We may have finally reached a tipping point: Conservatives, it seems, are finally safe to criticize Sarah Palin (without fear of being written out of the movement, that is).
As is the case with tipping points, accretion tends to go mostly unnoticed until the dam finally breaks. And it seems to have broken a bit this week, with two coinciding stories. First, there was the Washington Post story by Robert Costa (formerly of the conservative National Review), which labeled Palin "a diminished figure in the Republican Party." That story included a quote from popular conservative blogger and talk radio host Erick Erickson, who conceded, "She has some pull with the base, but it has fallen a little bit." That hardly makes her sound like a powerhouse.
Coincidence, or not, I have noticed an uptick in Palin criticism from the right over the second Palin story this week — her comments to the NRA about how waterboarding is how she'd "baptize terrorists."
Among the conservatives publicly voicing opposition to the baptism comments: The Weekly Standard's Mark Hemingway, the American Conservative's Rod Dreher, our own Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke, David Freddoso of the Conservative Intelligence Briefing, and the Federalist's Mollie Hemingway.
This is not to suggest conservatives are uniformly turning against Palin, but it is to suggest that she can no longer count on conservative opinion leaders being cowed into silent support of her antics, for fear of angering their (and her) base.
As someone who has written both favorably — and unfavorably — about Palin, I can attest to the fact that there has long been a huge disincentive to the latter. Strict conformity was regularly imposed by Palin supporters who surfed the net in search of RINO scalps to claim. Could it be that Costa's report has finally created a sort of permission structure for conservatives to finally voice what they have —for years — been thinking? Matt K. Lewis
On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took aim at President Donald Trump's cozy relationship with Russia. "He does have a weird, noticeably soft spot for both the country and its leader," Oliver said, hammering the point home with a compilation video of the numerous times Trump has complimented, praised, or otherwise flattered Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"It's a bit weird," Oliver says. "You've been objectively nicer to Vladimir Putin than you have to Meryl Streep."
But the real meat of the segment is in analyzing what we actually know about Putin ("He annexed Crimea, imposed severe fines and long prison terms on protesters, propped up the brutal Assad regime, and signed a harsh anti-gay propaganda law."), why he remains so popular, and what Trump's wish that America could just "get along" with Russia would actually mean for Democratic values.
"Trump is basically the propagandist of Putin's dreams," Oliver says. Take a look below, although be warned: There is lots of NSFW language. Jessica Hullinger
Russian President Vladimir Putin really wants to know what goes on in President Trump's head. NBC News reports that the Kremlin is compiling a document that outlines and analyzes Trump's psychological makeup, for Putin to use in preparation for a future meeting between the two politicians.
The report is apparently updated with new information regularly, and takes notes on Trump's behavior during his first few weeks in the White House, former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Fedorov says. "Among the preliminary conclusions? The new American leader is a risk-taker but can be naïve, according to a senior Kremlin adviser," NBC News reports. Fedorov also adds that the Kremlin has noticed that Trump views the presidency like one of his businesses.
NBC notes that it's normal for leaders to be briefed on one another before meeting, but "preparing a detailed dossier on the mind and instincts of a U.S. leader is unusual." The Kremlin's confidence in Trump's ability to smooth over America's relationship with Russia — or lift sanctions imposed by former President Obama following Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — seems to be waning. Jessica Hullinger
Uber is launching an 'urgent investigation' into stunning claims of sexual harassment by a female former employee
Uber has launched an "urgent investigation" into claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, and seemingly incompetent HR policies after a former employee published a stunning confessional about her time with the company. Susan Fowler, a former site reliability engineer who joined Uber in 2015, published a long blog post on her website outlining her time with the ride-hailing company, and why she left. In the post, she paints a damning picture of a company where women are targeted and undermined by managers and HR representatives alike.
Fowler claims her manager made sexual advances toward her via online chat. She said she took screenshots of the messages and showed them to human resources, but was told that her boss was a "high performer" and senior managers didn't want to punish him for something they saw as an "innocent mistake." She later discovered other women in the company experienced similar abuse, and received equally insufficient responses from the HR department.
After a series of meetings with HR, things came to a head:
The HR rep began the meeting by asking me if I had noticed that *I* was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem ... Less than a week after this absurd meeting, my manager scheduled a 1:1 with me, and told me we needed to have a difficult conversation. He told me I was on very thin ice for reporting his manager to HR. [Susan Fowler]
America has no intention of seizing Iraqi oil, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday before making a surprise visit to Iraq. His comments directly contradict those made by President Trump.
"We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil," Mattis told reporters. Trump has said repeatedly that his preferred strategy for taking on ISIS would be to "take the oil." "You wouldn't have ISIS if we took the oil," Trump told ABC's David Muir in January. As CNN explains, that would have been a war crime and a violation of international law.
Mattis is visiting Iraq as the push by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces to remove ISIS militants from Western Mosul enters its second day. "I need to get current on the situation there, political situation, the enemy situation, and the friendly situation," Mattis said.
The Islamic State was thought to have 6,000 fighters in Mosul in mid-October, when the government's offensive began, Reuters reports. More than 1,000 of those are estimated to have been killed.
This isn't the first time Mattis has broken with Trump's policy plans. In January, he said he does not support scrapping the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has dubbed "one of the dumbest deals ever." Over the weekend, Mattis said he disagreed with Trump's claim that the press is "the enemy of the American people." Jessica Hullinger
At a Florida rally on Saturday, President Trump told the crowd that Sweden was facing problems with immigrants. "You look at what's happening last night in Sweden," Trump said. "Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible."
But what, exactly, happened in Sweden "last night" was unclear. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson told The Associated Press that the government didn't know of any "terror-linked major incidents." The country's government asked the State Department for clarifications on the meaning of Trump's comments.
On Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to explain that his statement was relating to a segment he'd watched on Fox News. "My statement as to what's happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden," Trump tweeted.
Sarah Sanders, the principal deputy press secretary for the White House, said Trump was "talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, and not referring to a specific incident."
Sweden's crime rate has been falling for the last 12 years, Reuters reports, "even as it has taken in hundreds of thousands of immigrants from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq."
When Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Munich and Brussels over the weekend, many foreign leaders were hoping he would provide them with some clarity on President Donald Trump's stance on various international issues. Instead, they got "boilerplate reassurances about United States commitments" and "bland mollifications."
"Today, on behalf of President Trump, I bring you this assurance: The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance," Pence said at the Munich Security Conference.
"People were not reassured," Daniela Schwarzer, the director of the German Council on Foreign Relations, told The New York Times. "They think that Trump is erratic and incalculable. We all want to hear what we want to hear. But everyone knows that any Trump official could be gone tomorrow, or undercut in another tweet."
The conference came after a tumultuous week in Washington: Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned, and Trump's pick for Flynn's replacement turned down the job. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary James Mattis threatened NATO allies, saying they must increase defense spending, or America would "moderate its commitment" to the alliance.
European diplomats were also hoping Pence would provide some hints as to how, exactly, the balance of power works in the White House, The Washington Post reports. Does his adviser Stephen Bannon hold the reins? What about Jared Kushner? How much sway does Pence have? The vice president stuck to prepared statements at the conference, and did not take questions.
Pence heads to Brussels on Monday, where he will meet with EU leaders before heading home to Washington. Jessica Hullinger
An estimated 14 people were killed and another 30 wounded by a car bomb in the Somali capital city of Mogadishu on Sunday. The explosion happened in a crowded intersection, with shrapnel hitting nearby food stalls and shops.
"I was staying in my shop when a car came into the market and exploded. I saw more than 20 people lying on the ground," said an eyewitness named Abdulle Omar. "Most of them were dead and the market was totally destroyed." Most of those killed are believed to be civilians, though Somali security forces were also in the area.
No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far, though it was likely perpetrated by al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked Islamic extremist group that seeks to overthrow the Somali government. On Sunday, al Shabaab in a radio message denounced Somalia's new president, who holds dual U.S. and Somali citizenship, as an "evil-minded" "apostate" whom Somalis should not support. Bonnie Kristian