about the first lady. Chelsea Handler, a notable Trump critic, said she would never have Melania on her Netflix show because she can “barely speak English.”

Victoria’s Secret model Gigi Hadid did an embarrassing impersonation of Melania and her accent at the American Music Awards, and eventually had to apologize after backlash.


Melania speaks five languages — her native Slovene, English, French, Serbian and German.

Melania’s High Heels Are ‘Horrifying’

If you thought the trip to Texas would be the only criticism of Melania’s stilettos, think again. Newsweek didn’t need there to be a flood or a hurricane to trash Melania’s shoe choices.

In an August article, a Newsweek writer claimed that Melania’s decision to constantly wear high heels is both “horrifying” and reminiscent of 17th century Italian prostitutes. Melania wears the shoes, the author opined, to make herself pleasing to men and to give her an air of exclusivity.

With or without feminist approval, I think we all can agree that Melania looks fantastic.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Melania Accused of Cultural Appropriation In China

Elite Daily suggested that Melania may have been committing cultural appropriation with her choice of dress at a Chinese state dinner. Melania opted for a Gucci ensemble with flowers and birds, a piece that writer Lisa Dunn considered “heavy-handed” and “more caricature than genuine.”

Dunn contrasted Melania’s choice with a boring black mermaid gown that Michelle Obama wore at the state dinner one year prior.

U.S. first lady Melania Trump and Peng Liyuan, wife of China's President Xi Jinping, arrive at a state dinner in honor of U.S. President Donald Trump at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RC1391C167B0

First lady Melania Trump and Peng Liyuan, wife of China’s President Xi Jinping, arrive at a state dinner in honor of President Donald Trump at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, November 9, 2017. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Anti-Bullying Initiative Criticized Over Her Husband’s Tweets

First ladies often pick an initiative to focus on during their time in the White House. Laura Bush’s was improving childhood literacy, Michelle Obama’s was lowering childhood obesity, and Melania’s is ending child cyberbullying.

Journalists and media outlets quickly accused Melania of hypocrisy because her husband routinely attacks people on his Twitter account.

Her response?

“As the first lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder,” Melania’s spokesperson said.

Pricey Gardening Outfit Triggers Critics

As if the high heels weren’t enough, the media went after Melania when she appeared in Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden in an expensive outfit. Melania wore a $1,380 Balmain plaid shirt, jeans, red gloves, and Converse sneakers.

“It’s a version of opulence that repulses many, especially progressives,” Business Insider said.

Melania is a former model who cares deeply about fashion and has the money to afford designer clothing, so we’re not quite sure what the big deal is.

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 22: U.S. first lady Melania Trump joins children from the Boys and Girls Club of Washington in planting and harvesting vegetables in the White House Kitchen Garden.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Slut-Shaming Is Cool If You’re A Trump, Apparently

New York Times reporter Jacob Bernstein allegedly called Melania a “hooker” because of her modeling career, which included nude photoshoots. Model Emily Ratajkowski called out Bernstein for his “sexist” attacks on Melania, but other feminists weren’t willing to jump to Melania’s defense.

Slate copy editor Heather Schwedel argued that Bernstein’s comments were justifiable because 1. they occurred at a private event and 2. Melania forfeited any right to be treated decently when she married Donald Trump.

Other media outlets used Melania’s nude photos to try and embarrass the first family, even though leftists encourage the idea that the female body is nothing to be ashamed of.

While the media has gone out of their way to diminish and mock Melania, her approval ratings show that she is appealing to the American people. According to a recent Gallup poll, Melania has a 54 percent approval rating, up 17 points from January.

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IRS cautions U.S. taxpayers on prepaying property taxes

2017 12 27T235010Z 1 LYNXMPEDBQ167 RTROPTP 0 USA HOUSING 1 150x150 - IRS cautions U.S. taxpayers on prepaying property taxes

Officers' housing for sale are seen near a functioning FAA air traffic control radar dome in Seattle
Officers’ housing for sale in Discovery Park, formerly known as Fort Lawton, are seen near a functioning FAA air traffic control radar dome in Seattle, Washington, U.S. February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

December 29, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday advised homeowners who are rushing to prepay their 2018 property taxes before a law signed by President Donald Trump takes effect next year that the payment may not be tax-deductible.

The law signed by Trump last week imposes a $10,000 combined limit on the deduction of state and local income and property taxes. There is no limit on that deduction for 2017.

In a notice on its website, the IRS said that, in general, a full deduction for the prepayment of state or local property taxes depends on whether the taxpayer makes the payment this year and whether the property taxes are assessed prior to 2018.

“A prepayment of anticipated real property taxes that have not been assessed prior to 2018 are not deductible in 2017,” the IRS notice said.

“State or local law determines whether and when a property tax is assessed, which is generally when the taxpayer becomes liable for the property tax imposed,” it said.

The massive $1.5 trillion tax overhaul passed the Republican-controlled Congress with no Democratic support. It slashes the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent and temporarily reduces the tax burden for most individuals as well.

Capping the deduction for state and local income and property taxes is seen as punitive to high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey and California.

On Friday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an order allowing state residents to make either a partial or full pre-payment on their property tax bill prior to Jan. 1 in order to benefit from the federal tax deduction.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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OBAMA edges Trump for most-admired man in the world, and HILLARY beats Michelle — FINEMAN leaving HuffPo for — CHRIS HUGHES and SEAN ELDRIDGE have a boy — B’DAY: ZACH MONTELLARO

politico 150x150 - OBAMA edges Trump for most-admired man in the world, and HILLARY beats Michelle -- FINEMAN leaving HuffPo for -- CHRIS HUGHES and SEAN ELDRIDGE have a boy -- B’DAY: ZACH MONTELLARO

THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES is at Trump International Golf Club, per today’s White House pooler, Francesca Chambers of the Daily Mail.

MOST-ADMIRED MAN IN THE WORLD, per a Gallup poll: No. 1: Barack Obama, No. 2: Donald Trump. … 17% surveyed name Obama the most-admired man in the world. 14% say Donald Trump is the most admired. Others receiving a mention: Pope Francis, the Rev. Billy Graham, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Elon Musk, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bill Gates, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jeff Bezos, the Dalai Lama and VP Mike Pence.

Story Continued Below

— THE MOST-ADMIRED WOMAN: Hillary Clinton. No. 2: Michelle Obama, followed by Oprah Winfrey, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Queen Elizabeth II, Condoleezza Rice, Melania Trump, Nikki Haley, Kate Middleton and Beyonce Knowles. The full results

BULLETIN — AP/KABUL: “Islamic State claims attack on Shiite center, 41 dead”: “A brutal attack claimed by the Islamic State group devastated a two-story Shiite Muslim cultural center in the Afghan capital on Thursday, killing at least 41 people and wounding another 84, many suffering severe burns from the intensity of the explosions.

“The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said three bombs were used in the ferocious assault as well as a single suicide bomber who blew himself up inside the center, where scores of people had gathered to mark the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union. … Other explosions occurred outside the building, which also houses the pro-Iranian Afghan Voice news agency, which may also have been a target in the attack.”

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — INTERGALACTIC EDITOR NO MORE! — HOWARD FINEMAN is leaving HuffPo to join to write pieces on politics “and other topics.” Howard emails: “The move makes sense. As you know, I’ve been reporting for years on TV as an analyst for NBC and MSNBC. It’s also an online homecoming. Back when I was political correspondent at Newsweek, I was one of the first print reporters to write a column for a new venture called, and blogged the 2004 Democratic convention on my tiny-windowed BlackBerry — a pioneering (and comical) exercise.

“I am thankful for seven great years at HuffPost, which I joined at Arianna Huffington’s invitation when it was a start-up in SoHo (and called The Huffington Post!). I am honored to have worked with talented, innovative and dedicated colleagues in DC and in New York, led by Arianna, Tim Armstrong and Lydia Polgreen. I know a thing or two, and can say that there is no more collegial newsroom in journalism than the HuffPost DC bureau. They root for each other, and I will always root for them.”

Happy Thursday. ALWAYS BE SELLING — “Trump builds his 2018 political message by rebranding Obama’s economic legacy,” by Ben White and Nancy Cook: “The White House hopes to boost President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings by using the economy as a centerpiece of its political message in 2018, according to three White House officials, even if many of the president’s successes so far are squarely built on the legacy of former President Barack Obama.

“The trends of declining unemployment, coupled with healthy gains in the stock market, began during Obama’s first term, a welcome uptick following the global economic downturn Obama inherited in 2009. The Trump administration has built on those gains, particularly in recent months. Business confidence has soared on the expectation of sweeping tax cuts as well as the administration’s push to roll back regulations on everything from energy to housing to health care to labor rules.

“But hard economic data on growth, job creation and wages look very similar to the last several years under Obama. The pace of job growth actually slowed slightly to 174,000 per month in 2017 through November, compared with 187,000 per month in Obama’s final year.”

NEWS YOU CAN USE — WAPO: “IRS says many who prepaid property taxes may still face cap on deductions,” by Peter Jamison, Jeff Stein and Patricia Sullivan: “People across the United States rushed this week to pay their 2018 property taxes early, hoping to take advantage one last time of a federal deduction that will be scaled back under the tax-code overhaul signed by President Trump.

“On Wednesday, however, the ­[IRS] announced that those prepayments could be deducted only in limited circumstances, a decision that appeared to invalidate many taxpayers’ efforts and raised the prospect that local governments could come under pressure to refund millions of dollars. …

“[T]he IRS said … filers could only avoid the cap by paying property taxes that have been assessed in 2017. Many local governments, including most Washington-area jurisdictions, have not completed assessments for upcoming years. …

“In the District, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) openly encouraged homeowners last week to prepay their 2018 property taxes, either online at the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue or at any Wells Fargo branch in the city. (Those seeking to pay at the bank locations were told to bring a 2017 property-tax invoice with them.) D.C. officials said Wednesday that they were reviewing the IRS announcement and could not yet comment on whether prepayment might benefit taxpayers.”

****** A message from Google Year in Search 2017: In 2017, the world asked “how…?” From “how to move forward” to “how to make a difference,” the questions we asked showed our shared desire to understand our experiences. Watch the film and see top trending lists from around the world at ******

THE TAX LAWYER FULL EMPLOYMENT ACT, via NYT’s Natalie Kitroeff: “In a Complex Tax Bill, Let the Hunt for Loopholes Begin”: “It was supposed to be a tax cut for manufacturers. Then it got out of control. World Wrestling Entertainment took it for producing wrestling videos. Regional gas stations claimed it because they mix ethanol with base fuel. Grocery stores asked for it because they spray their fruit so that it ripens. Pharmacies could take it because they have booths that print photos.

“Republicans in Congress passed that deduction more than a decade ago, and they repealed it in the tax bill signed on Friday by President Trump. It is a lesson in the abundant creativity of American business in interpreting the tax code. The latest overhaul could play out the same way. Already, lawyers and accountants are eyeing several provisions that investors and companies could potentially exploit.

“The bill, for example, lowers the taxes on so-called pass-through income, which is earned by partnerships and other types of businesses. Congress sold the provision as a way to help smaller companies. But lawmakers added language that allowed big real estate developers to benefit. The result could be a tax break for any company that buys and operates a building for its business.

“The new law is also supposed to encourage companies to make investments in the United States. But the rules were written in such a way that they could give businesses an incentive to keep their money in foreign countries and build factories abroad.”

THE PRESIDENT has nothing on his public schedule today.

— TRUMP, speaking to the pool yesterday afternoon at a firehouse in West Palm Beach, per WaPo’s Ashley Parker: “‘How’s the media? Good? Everyone good?’ He talked about the economy was doing very well, and how the country was ‘setting records in stocks.’ ‘How’s your 401K? Doing pretty well? Doing well, right?’ … ‘They’re all doing well. The 401Ks are doing well, the stocks are doing well.’

“Trump then praised the tax cut that Republicans passed shortly before the winter holiday. ‘So the country was really — we took a big, big beautiful ship that we’re turning around, and a lot of good things are happening.’ …

“He also repeatedly stressed how much legislation he had helped pass. ‘We got a lot of legislation passed. They were saying that if we got this one done, we would have succeeded with legislation. But I believe – and you would have to ask those folks who will know the real answer – we have more legislation passed, including the record was Harry Truman a long time ago. And we broke that record, so we got a lot done.’

“‘We have the all time record for stopping ridiculous regulations, and we’re very proud of that, that’s one of the reasons stocks are up to record level.’ Trump went on to say that the stock market had hit an all time high 84 times since he was elected in Nov. 2016. ‘So that’s something you can all be proud of. That makes you all look very smart. And your families say, ‘Boy are you a great investor, right?’ When you have your numbers go up and your stocks go up, and everything else.’”

–“Trump falsely claims he broke a legislative record,” by Nolan D. McCaskill:

THE MILITARY BOWL is today in Annapolis. Virginia takes on Navy at 1:30 p.m. ESPN is carrying the game.

REVOLVING DOOR — WSJ’S ELI STOKOLS: “Trump White House Saw Record Number of First-Year Staff Departures”: “According to Kathryn Dunn-Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has tracked White House turnover rates over three decades, the Trump administration’s 34% turnover rate — 21 of the 61 senior officials she has tracked have resigned, been fired or reassigned — is much higher than that of any other administration in the last 40 years, which is as far back as Ms. Dunn-Tenpas’s analysis goes. The presidency with the next-highest first-year turnover rate was Ronald Reagan’s, with 17% of senior aides leaving the administration in 1981.

“‘Not only is the percentage double, the seniority of people leaving is extraordinarily high,’ said Ms. Dunn-Tenpas. ‘That’s unprecedented to me. The first year always seems to have some missteps on staffing, often because the skills that worked well running a campaign don’t always align with what it takes to run a government. In this case, it’s a president with no experience in government and people around him who also had no experience,’ she continued. ‘So it’s not surprising that it’s higher than normal, but it’s still surprising it’s this high.’”


— WAPO’S CAROL LEONNIG: “Trump legal team readies attack on Flynn’s credibility”:“President Trump’s legal team plans to cast former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn as a liar seeking to protect himself if he accuses the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to three people familiar with the strategy. …

“Trump’s legal team has seized on Flynn’s agreement with prosecutors as fodder for a possible defense, if necessary. In court filings, the retired lieutenant general admitted that he lied to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the December 2016 transition. ‘He’s said it himself: He’s a liar,’ said one person helping craft the strategy who was granted anonymity to describe private conversations.”

— MICHAEL ISIKOFF in Yahoo, “Mueller probe outgrows its ‘witch hunt’ phase”: “[S]ources familiar with the probe say that such a rapid conclusion is — as one put it — ‘fanciful.’ Mueller and his team, they say, are pursuing new leads, interrogating new witnesses and collecting a mountain of new evidence, including subpoenaed bank records and thousands of emails from the campaign and the Trump transition.

“In just the last few weeks, his prosecutors have begun questioning [RNC] staffers about the party digital operation that worked with the Trump campaign to target voters in key swing states. They are seeking to determine if the joint effort was related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at influencing the American electorate, according to two of the sources.”

COUNTERPOINT — “Trump Had A Good Year Getting Judges Confirmed, But He’s Still A Long Way From Reshaping The Courts,” by BuzzFeed’s Zoe Tillman: “Trump’s potential to shift the ideological balance of the courts is far from fully realized: There are still 160 vacancies in the federal appeals and district courts and 870 active judgeships. … Several judges appointed by Democratic presidents told BuzzFeed News they are hesitant to step down and create new vacancies while Trump is in office. ‘Given the caliber of nominees I’m seeing, I’m not comfortable creating a spot that might be filled by someone consistent with the qualifications, or lack of qualifications, of some of the folks I’ve seen nominated,’ a federal appeals judge confirmed under President Bill Clinton said.”

— “Trump talked tough but hasn’t reined in college tuition,” by Benjamin Wermund: “On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump railed against elite universities that he said were ‘paying more to hedge funds and private equity managers than they are spending on tuition assistance.’ He vowed to ‘push colleges to cut the skyrocketing cost of tuition.’

“But in the year since, his administration has done little to help low- and middle-income Americans afford the nation’s best schools, even as data released this year show just how pervasive economic inequality is on American college campuses. Many of the nation’s top schools serve more students from the top 1 percent of earners than the bottom 60 percent combined, according to a study by the Equality of Opportunity Project.

“The Trump administration, instead, has largely sent the message that those four-year universities aren’t for everyone — a talking point that groups working to expand college access, especially for low-income students, say threatens to exacerbate the problem.”

CAN’T STOP, WON’T STOP — AL.COM’S ANNA BEAHM: “The Roy Moore campaign filed a complaint Wednesday to have the election certification delayed ‘until a full investigation of voter fraud is conducted,’ according to a statement from his campaign.

“The complaint includes affidavits from three ‘national election integrity experts’ who claim election fraud occurred and a statement from Moore saying he successfully completed a polygraph test confirming the representations of misconduct made against him during the campaign are ‘completely false.’ Moore has not conceded the election more than two weeks after he was defeated by Democrat Doug Jones. …

“One of the three experts, Richard Charnin, said the possibility of the election results in the Jefferson County precincts happening naturally is ‘less than one in 15 billion,’ according to the campaign. … [Secretary of State John] Merrill, Gov. Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall, who make up the state canvassing board, will meet at 1 p.m. in Merrill’s office in the Capitol to certify the election results.”

UPDATE — The Trump-Ryan-McConnell confab at Camp David is Jan. 6-7, per the AP.

CLICKERS – POLITICO MAGAZINE: “Why They Mattered: Remembering 30 politicos who died in 2017”: “There may have been an unusual number of celebrity deaths in 2016, but 2017 saw the departure of no shortage of notables. As we do each year, Politico Magazine invited friends, colleagues, scholars and observers to remember dozens of figures who died over the past year after having led lives that shaped American and global politics in all kinds of ways—from television screens and comedy clubs to the pages of newspapers and magazines to the halls of government.”

–N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE’s annual “The Lives They Lived” issue … “The Things They Loved” cover

HOLIDAY WEEK TALKERS – “How Trump could kill the Iran nuclear deal in January,”by Michael Crowley: “President Donald Trump allowed the Iran nuclear deal to survive through 2017, but the new year will offer him another chance to blow up the agreement — and critics and supporters alike believe he may take it. By mid-January, the president will face new legal deadlines to choose whether to slap U.S. sanctions back on Tehran. Senior lawmakers and some of Trump’s top national security officials are trying to preserve the agreement.

“But the deal’s backers fear Trump has grown more willing to reject the counsel of his foreign policy team, as he did with his recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The decision represents an opportunity for Trump to deliver on a campaign promise to rip up the Iran deal, one he has repeatedly deferred at the urging of senior officials.”

— “How the banks won over Washington again,” by Zach Warmbrodt: “Less than a decade after being blamed for fueling the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, banks are winning again in Washington. The rebound for the lenders has been so remarkable that Republicans and Democrats in Congress are pushing to scale back financial regulations imposed in the wake of the meltdown — one of the few areas where the two parties agree. President Donald Trump, who once vowed not to let Wall Street ‘get away with murder,’ has dropped the demonizing campaign rhetoric and recruited industry veterans to his administration.

“His Treasury Department has drawn up a series of recommendations for trimming the post-crisis rule book. Even the Federal Reserve, the top banking regulator, is working to relax safeguards. Lawmakers and regulators are rethinking policies including loosening mortgage protections, curtailing so-called stress tests that gauge how banks would fare during economic turmoil, and simplifying capital requirements for smaller lenders. Many of the proposals are targeted rollbacks rather than a wholesale repeal of regulations, but they would have a meaningful impact on the industry.”

— MICHAEL GRUNWALD, “Everything Is Awesome! Well, Almost”: “I come bearing good news! The economy is growing! OK, it’s actually been growing for eight straight years. But as President Donald Trump keeps pointing out, it’s grown at a solid 3 percent annual rate for the past two quarters, ‘a number nobody thought they’d see for a long period of time.’ OK, OK, the economy actually did hit that 3 percent quarterly growth number eight times during President Barack Obama’s time in office. Nevertheless, it’s a good number. … America’s steady upward economic trajectory has continued under an unconventional new president, confounding the liberal pundits who predicted insta-doom.”

— JUST POSTED — VANITY FAIR’S “THE HIVE”: “‘ISIS 3.0’: HOW SILICON VALLEY GAVE RISE TO THE NEXT GENERATION OF TERROR,” by Haroon Ullah, author of “Digital World War: Islamists, Extremists and the Fight for Cyber Supremacy”$14.05 on Amazon

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING … REX TILLERSON in the NYT: “I Am Proud of Our Diplomacy”

BUT … — “Documents shed light on North Korea’s startling gains in sea-based missile technology,” by WaPo’s Joby Warrick: “A few months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a group of American investors and Russian scientists struck a deal to begin marketing one of the crown jewels of Moscow’s strategic arsenal: an entire family of missiles designed for launch from submarines. Up for sale were powerful missiles called ‘Calm’ and ‘Ripple,’ built to lob heavy warheads into space from a barge or a submarine tube, and a new model called ‘Surf’ that could be rolled off the side of a ship and fired straight out of the water. The idea of the joint venture, as one of its U.S. partners wrote in early 1993, was to link American satellite companies to a top Russian weapons laboratory to ‘convert potentially threatening submarine missiles into peaceful space boosters.’

“The Americans quickly ran aground on a series of legal and bureaucratic barriers, but the Russians forged ahead with a new partner willing to pay cash for Soviet military technology: North Korea. More than two decades later, some of the Soviet designs are reappearing, one after another, in surprisingly sophisticated missiles that have turned up on North Korean launchpads over the past two years. Now, newly uncovered documents offer fresh clues about the possible origins of those technical advances, some of which seemed to outside observers to have come from nowhere.”

****** A message from Google Year in Search 2017: As this year draws to a close, Google analyzed Search Trends data to see what the world was searching for. The data showed that 2017 was the year we asked “how…?” How do wildfires start? How to calm a dog during a storm? How to make a protest sign? These questions show our shared desire to understand our experiences and come to each other’s aid. Watch the Year in Search 2017 and see top trending lists from around the world at ******

WAPO’S DAVE WEIGEL: “Ryan’s ‘pro-white’ primary foe denounced by Breitbart after his anti-Semitic tweets”: “A Wisconsin businessman challenging House Speaker Paul D. Ryan in next year’s congressional primaries denounced ‘globalists from both parties’ Wednesday, after his anti-Semitic tweets prompted Stephen K. Bannon and Breitbart News to distance themselves from his campaign.

“Paul Nehlen, who is challenging Ryan for the second time, responded to the accusations of anti-Semitism by saying he was ‘pro-white’ and opposed to double standards. ‘Allow me to answer with this question: If pro-White is White supremacy, what is pro-Jewish?’ Nehlen told The Washington Post in a text message. ‘I reject being called a White Supremacist, because clearly Pro-White isn’t White Supremacy unless Pro-Jewish is Jewish Supremacy.’”

–“Bannon adviser: Ryan challenger Paul Nehlen is ‘dead to us’ after inflammatory tweets,” by CNN’s Oliver Darcy:

— GUYS. Nehlen lost to Ryan by 69 points in 2016.

K STREET FILES — HEATHER PODESTA’s annual list of funny New Year’s resolutions from her firm Invariant. Some of our favorites: “Insist on free toaster from Deutsche Bank with $285m loan” and “Remove opera gloves before entering federal buildings.”

IVANKA INC. — “How Ivanka Trump Is a Walking Billboard for Her Namesake Fashion Business: The president’s daughter and adviser put the company into a trust, but continues to wear its merchandise, feeding a publicity machine,” by WSJ’s Jean Eaglesham and Lisa Schwartz: “Ivanka Trump wore a peach dress with ruffles, paired with pale taupe shoes, to a White House meeting with technology executives in June. ‘Just peachy!’ the Daily Mail newspaper declared online, above 14 photographs of the first daughter’s outfit. ‘The best news is that you can buy this exact dress at Zappos and it’s only $138. Follow the link at right to their website.’

“The dress and shoes were both from Ms. Trump’s namesake brand, Ivanka Trump, which she still owns and from which she receives a multimillion-dollar annual income. … The Wall Street Journal reviewed Ms. Trump’s outfits in her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram postings about official appearances between March 29, when she became a White House adviser, and the end of October. Star Style, a celebrity-fashion website, identified the products. The analysis showed that Ivanka Trump dresses, shoes, bags or jewelry appeared in 46 of the 68 outfits reviewed, or 68%.”

MEDIAWATCH — HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’S JEREMY BARR: “Reporter’s Notebook: 2017’s Unanswered Media Questions”: “Who will replace Matt Lauer on NBC’s ‘Today’ and Charlie Rose on ‘CBS This Morning’? … Will NBC’s investigation into Lauer’s conduct indict any current or former NBC executives? … Will Megyn Kelly keep up her momentum? … Who will emerge victorious in the court case stemming from the federal government’s lawsuit to stop AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner? … Will Sinclair Broadcasting’s purchase of Tribune Media go through? … Will Greta Van Susteren come back to television? … What about Bill O’Reilly? …

“Will Fox News hosts get tougher on Donald Trump? … Will Trump give another interview to a national television outlet that’s not part of the Fox News family? … When is PBS going to pick a new co-anchor on flagship news program ‘PBS NewsHour’? … How will Conde Nast adjust to a magazine industry landscape now dominated by Meredith Corp. and Hearst?”

— “Truck blocks cameras from filming Trump on golf course,” by CNN’s Tom Kludt: “Photo and video crews were stymied in their attempts to film President Trump on a golf course Wednesday, an apparent response to CNN’s recent footage of the commander-in-chief on the links. As the president completed another round at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, a large white truck obscured nearby journalists — who were positioned on public property — from getting a shot of Trump on their cameras. When CNN’s photojournalist moved his camera, the truck likewise moved, blocking the picture.

“Cathy Milhoan, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, said the agency was not responsible for the truck. ‘The USSS is in the business of protection and investigations not in commissioning vehicles to block the media’s view of the President’s golf swing,’ Milhoan said.” With a 90-second video

–“BuzzFeed has fired its White House correspondent after allegations of inappropriate comments to a colleague,” by Business Insider’s Maxwell Tani: “Adrian Carrasquillo was let go following an internal investigation, a representative told Business Insider on Wednesday. ‘We are saddened by these circumstances, but we take these issues extremely seriously,’ the representative said. ‘We’re committed to ensuring that BuzzFeed remains a place where everyone is treated respectfully by his or her peers.’

“Last month, BuzzFeed News began investigating several of its staffers after their names appeared on a Google spreadsheet titled ‘S—-y Media Men’ that was being passed around media circles. … Carrasquillo’s name appeared on a version of the list seen by Business Insider.”

VALLEY TALK — “Apple Boosts Pay of CEO Tim Cook, Other Executives: Technology firm’s raises come after rare pay cut in prior fiscal year,” by WSJ’s Tripp Mickle: “Mr. Cook’s total compensation for the fiscal year, which ended in September, jumped 47% — to $12.8 million — the largest bump among the five executives listed in Apple’s annual proxy filing. Mr. Cook’s pay increase was driven by his cash bonus, which was hinged on exceeding the revenue and profit targets set by the board.”

SPOTTED: DNI Dan Coats last night sitting behind the Butler bench at the Georgetown basketball game with his security detail

WELCOME TO THE WORLD – CHRIS HUGHES, co-chair of the Economic Security Project and co-founder of Facebook, and SEAN ELDRIDGE, founder and president of Stand Up America and a former congressional candidate, have welcomed David Hughes Eldridge. Pics

— Dan Hirschhorn, director of news of Time Inc. and TIME, and JJ El-Far, the general manager of Theater Mitu in Brooklyn, welcomed Ellis Isaac Hirschhorn, born 11:51 p.m. on Wednesday at 7 pounds 8 ounces. Pic

— Merideth Potter, SVP at GMMB, and Jason Potter, a staffer for the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently welcomed Judson Rogers Potter, born at Sibley Memorial Hospital, weighing 8 lbs 10 oz. Pic with big sister Quincy

ENGAGED — Michael McAdams, a regional press secretary for the NRSC and former communications director for Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), proposed to Alley Hampton, an interior designer, on Wednesday night at the Montage in Laguna Beach, California. “They were joined afterwards by family and friends at The Deck. The couple met on a blind date at Le Diplomate.” Pic

— Bobby McMillin, general counsel for the Senate HELP Committee and a Chambliss and Romney alum, proposed to his girlfriend and coworker Virginia Heppner, a professional staff member for Senate HELP. They got engaged Christmas Day on top of Humpback Rock outside Charlottesville, Virginia. “They met at work, and their romance blossomed as it so often does… drafting health cybersecurity legislation.” Pic Instapic

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: NPR special correspondent Melissa Block. An interesting book she’s recently read: “I just re-read ‘The Age of Innocence’ by Edith Wharton. Apart from her deliciously sly observations of New York society circa 1920, the novel has surprising resonance now in this #metoo moment. Wharton writes so powerfully about the social pressures exerted on women, and how their lives were constrained or their passions derailed by forces beyond their control. A century later, here we are.” Read her Playbook Plus Q&A:

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): GSA Administrator Emily Murphy (hat tip: Emily J. McBride)

BIRTHDAYS: Susanna Quinn, founder and CEO of on-demand fitness and beauty service Veluxe, celebrating with female friends at a small dinner hosted by Gloria Riviera, Stephanie Cutter and Dana Bash (h/ts hubby Jack and Matt Dornic) … Seth Meyers is 44 … Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) is 73 … former Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) is 71 … former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe is 71 … Politico’s Zach Montellaro, who helps bring you Playbook every morning … Ian Wishingrad, founder of New York-based BigEyedWish … Mark Katz is 54 … Shari Yost Gold … Debbie Willhite … Michele Altemus … David Eisner, CEO at Repair the World (h/ts Jon Haber) … Bloomberg Politics’ Sahil Kapur is 31 … Politico’s Han Ah-Sue … David Dunn … former Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) is 81 … former Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) is 7-0 … DLCC national political director Kevin Boyd … Christa Robinson, SVP of comms. for CBS News (h/t CBS News comms shop) … D.J. Jordan, communications director for Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) … AP economics writer Josh Boak … Cam Cullman, account manager at BBDO Worldwide … CEB’s Will Candrick …

… Ed McFadden, secretary of comms for the Archdiocese of Washington, celebrating by “sharing multiple vintages of Cade and Oro Puro wines with friends” (h/t Blain Rethmeier) … Boeing’s Alexa Marrero (h/t Phil Musser) … Kathy Kraninger, White House OMB associate director and Bush 43 DHS alum … Katy Montgomery, Chertoff Group communications director and Bush 43 DHS and WH alum (h/ts Ed Cash) … Lou Gallo is 6-0 … Virginia Del. Jennifer McClellan … Janne Emilie Nolan … Chris Cooper 47 … Raquel Wojnar … Douglas Wiley … Jack Lynch is 67 … Adrienne Fox Luscombe … Savannah Short … Erica Martinson, D.C. reporter for Alaska Dispatch News, who last month welcomed Archer Robert Artis into the world – pic … Corinne Elise McGrath … Nick Sauer … Randall Snow … Mike Snyder … Molly Varoga … David Drews (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … former UAW union president Owen Bieber is 88 (h/t AP)

****** A message from Google Year in Search 2017: As this year draws to a close, Google analyzed Search Trends data to see what the world was searching for. The data showed that 2017 was the year we asked “how…?” How do wildfires start? How to calm a dog during a storm? How to make a protest sign? All of the “how” searches featured in the Year in Search film were searched at least 10 times more this year than ever before. These questions show our shared desire to understand our experiences and come to each other’s aid.

From “how to watch the eclipse” and “how to shoot like Curry,” to “how to move forward” and “how to make a difference,” here’s to this Year in Search. Watch the film and see top trending lists from around the world at ******

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U.S., Turkey mutually lift visa restrictions, ending months-long row

2017 12 28T142104Z 1 LYNXMPEDBR0RU RTROPTP 0 TURKEY USA SECURITY 1 150x150 - U.S., Turkey mutually lift visa restrictions, ending months-long row

General view of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara
General view of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

December 28, 2017

By Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The United States and Turkey lifted all visa restrictions on Thursday after Washington said Ankara had kept to assurances no further U.S. mission staff would be targeted for performing official duties, following detention of two earlier this year.

But Turkey swiftly denied having granted such assurances in the affair that has tested relations since the two local employees of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul were held on suspicion of ties to last year’s failed coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.

The United States suspended visa services at its missions in Turkey in October and Turkey reciprocated. In November, Washington said it was resuming limited services upon getting assurances on the safety of its local staff.

“Based on adherence to these assurances, the Department of State is confident that the security posture has improved sufficiently to allow for the full resumption of visa services in Turkey,” the U.S. Embassy in Ankara said on Thursday.

It said the United States continued to have concerns about the two employees detained.

Turkey, while announcing the end of restrictions on the issue of visas to U.S. citizens, took issue with the U.S. declaration.

“We do not find it right for the United States to claim it had received assurances from Turkey and misinform the U.S. and Turkish publics,” the Turkish Embassy in Washington said in a statement.

Turkey’s lira firmed to 3.78 against the U.S. dollar after the statement, its highest level since Oct. 31, and the main share index BIST100 climbed 2.08 percent to reach its highest closing level ever.

Relations between the two NATO allies have become strained in the last year with Turkey angered by what it sees as the U.S. reluctance to hand over Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the coup attempt in July of 2016.

Turkey was further annoyed by U.S. military support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria, considered by Ankara to be an extension of the banned PKK which has waged an insurgency for three decades in southeast Turkey.

More recently, Turkey took a leading role in the United Nations to pass a resolution denouncing a U.S. move to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

(Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Trump Ridicules Vanity Fair Hillary

US President Donald Trump C addresses the National Assembly in Seoul on November 8 2017 e1514319382852 150x150 - Trump Ridicules Vanity Fair Hillary

Photo of Saagar Enjeti

12:51 PM 12/28/2017

President Donald Trump ridiculed Vanity Fair Thursday after both the magazine and its publisher apologized for a recently released video mocking Hillary Clinton.

The Vanity Fair video offered 6 tongue in cheek pieces of advice for Clinton including staying away from politics and perhaps taking up knitting.

The video sparked widespread backlash from Clinton supporters on social media including a campaign by some former operatives to get subscribers to cancel their Vanity Fair subscriptions. The magazine regretted the backlash in a Thursday statement saying “it was an attempt at humor and we regret that it missed the mark.”

The president also took aim at Conde Nast executive and Vanity Fair publisher Anna Wintour implying she would have been ambassador to the U.K. in a Clinton administration. Wintour was a prominent fundraiser and backer of Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.

Follow Saagar Enjeti on Twitter



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China to ‘standardize’ market access for foreign lenders: regulator

December 28, 2017

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s banking regulator has issued draft measures for amending its licensing and oversight of some foreign-funded bank activities, a move it says is aimed at promoting investment in the country’s fast-growing financial sector.

In a statement on Thursday, the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) said it is preparing to implement amended administrative measures to “standardize market access” for foreign lenders, and cut red tape to create a level playing field for such activities as branch openings, debt fundraising and examination of senior executives.

The CBRC said the amended measures will also put in place procedures “to provide a clear legal basis” for foreign-funded banks to make equity investments in Chinese financial institutions.

A notification system also will be installed for four types of activities, including securities fund custody business and the provision of wealth management services for foreign customers, the regulator said.

China has vowed to further open up its financial sector to outside investors and level the playing field.

In November, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said China will raise foreign ownership limits in some joint-venture firms in the futures, securities and fund markets to 51 percent from the current 49 percent.

A month earlier, CBRC chairman Guo Shuqing said the country was preparing to further open up its banking system to foreign investors.

The market share of foreign banks in China has decreased to 1.2 percent from 2.4 percent 10 years ago, Guo said, which “is not beneficial for promoting competition”.

(Reporting by Matthew Miller; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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Blast rips through supermarket in Russia’s St Petersburg, 10 hurt

2017 12 27T192821Z 2 LYNXMPEDBQ0Z4 RTROPTP 0 RUSSIA BLAST 1 150x150 - Blast rips through supermarket in Russia’s St Petersburg, 10 hurt

Emergency Ministry members and policemen are seen outside a supermarket after an explosion in St Petersburg
Emergency Ministry members and policemen are seen outside a supermarket after an explosion in St Petersburg, Russia December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

December 28, 2017

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A blast ripped through a supermarket in Russia’s St Petersburg on Wednesday evening, injuring at least 10 shoppers, investigators said.

The explosion was caused by a homemade bomb packed with pieces of metal with a force equivalent to 200 grammes of TNT, they said. They have opened a criminal case on the grounds of attempted murder.

Nobody was killed in the explosion, and it was not immediately clear what the motive for it was.

Russian media reports said the bomb had been hidden in a locker where shoppers leave their belongings in a branch of the Perekrestok supermarket chain.

“All possible versions of what has happened are being worked on,” Alexander Klaus, the head of St Petersburg’s investigative committee, told Reuters.

“As of now, it has been established that 10 people were taken to the city’s hospitals with injuries. At the moment, the lives of those injured are not under threat.”

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Passing Tax Reform Offers Republicans Another Shot to Repeal Obamacare

a01jd 150x150 - Passing Tax Reform Offers Republicans Another Shot to Repeal Obamacare

Republicans have another shot to repeal Obamacare in 2018 after passing the historic Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Republicans passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December, which repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate. After passing the tax reform legislation, Republicans have differed on whether to pivot to infrastructure or entitlement reform.

Speaker Paul Ryan signaled that next year he wants to tackle entitlement reform, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that Republicans should move on from repealing Obamacare. Republicans will only have a one-seat majority in the Senate in 2018, which will make more contentious issues such as welfare reform and Obamacare repeal less politically viable, although some conservatives have argued that Republicans should focus on repealing Obamacare.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, contended, “When I go back home, the No. 1 issue, by far, is still ObamaCare and major health-care reform that’s needed to bring these skyrocketing premiums to an end.”

McConnell recently said that he will try to focus on legislation that will pass with bipartisan support.

“What the Democrats are willing to do is important because in the Senate, with rare exceptions like the tax bill, we’ve got to have Democratic involvement,” the Senate Majority Leader suggested.

Infrastructure would be “pretty popular with Democrats and Republicans,” McConnell added.

Sen. Lindsey Graham recently rebuked McConnell’s argument that Republicans should move on from Obamacare repeal, arguing that it would be an “unpardonable sin” to leave the Affordable Care Act mostly intact.

Graham told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview that he continues to work with Vice President Mike Pence and the White House on a new Graham-Cassidy Obamacare bill. Sen. Graham explained that Republicans could “get 50 votes” in the Senate and pass the bill through the House.

“Repealing the individual mandate takes away one of the pillars, but by no means does it repeal and replace Obamacare,” Sen. Graham told Breitbart News. “My goal for 2018 is to block grant the money for Obamacare back to the states and putting money in the hands of elected officials and not Washington bureaucrats.”

McConnell signaled last week that he would like to move forward on passing the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal bill as soon as they can find at least 50 votes in the Senate to pass the bill.

“The Graham–Cassidy proposal, they intend to, obviously, continue to work on. And my view of that is, as soon as we have the votes to achieve it, I would like to do that,” McConnell revealed. “The only observation I made yesterday that you may be referring to is, 51-49 is a pretty — is a pretty tight majority. But I’d love to be able to make more substantial changes to Obamacare than we have.”

FreedomWorks Vice President Jason Pye argued that Republicans should revisit Obamacare repeal. Pye said, “[Graham’s] comments on Twitter the other day, just saying that it’s imperative that we come back and revisit this issue at some point in time, I think he’s absolutely right. We should. But there’s got to be some evidence of getting to 50 or 51 before we can do that.”

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