Controversy of the week
Trump: Does Russia have a ‘blackmail’ file?
Concerns about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia were swirling even before his election, said Greg Miller in WashingtonPost.com. This week, however, the story gained a “disturbing new dimension.” Sources in the intelligence community say that last week’s classified intelligence report on Russian interference with the 2016 election included unverified claims by a former British intelligence officer “that Russian intelligence services have compromising material and information on Trump’s personal life and finances,” including alleged activities with prostitutes on visits to Russia. Just as explosively, the British dossier also says Trump staffers actively colluded with Kremlin agents during the campaign, to damage Hillary Clinton with leaks of Democratic emails and help Trump win the election. Trump has denied the allegations, dismissing them on Twitter as “FAKE NEWS—A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” Even if the more salacious details in the British dossier are fabricated, said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com, you have to wonder: “Why is admiration for Vladimir Putin and his government the only issue Trump has never wavered, equivocated, or flip-flopped on?”
Let’s all calm down, said Jim Geraghty, also in NationalReview.com. These rumors are looking “more and more implausible by the hour.” In addition to its lurid allegations about prostitutes, the British dossier—which was compiled and paid for by Trump’s Republican opponents and, later, by the Clinton campaign—claims that Michael Cohen, Trump’s campaign lawyer, flew to Prague in late August of last year for a secret meeting with Russian agents. Cohen, however, denies having ever been to Prague in his life, and says he can prove that on the dates in question he was touring U.S. university campuses with his son. If such a substantive claim has already been debunked, why should we “put more faith in the other allegations?” When it comes to big bad Russia, some Americans will “believe anything,” said David Keene in WashingtonTimes.com. These rumors reek of old Cold War paranoia.
Then why does Trump keep trying to downplay the importance of election interference by “our fiercest geopolitical adversary”? asked Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. Last week our intelligence services told Trump to his face that Putin personally approved the major hacking operation into Democratic officials’ emails in order to hurt Clinton’s campaign and help get Trump elected. “Is it that he’s so thin-skinned that he can’t tolerate anyone thinking that he might have benefited from the cyberattack?” Trump won the White House “fair and square,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, but it’s bizarre for him to keep promising warmer relations with a dictatorial bully who invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and massacred civilians in Aleppo. Trump’s determination to minimize Russia’s obvious role in the hacks “makes him look like a sap for Mr. Putin.”
This “troubling” mess demands a full congressional investigation, said David French in NationalReview.com. We need to know if there’s any truth to allegations that Trump’s campaign team was secretly working with the Russians; we’d also better find out if our intelligence services are so hostile to the incoming president that they’re leaking damaging information to undermine his legitimacy. Whatever happens from here, said David Remnick in The New Yorker, Putin’s hack succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Our pro-Kremlin president-elect is now openly warring with U.S. intelligence agencies, Washington is in chaos, and our democracy has been tarnished. As Russia analyst Strobe Talbott put it this week, for Putin “this was like winning 17 jackpots all at once.”
Only in America
▪ A Michigan man was given a ticket for warming up his car by leaving it running in his driveway. “I thought it was some kind of a joke,” said Taylor Trupiano of the $128 fine. “Every person warms up their car. We live in Michigan.” But the local police chief said the practice drives up crime rates, adding, “We have five to 10 cars stolen this way every winter.”
▪ A convicted identity thief in Florida is suing Verizon Wireless for not preventing him from committing the crime. James Kelly is serving a 10-year sentence for using his own ID to steal from another customer with the same name. He claims Verizon’s “negligence” in preventing the theft caused a “loss of civil liberties and freedoms.” He is seeking $72 million in damages.
Good week for:
Near misses, after an asteroid the size of a 10-story building whizzed past the Earth just two days after astronomers detected it. “It’s not that uncommon an event,” said astronomer Mark Styles, “which is one of the reasons it is interesting.”
Sexual healing, after a German lawmaker proposed a bill that would enable the poor and elderly to have sex with prostitutes, with taxpayers picking up the bill. Beneficiaries would need to show “they are unable to achieve sexual satisfaction in other ways.”
Republicans, after a new international study found that conservative politicians tend to be better looking than those on the Left. Good-looking people often are treated better and earn more, the researchers theorized, so they want to preserve society, not change it.
Bad week for:
Walking in Florida, after a national study found that seven of the 10 most dangerous communities for pedestrians are in the Sunshine State. The greatest number of pedestrian deaths by automobile per capita were in the Cape Coral–Fort Myers area.
Medical error, after doctors in Vietnam removed surgical forceps from a man 18 years after they’d been left in his abdomen. The hospital promised to track down and inform the doctor who left the tool there, “even if they are already retired.”
Being overheard, after a San Diego newscaster discussing a story about a little girl who used Amazon Echo to order a dollhouse said on the air, “Alexa, order me a dollhouse.” His words triggered many viewers’ Echoes to order dollhouses.
Boring but important ‘Clean coal’ plant opens
The nation’s first large-scale “clean coal” project was declared operational this week, and has so far been successful at dramatically curbing the carbon dioxide emissions of an existing coal plant located outside Houston. The $1 billion Petra Nova project passed extensive tests in December, according to the U.S. and Japanese companies in charge of the initiative. Carbon dioxide produced during coal combustion at the plant is piped to the West Ranch oil field 80 miles away, where it is used to force additional oil from the ground. The companies claim the process can capture more than 90 percent of the plant’s CO2 emissions, and that 100,000 tons of the greenhouse gas from the facility have already been piped to the West Ranch field.