December 18, 2017

Venezuela has long been in chaos. The South American country is plagued by a disastrous, multi-year recession and political instability, mismanagement, and corruption. There isn't enough bread, so the government has arrested bakers. There isn't enough food, so the military is trafficking limited supplies for personal profit. Pets are starving, as their owners can no longer spare them food, and, as The New York Times reported in a lengthy story Sunday, children are starving to death, too.

Times reporters conducted a five-month investigation, interviewing medical staff at hospitals across Venezuela. The doctors they spoke with reported a heart-rending increase in malnutrition cases among their youngest patients:

Parents ... go days without eating, shriveling to the weight of children themselves. Women line up at sterilization clinics to avoid having children they can't feed. Young boys leave home and join street gangs to scavenge for scraps, their bodies bearing the scars of knife fights with competitors. Crowds of adults storm dumpsters after restaurants close. Babies die because it is hard to find or afford infant formula, even in emergency rooms. [The New York Times]

Statistical information about the scale of the malnutrition crisis is difficult to find, as the Venezuelan government has attempted to suppress such damaging data. One 2015 report from the Venezuelan Ministry of Health offers a grim hint: It said the mortality rate for children younger than four weeks increased by 100 percent — from 0.02 percent to just over 2 percent — between 2012 and 2015.

Since then, Venezuela's man-made famine has only worsened, but President Nicolas Maduro continues to reject international aid. Read the rest of the Times report here. Bonnie Kristian

7:15 a.m.

Ford on Sunday unveiled its all-electric 2021 Mustang Mach-E, an SUV based on the automaker's new EV architecture. The Mach-E marks an attempt to expand the appeal of the iconic Mustang and lure in a new generation of buyers. The Mach-E is the first Mustang that isn't a two-door sports car.

The vehicle, with a starting price of about $44,000, is part of Ford's $11 billion effort to introduce 40 new electric and hybrid models by 2022, reports CNBC. Ford said the Mach-E would get 210 miles to 300-plus miles on a charge, depending on the battery option. The Mach-E's performance and price will rival Tesla's Model Y SUV. Ford CEO Jim Hackett said the Mach-E also will have the company's new hands-free driver assist system, similar to Tesla's Autopilot and Cadillac's Super Cruise systems. Harold Maass

7:12 a.m.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Sunday said that President Trump was welcome to testify in the House impeachment inquiry. If Trump has information to clear himself "then we look forward to seeing it," she said on CBS' Face the Nation. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said if Trump wants to counter testimony suggesting he abused his power by withholding military aid to pressure Ukraine into investigating Democrats, "He should come to the committee and testify under oath. And he should allow all those around him to come to the committee and testify under oath," The Associated Press reports. The remarks came ahead of the House Intelligence Committee's second week of public impeachment hearings. Trump's ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, is one of the people due to appear this week. Harold Maass

6:48 a.m.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a linguistic shift from "quid pro quo" to "bribery" last week. She explained at a press conference Friday that when discussing the possible impeachment of President Trump, often "we're talking Latin around here," from "'E Pluribus Unum,' from many one," to "quid pro quo," but "bribery" is actually "in the Constitution attached to the impeachment proceedings." It is also English, which is helpful for explaining things to an English-speaking electorate. But in the same press conference, Pelosi dipped into Latin derivatives — and then explained what she meant to an audience of one.

"If the president has something that is exculpatory — Mr. President, that means you have anything that shows your innocence — then he should make that known and that's part of the inquiry. And so far, we haven't seen that, but we welcome it."

Pelosi, like any Catholic who grew up before Vatican II, could probably figure out what "exculpatory" means without having to consult a dictionary, but she is likely right to assume that Trump, raised in the Presbyterian tradition, has never uttered the phrase mea maxima culpa. So in an interview with CBS's Margaret Brennan for Sunday's Face the Nation, she broke down "exculpatory" into its Latin roots for any president who might be watching. If Trump "has information that is exculpatory — that means ex, taking away, culpable, blame — then we look forward to seeing it," Pelosi explained.

In both interviews, Pelosi also argued that Trump has already admitted to offenses worse than those that drove Richard Nixon to resign. So perhaps she is hoping that Trump, confronted with the prima facie evidence of his actus reus, will reflect on his culpability ex post facto, when he is president emeritus. Peter Weber

5:16 a.m.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter Biden before President Trump's administration belatedly released Ukrainian military aid on Sept. 11 — a point President Trump's Republican defenders frequently raise to dismiss the House impeachment inquiry. But Zelensky had been prepared to capitulate and announce the investigations in a Sept. 13 interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, The New York Times reported. On his show Sunday night, Zakaria recounted his "best understanding of what actually happened."

"Ever since Zelensky was elected president in April, my team and I have been interested in having him appear on the show," Zakaria began. "On Sept. 13, I met with Zelensky in Kyiv on the sidelines of a conference I was participating in. He came across as smart, energetic, and with a much sharper feel for politics than you might expect from a neophyte." In their "brief conservation," they discussed Ukraine's issues with Russia and the U.S. and also corruption, he said. Zelensky seemed "a bit distracted," but "it's a testament to Zelensky's skill that he did not let on in any way the immense pressure he was under" from Trump and his allies.

Zelensky apparently decided he would announce the Biden-linked investigation during an already schedule interview with Zakaria, "though neither he nor any of his team ever gave us any inkling of that," Zakaria said. The contours of the pressure campaign were starting to sharpen in early September, but "just imagine Zelensky's dilemma. By the time I met with him in Kyiv, he knew the aid had been released but the backstory had not yet broken into public view," and Zelensky's aides said at the time they were unsure why the aid was suddenly unfrozen," he said. When The Washington Post revealed the plot on Sept. 18, "the interview was called off — we are, of course, still trying to get it." Peter Weber

4:02 a.m.

John Oliver spent the bulk of Sunday's season finale of Last Week Tonight on something that will take place before he starts filming his next season: The decennial U.S. census. "The concept of the census is very simple," he said. "At the start of each decade, the government does a comprehensive count of every single person residing in the United States — not just citizens, not just voters, every single person. Because only by knowing how many people live where can communities effectively plan to provide things like roads, schools, and emergency services."

"However hard counting every single person seems, it's actually much harder," Oliver said. "Conducting the census is the largest and most complicated peacetime operation that the government undertakes, and the 2020 census is likely to be even more challenging than usual, for reasons ranging from budget shortfalls to active Republican meddling. So tonight, let's talk about it. And let's start with what questions are actually on the census, because a lot of people don't know what they are — and that very much includes the current president."

Oliver ran though the simple list of questions, listed some reasons people refuse to provide the government that basic information — there's a quick trip down a libertarian YouTube rabbit hole — and laid out why participation in the census is so important. He recapped the flap about the citizenship question President Trump wanted to add to the 2020 census, explained how it was revealed to be explicitly driven by a scheme to entrench Republicans in power, and lamented that the damage might already be done.

"All in all, there is a lot working against this census, and experts are worried an undercount next year is inevitable," possibly by millions of people, Oliver said. "So what can we do?" Fill out the census, mostly — and he gave some incentives, ending with how much your participation would "irritate" Trump. There's NSFW language. Watch below. Peter Weber

2:55 a.m.

A handful of Republicans went on the Sunday talk shows to defend President Trump after a rough first week of public impeachment hearings.

On Fox News, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) argued that Democrats shouldn't impeach Trump for a scheme to withhold military aid from Ukraine until its president publicly announced investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden and the Democratic National Committee, because "it didn't happen" and "Ukraine got the money." Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) told CNN that "it is not okay" for a U.S. president to even "raise his political opponent" in a phone call with a foreign leader, but it's also not "scandalous" because Trump acknowledged doing it when he released the partial transcript of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky.

On NBC's Meet the Press, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) lamented the "damage that's being done to our entire country through this entire impeachment process" and argued that "it's going to be very difficult for future presidents to have a candid conversation with a world leader, because now we've set the precedent of leaking transcripts" — an apparent reference to the White House's own transcript release. The whistleblower who flagged concerns about that call, and the subsequent public revelation of the behind-the-scenes struggle over Ukraine military aid, "has exposed things that didn't need to be exposed," Johnson told host Chuck Todd.

"You seem to blame this on everybody but the president," Todd said. "I'm not blaming anybody, Chuck," Johnson replied. "Isn't the president's own behavior, which raised all of these yellow and red flags, isn't that why we're here?" Todd asked. Johnson said the whistleblower's lawyer has been advocating for impeachment since Trump's inauguration, Todd noted that Johnson suggested Hillary Clinton's impeachment before the election, and Johnson brought up former FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Johnson, protector of things that needn't be exposed, has released a year of Strzok and Page's private text messages. Peter Weber

12:56 a.m.

President Trump spent about two hours at Walter Reed Medical Center on Saturday for what he called "phase one of my yearly physical" in a tweet on Sunday. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Saturday afternoon that Trump, 73, was simply "taking advantage of a free weekend here in Washington, D.C., to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam."

Unlike Trump's previous two physicals, this one wasn't on his public schedule — or, CNN reported Sunday, his private calendar. Also, NBC News notes, the previous exams didn't involve "multiple 'phases.'" The medical staff at Walter Reed "did not get a staff-wide notice about a presidential" or "VIP" visit, as would normally happen, CNN says, "indicating the visit was a non-routine visit and scheduled last minute." One source told CNN that Trump's visit was "abnormal" but he'd appeared to be in good health late Friday.

On Saturday night, Grisham told NBC News that Trump "is fine — perfectly healthy," he had undergone "a routine checkup," and "speculation of this nature is irresponsible and dangerous for this country." On Sunday, she told CNN her previous statements "were truthful and accurate" and "actively trying to find and report conspiracy theories really needs to stop."

It's certainly possible everything Grisham said is "truthful and accurate," but it's also odd, according to White House veterans:

Like "thousands of other people who have worked" in the White House, "here is something I know first-hand," tweeted James Fallows, a Carter administration alumnus: "If a president needs routine tests, there's an amply staffed medical office right inside the White House. It's a one-minute walk." Whatever Trump was doing Saturday, he added, it was "100 percent not 'routine.'" Peter Weber

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