Two weeks into the baseball season and a team other than the Mets is the leading contender for "Biggest screw-up of the year."
— Mike Conti (@MikeConti929) April 9, 2014
Atlanta put some pyrotechnics on its big screen in center field, but neglected to remember that fireworks are not only pretty, but very hot, too. A spokesperson for the Braves confirmed to the local NBC affiliate that the mishap really did happen during the team's home opener Tuesday, adding that the flag is made of flame-retardant material so it didn't burn for too long.
In fairness to the Braves, a pyrotechnic operator for the team blamed a "freak shift in the wind" for the incident. But still, shouldn't that have been a consideration when installing the fireworks? Jon Terbush
North Korea has ordered the development of more powerful weapons as a means of sending a "bigger 'gift package' to the Yankees," the state news agency, KCNA, quoted leader Kim Jong Un as saying.
On Monday, North Korea tested missiles equipped with "an advanced automated pre-launch sequence compared with previous versions of the 'Hwasong' rockets," Reuters writes. "That indicated the North had launched a modified Scud-class missile, as South Korea's military has said." The missile flew about 280 miles before coming down in the sea in Japan's economic zone, South Korean officials said. The launch came after two successful tests of North Korean mid- and long-range missiles in the last two weeks.
North Korea is desperately trying to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead to the mainland United States as a deterrent against international pressures and sanctions. Read more about Monday's launch at The Week, here. Jeva Lange
Russia reportedly believed it could 'influence the Trump administration' with 'derogatory information'
American intelligence reportedly discovered that Russia was confident it "had the ability to influence the [Trump] administration through ... derogatory information," people familiar with the intelligence told CNN. The Russian conversations, intercepted during the 2016 campaign, reportedly referred to incriminating financial information that could have been used to sway Trump or his close inner circle, CNN adds.
But the sources, privy to the descriptions of the communications written by U.S. intelligence, cautioned the Russian claims to one another "could have been exaggerated or even made up" as part of a disinformation campaign that the Russians did during the election.
The details of the communication shed new light on information U.S. intelligence received about Russian claims of influence. The contents of the conversations made clear to U.S. officials that Russia was considering ways to influence the election — even if their claims turned out to be false. [CNN]
"This is yet another round of false and unverified claims made by anonymous sources to smear the president," the White House said in a statement. "The reality is, a review of the president's income from the last ten years showed he had virtually no financial ties at all."
The review of Trump's income was done by his paid lawyers, and is not transparent or verifiable because Trump has refused to release his tax returns. An unverified dossier composed by former British spy Christopher Steele also echoed beliefs that Russia held incriminating information about Trump and his inner circle, and could use it to blackmail the administration. Jeva Lange
President Trump has never been quiet about his plans to reverse some of the stepped-up civil rights enforcement of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and he's doing that in big ways and small, by proposing to cut some civil rights divisions entirely, cutting funding and staff levels, and putting critics in charge of agencies, among other actions. On Tuesday, The Washington Post focused on a few of the moves, including a proposal in the Labor Department's fiscal 2018 budget to eliminate the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and fold it into the separate Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The compliance program conducts audits for discriminatory practices among federal contractors, and has done so for decades. As the Post's Juliet Eilperin explains in the video below, that affects about a quarter of the U.S. workforce, and the cut is not yet a done deal:
At the Environmental Protection Agency, new leaders have recommended scrapping the environmental justice program, which helps mitigate oil spills, hazardous leaks, and other environmental threats concentrated in minority areas. The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights faces steep budget and staffing cuts, hampering investigations of discrimination in school districts, and its new director, Candice E. Jackson, wrote a book arguing that attempts to promote diverse student bodies disregard "the very real prices paid by individual people who end up injured by affirmative action."
Trump has similarly suggested he wants to put the Justice Department's civil rights division under the leadership of conservative lawyer Eric Dreiband, who has represented several companies in discrimination lawsuits. The Trump Justice Department has already moved to dismantle challenges to a Texas voter ID law and, with the Education Department, rolled back Obama-era guidance about transgender students and bathrooms.
Trump administration officials insist that they believe in civil rights. "The Trump administration has an unwavering commitment to the civil rights of all Americans," White House spokeswoman Kelly Love told The Washington Post. Vanita Gupta, who led the DOJ's civil rights division until January, disagrees. "They can call it a course correction, but there's little question that it's a rollback of civil rights across the board," she said. You can read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber
Pence is hitting the road to defend vulnerable midterm Republicans threatened by Trump's ongoing scandals
Vice President Mike Pence is doing damage control this summer with his tour of swing states where Republicans face uphill battles in 2018. Some are also pointing out that Pence's tour could foreshadow his future political ambitions: "There's little question that Pence's aggressive travel schedule will pay dividends down the road should he eventually seek the presidency," Politico writes.
Officially, Pence is fighting to raise money and calm Republicans who are panicking over how ripples of President Trump's scandals could play out next November. "We are in for a turbulent campaign cycle, as nearly all parties in power face during a new president's first midterm," said George W. Bush's former deputy political director, Scott Jennings. "But the question is, do you shrink in the face of a tough cycle or do you fight like hell to hold on? And Pence is going to fight like hell, it seems, which will hopefully embolden every candidate out there."
Pence is expected to make stops in Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and to attend the Republican National Committee's summer conference in Chicago. His travel schedule will be even fuller as the midterms grow closer, too, his advisers said.
“I'm so thankful for all the work the vice president has done for our candidates so far this year, especially in these special elections," said National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio). "As a former member of the House, he knows how important it is." Jeva Lange
President Trump's communications director, Mike Dubke, is on his way out after just three months on the job. He is the first to go in what is expected to be a major overhaul of staff as the White House attempts to jumpstart its agenda and cope with deepening scandals related to Russia.
"Insiders say Dubke came in with few patrons, and never gelled with the originals," Axios reports.
Trump is reportedly also considering adding his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to the communications department, as well as his former deputy campaign manager, David Bossie. Trump himself will do more press conferences as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's on-camera appearances are rolled back.
In a free-form White House, President Trump's daily intelligence briefing is a rare fixture, often going over the allotted time, The Washington Post reports, basing its profile of "Trump as a consumer of the nation's secrets" on interviews with "several senior administration officials who regularly attend his briefings." Most days, at about 10:30 a.m., "Trump sits behind the historic Resolute desk and, with a fresh Diet Coke fizzing and papers piled high, receives top-secret updates on the world's hot spots," the Post reports. "The president interrupts his briefers with questions but also with random asides. He asks that the top brass of the intelligence community be present, and he demands brevity."
Presidents have received daily intelligence briefings for some 50 years, but every president asks to receive classified intelligence differently. Trump has said publicly he prefers a single page of bullet points, maps, graphs, and other images, which aides say is a reflection of his background with real estate blueprints. CIA Director Mike Pompeo says intelligence analysts produce "killer graphics" for Trump because he likes to "get to the core of the issue quickly." Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, another Trump appointee, says that sometimes "pictures do say a thousand words." Trump's briefings are "a very oral, interactive discussion," Pompeo adds, and "he asks hard questions, which I think is the sign of a good intelligence consumer."
At the same time, The Washington Post says, "Trump consumes classified intelligence like he does most everything else in life: ravenously and impatiently, eager to ingest glinting nuggets but often indifferent to subtleties." Trump tells aides he takes the briefings very seriously, "yet there are signs that the president may not be retaining all the intelligence he is presented, fully absorbing its nuance, or respecting the sensitivities of the information and how it was gathered." You can read more about Trump's intelligence consumption at The Washington Post. Peter Weber
On Sunday evening, President Trump turned to his favorite social media platform to issue an optimistic assessment of the Republican effort to drastically revamp the tax code, presumably along the lines Trump laid out a month ago in a single page of bullet points:
The massive TAX CUTS/REFORM that I have submitted is moving along in the process very well, actually ahead of schedule. Big benefits to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2017
Trump's optimism seems a little misplaced. In reality, The Wall Street Journal's Richard Rubin reports, the GOP's "boldest ideas for changing the nation's tax code are either dead or on political life support, as the Republican effort in Congress to reshape the tax system moves much more slowly than lawmakers and their allies in business had hoped." Rubin explains the basic problem:
Republicans, who control both chambers, are scouring the tax code, searching for ways to offset the deep rate cuts they desire. But their proposals for border adjustment — which would tax imports — and for ending the business interest deduction and making major changes to individual tax breaks for health and retirement have all hit resistance within the party. The only big revenue-raising provision with anything close to Republican consensus is repealing the deduction for state and local taxes, and that idea faces objections from blue-state lawmakers in the party. [The Wall Street Journal]
Taking the border adjustment tax and business interest changes off the table leaves the House GOP plan about $2 trillion in the hole, and "the Trump administration has taken more items off the table," too. Some Republicans are scaling back their lofty ambitions, talking about a temporary tax cut that could pass Senate rules for a simple-majority vote or lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent rather than the 20 percent House Republicans envision and the 15 percent Trump has called for.
"Eventually you run out of ways to pay for your promises," says Alan Cole, an economist at the Tax Foundation, which favors lower tax rates. "There aren't any free, obvious sources of money where you can just do the thing and nobody gets mad." You can read more details at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber