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November 11, 2016

Twitter is a great place for jokes, but it often seems like a place where political organizing goes to die. One member of the loose-knit community of jokesters known as "Weird Twitter" decided to take some more concrete steps: He joined a Kurdish militia to fight ISIS.

Little is known about the shadowy figure who goes by "PissPigGranddad," save that he used to be a florist and a boxing gym manager. He has been texting with Jacobin's Connor Kilpatrick, and says his unit of the People's Protection Guards (or YPG, in the Kurdish acronym) is heavily engaged in the push against ISIS forces in northern Syria. He's "at the very tip of the Raqqa offensive" and the militia is "taking villages like crazed hounds." Also, apparently the Kurds are not happy with Donald Trump's gender politics.

An interview with PissPigGranddad can be found here, where he explains why he believes in the YPG's socialist project. Ryan Cooper

7:07a.m.

On Wednesday, the National Defense Strategy Commission released a report warning that the U.S. military has lost its edge to a potentially dangerous degree after years of insufficient resources, innovation, and leadership. The 12-person commission, created by Congress and filled with former top Republican and Democratic officials, evaluated President Trump's 2018 National Defense Strategy. The commissioners did not disagree with the strategy's aim of revamping the military to better compete against China and Russia, but they said the effort was too slow and insufficiently funded, The Washington Post reports.

"The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia," the report found. "The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously."

The U.S. military budget jumped to $716 billion this year, more than four times China's military budget and more than 10 times Russia's, the Post notes. But the commission still said "available resources are clearly insufficient to fulfill the strategy's ambitious goals," suggesting Congress lift budget caps on the military while also examining other ways to tame the soaring federal deficit.

"There is a strong fear of complacency, that people have become so used to the United States achieving what it wants in the world, to include militarily, that it isn't heeding the warning signs," said commissioner Kathleen H. Hicks, a former top Pentagon official during the Obama administration. "It's the flashing red that we are trying to relay." You can read more about the commission's recommendations at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

6:08a.m.

On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence diplomatically rebuked Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her country's "violence and persecution" of its Rohingya Muslim minority and its jailing a year ago of two Reuters reporters covering the massacre of 10 Muslim Rohingya men.

"The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse," Pence told Suu Kyi before a bilateral meeting she had requested on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Singapore. "I am anxious to hear the progress that you are making holding those accountable who are responsible for the violence that displaced so many hundreds of thousands, created such suffering." Pence also mentioned the "premium" America places "on a free and independent press," adding, "The arrest and jailing of two journalists last fall was deeply troubling to millions of Americans."

Suu Kyi quietly rebuffed Pence, saying it is always good to exchange views, but "we understand our country better than any other country does. ... So we are in a better position to explain to you what is happening, how we see things panning out."

A longtime political prisoner herself, Suu Kyi's powers are limited under a constitution written by the former military junta, but she has faced criticism for not condemning what the United Nations calls Myanmar's Rohingya "genocide." This week, Amnesty International became the latest organization to revoke an award it gave Suu Kyi, citing her "shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for." ASEAN elder statesman Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's prime minister, also chastised Suu Kyi on Tuesday, telling a reporter she's "trying to defend what is indefensible." He dialed back his criticism a bit on Wednesday.

Pence is attending the ASEAN summit and subsequent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Papua New Guinea on behalf of President Trump.

5:16a.m.

"The midterms — just like a trip to Ikea, they're lasting much longer than expected," Trevor Noah said on Tuesday's Daily Show. Arizona just decided its Senate race on Monday and Georgia is still trying to figure out its next governor, "but the real post–Election Day drama is happening, as always, in Florida, the Florida of states. Both the Senate and the governor's races are too close to call, and the Republicans there aren't handling the stress well."

If President Trump is shouting fraud in "an election that he's not a part of, imagine if he loses in 2020 — like, he's gonna be holed up in the Oval Office like Scarface," Noah said. "The truth is that Trump and [Republican Gov. Rick] Scott are lying — nobody's stealing the election. But that doesn't mean that Florida doesn't have big issues with its voting. All over Florida, the elections have been a cluster--k, and everyone is contributing to it," starting with Broward County's Brenda Snipes, a Democrat, but also Republican officials.

"Okay, now look, I sympathize with people who were displace by the hurricane, but that doesn't mean one guy can just make up new ways to vote," Noah said. "Basically in Florida right now, there are no rules — everything is just chaos. And it's not just the election commissioners, because much like the people of Florida, it turns out the recount machines are old and falling apart." He had an easy Florida-specific fix America might want to consider implementing.

On Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel checked in with Opa Locka County voting supervisor Gene Moran (Fred Willard), and he was really behind in the count.

And back at The Daily Show, Michael Kosta had a succinct, probably NSFW explanation for what's going on in Florida. Or something. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:14a.m.

If President Trump was trying to neuter Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into his campaign and Russia when he appointed Matthew Whitaker acting attorney general, he may have been "too clever by half," conservative law professor John Yoo writes at The Atlantic. Whitaker "cannot legally hold the office," thanks to the Constitution's Appointments Clause, and it's very unlikely this Supreme Court will uphold the White House's legal argument that his appointment is valid.

Yoo expressed a famously expansive view of presidential powers in his defunct "torture memo." But even Yoo has argued that Trump occassionally exceeds his presidential powers, and the Whitaker appointment is one of those times. Whitaker can try to shut down the Mueller investigation, an idea he's publicly advocated, but it won't stick, Yoo explains:

The White House may have thought it had cleverly figured out a way to curtail the investigation by appointing Whitaker, but it has instead virtually assured that Mueller will complete his job in his own good time. With questions surrounding the ethics and now the legality of his appointment, Whitaker will have little political capital to expend in defending any limits on Mueller. And even if Whitaker displays terrible judgment and makes the fateful choice to cut off the probe, Mueller now has the grounds to refuse to obey the orders of an unconstitutional attorney general. Trump's clever maneuvering has provided Mueller all the space he needs to finish his investigation and even hand over his files and concluding report to a Congress eager to launch impeachment proceedings. [John Yoo, The Atlantic]

"Trump critics should not find joy in such a result," Yoo cautioned, because "every action of the Justice Department might fall before challenges to Whitaker's appointment," including the prosecution of criminals. You can read Yoo's conservative legal case that Whitaker is an invalid attorney general, and his helpful suggestions for what Trump can and should do, at The Atlantic. Peter Weber

2:52a.m.

In one week, President Trump has transformed from a nonstop campaign-rally machine to a nearly invisible figure communicating mostly by tweet. Trump returned late Sunday from a 43-hour trip to Paris, where he sat out some big events and clashed with allies, and on Monday he ended his public day at 10:03 a.m., skipping the Veterans Day trip to Arlington National Cemetery every president since at least John F. Kennedy has made to lay a ceremonial wreath. On Tuesday, Trump's only public appearance was a brief showing at a Diwali ceremony, and he had Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meet with visiting King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence to the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit typically attended by presidents, potentially offending Asian leaders; canceled a trip to Colombia; and opted not to visit the U.S. troops he sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to protect a "caravan" he seems to have forgotten about. Maybe Trump is just tired, but White House officials and Trump allies say he's in a particularly sour mood amid a string of late Democratic victories in areas where he campaigned, looming investigations by House Democrats, expected indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and bad press from his France trip.

"Trump has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment," the Los Angeles Times reports, citing multiple administration sources. "Behind the scenes, they say, the president has lashed out at several aides," sketching "a picture of a brooding president 'trying to decide who to blame' for Republicans' election losses, even as he publicly and implausibly continues to claim victory."

"It's like an episode of Maury," one former Trump aide told Politico. "The only thing that's missing is a paternity test." You can read more about Trump's "five days of fury" at The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, and Politico has more on the mood in the White House. Peter Weber

1:14a.m.

A Houston neighborhood is now home to 12 special murals that merge art with poetry.

The Gulfton neighborhood is one of the most diverse areas in Texas, with residents coming from more than 40 different countries and able to speak 80 languages, the Houston Chronicle reports. Many are immigrants, and Dr. Aisha Siddiqui created a nonprofit called Culture of Health — Advancing Together (CHAT) for those in need of a strong support system. "This land of opportunity is great but daunting for people," she said.

Art is "a universal language," Siddiqui said, and "helps make people take ownership of communities." To bring art to Gulfton, CHAT partnered with several other nonprofits and the mayor's office to launch the Gulfton Story Trail Mural Project. Community members were invited to write poems about the neighborhood, and Houston-area artists then selected their favorites and painted murals based on the poetry.

The colorful murals "make it more welcoming," Siddiqui said, and give people "the sense that someone cares for them." Artist Natalia Victoria painted a garden based on the poem "Ego For Thought" by local resident Emmanuel Nwaobi. "The poem was about the community working together to be a better community," Victoria told the Chronicle. "I thought that was inspiring and so important." Catherine Garcia

12:45a.m.

"Here we are once again: Trump wants to fire somebody," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. "But in a refreshing change of pace, it's not Donald, because today we found out that in a stunning move, first lady Melania Trump is calling for the firing of Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel. I assume Melania's doing it with her traditional goodbye gift, a jacket that says 'U Don't Really Work Here Anymore, Do U?'"

The first lady's office apparently believes Ricardel has been leaking negative stories about her, but "this story has unearthed some juicy behind-the-scenes details about the first lady's relationship with Chief of Staff John Kelly," including getting President Trump to yell at Kelly for not approving her promotion of staff members.

His wife's veering into Trump's "you're fired!" lane and Democrat Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema's historic win in Arizona are "just the latest in a very bad week for the president — case in point, North Korea," Colbert said. Trump has been saying for months that he solved North Korea's nuclear crisis, "but somebody didn't get the memo that North Korea wasn't a threat anymore, and that somebody was Kim Jong Un," who is moving ahead with his ballistic missiles program at 16 hidden bases.

Trump responded to that and other embarrassing news with an active day on Twitter, and Colbert read and commented on the tweets — disputing Kim's missiles, defending his widely mocked decision to skip a World War I memorial in France due to rain, and several attacks on French President Emmanuel Macron, one of which included a threat to raise tariffs on French wines. "Aren't you losing support with suburban white women?" Colbert asked. "Maybe now's not the time to come after wine. What's next? Banning book clubs and Nancy Meyers movies?" Watch below. Peter Weber

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