August 23, 2019

Lest you think The Atlantic's James Fallows believes President Trump is fit for office, he reminded readers Thursday that during the 2016 campaign he cataloged "in real time, what was known about Donald Trump’s fitness for office," ultimately concluding "even then there was no doubt of Trump’s mental, emotional, civic, and ethical unfitness for national leadership."

In 2016, Fallows notes, he refrained from "medicalizing" Trump's fitness for office, for reasons he explains. But now we're seeing "episodes of what would be called outright lunacy, if they occurred in any other setting." He tried to imagine how some of Trump's recent antics would be treated in any other profession:

  • If an airline learned that a pilot was talking publicly about being "the Chosen One" or "the King of Israel" (or Scotland or whatever), the airline would be looking carefully into whether this person should be in the cockpit.
  • If a hospital had a senior surgeon behaving as Trump now does, other doctors and nurses would be talking with administrators and lawyers before giving that surgeon the scalpel again.
  • If a public company knew that a CEO was making costly strategic decisions on personal impulse or from personal vanity or slight, and was doing so more and more frequently, the board would be starting to act. ...
  • If the U.S. Navy knew that one of its commanders was routinely lying about important operational details, plus lashing out under criticism, plus talking in "Chosen One" terms, the Navy would not want that person in charge of, say, a nuclear-missile submarine.
    [James Fallows, The Atlantic]

"If Donald Trump were in virtually any other position of responsibility, action would already be under way to remove him from that role," Fallows argues, with two exceptions: "One is a purely family-run business, like the firm in which Trump spent his entire previous career. And the other is the U.S. presidency, where he will remain, despite more and more-manifest Queeg-like unfitness, as long as the GOP Senate stands with him." Read the entire post at The Atlantic. Peter Weber

12:46 a.m.

During a three-day conference held by the pro-Trump group American Priority last week, a video was shown depicting a fake President Trump gunning down, stabbing, and assaulting members of the media and political rivals, The New York Times reports.

The conference was held at Trump National Doral Miami, and the footage was recorded by an attendee, who passed it along to the Times through an intermediary. In the video, Trump's head is superimposed on the body of a man who enters the "Church of Fake News," where the faces of parishioners are covered up by media outlet logos and the heads of political opponents like Rep. Maxine Water (D-Calif.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The fake Trump shoots and stabs people in the head, lights them on fire, and knocks others down, the Times reports. Parts of the video appeared on YouTube last year, and the conference's organizer, Alex Phillips, told the Times the clip was played as part of an exhibit on memes. "Content was submitted by third parties and was not associated with or endorsed by the conference in any official capacity," he said. "American Priority rejects all political violence and aims to promote a healthy dialogue about the preservation of free speech. This matter is under review."

The conference was attended by Donald Trump Jr., former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Sanders told the Times she didn't know anything about the video, and a person close to Trump Jr. said he also didn't see it. Trump routinely calls the media the enemy of the people and describes any news that is even remotely critical as being fake; in 2017, he tweeted a video of a wrestler body slamming the CNN logo. Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

After hearing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threaten for two years to launch an assault against the Kurds in Syria, President Trump and senior administration officials did not think he would ever go through with it, six people with knowledge of the matter told Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Their discussions started in 2017, with Erdogan telling Trump the Kurds, who hold control of northeastern Syria, are a threat to Turkey and need to be away from the border. Whenever he would say this, Axios reports, Trump would let Erdogan know that if he did invade, he would have to be solely responsible for whatever happened. During one conversation, Trump conveyed that Erdogan shouldn't mess with U.S. troops in Syria, but intimated that they wouldn't be there much longer and would not stay around to help the Kurds, people with knowledge of the matter told Axios.

Usually, Erdogan would take a few steps back, but last Sunday, he told Trump the invasion was on. Trump soon announced that U.S. troops would be pulled back from the border, a move that sparked bipartisan outrage, with lawmakers blasting Trump for turning on the United States' Kurdish allies. Erdogan thought Trump would reel him in, Turkish sources told Swan, and now he is in over his head as he faces international condemnation. Read more at Axios. Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

With her two wins on Sunday, Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history.

Biles took home two gold medals — one for the balance beam and the other for her floor exercise — and now has 25 World Championship medals. Earlier in the competition, she won gold in the team competition, all-around and vault; she came in fifth-place on the uneven bars. The 22-year-old's Sunday wins put her ahead of Vitaly Scherbo, who earned the previous record of 23 world medals during the 1990s.

Biles' floor performance was so outstanding, with a triple-twisting double back, she earned a score of 15.133, one point higher than the second-place finisher, U.S. gymnast Sunisa Lee. Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

President Trump made a grave mistake by pulling back troops in Syria last week, allowing Turkey to launch a military offensive against the Kurds, a retired four-star Marine general told CNN on Sunday.

"There is blood on Trump's hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies," Gen. John Allen said. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces worked with the United States for several years to fight the Islamic State, and held control of the northeastern border area. Since the Turkish assault began last week, video footage has emerged purportedly showing Turkish-backed militia fighters shooting Kurdish prisoners. This, Allen said, is a "full-blown ethnic cleansing."

The Kurds oversee prisons holding thousands of ISIS fighters, their families, and supporters, and hundreds escaped during fighting over the weekend. Allen — the former commander of American forces in Afghanistan and former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS during the Obama administration — said this chaos was "completely foreseeable" and "what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats."

Allen is also unmoved by Trump's approval of $50 million in aid to Syria. This gesture rings "hollow," he said, and there's no way to say if the money will go where it should. "Who's going to administer it and for whom?" Allen said. "Hundreds of thousands are fleeing and the relief agencies are on the move." Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

President Trump's decision to move U.S. troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey to launch an assault against the Kurds, prompted the Kurds on Sunday to reach a protection deal with the Syrian government.

Under this agreement, Syrian government troops will be able to enter Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria for the first time in years, The New York Times reports. The United States and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia, spent the last several years as allies, fighting against the Islamic State.

There are still ISIS sleeper cells in Syria, and many fear that the Turkish invasion could lead to the terror group's resurgence. Thousands of suspected ISIS supporters are being held in prisons guarded by Kurds, and hundreds escaped during fighting on Saturday and Sunday. Two U.S. officials told the Times the military recently tried to transfer five dozen "high value" ISIS detainees, but feeling betrayed, the Kurds said no.

The Syrian government, which counts Iran and Russia as its allies, said on Sunday it will fight the "Turkish aggression," while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his troops have control over about 70 square miles of territory in northern Syria. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday morning announced all American troops will withdraw from northern Syria, in order to stay out of the crossfire. Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

It looks like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is beginning to distance himself from his good friend Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) policy-wise.

The two Democratic presidential candidates have always gotten along well and are generally ideological allies, especially relative to many of their primary competitors. But Sanders was pretty clear in an interview that aired on ABC's This Week Sunday that Warren has a ways to go before she's at the same point on the political spectrum.

Sanders praised Warren's tenure as a senator and reaffirmed their friendship, but he said "there are differences" in their platforms, namely the fact that Warren has maintained she is a capitalist "through her bones." He said the country doesn't need more regulation, but rather a "political revolution" and he believes he's the only candidate who will stand up to the corporate elite in the U.S. and say "enough." He said that Warren would speak for herself on the matter, but, for the moment, Sanders, who considers himself a democratic socialist, thinks her adherence to capitalism is reason enough to separate them.

The initial analysis of Sanders' comments seems to be that Sanders recognizes he's falling behind Warren in the race, and understands focusing on where they differ might be his best chance at getting back in contention. Tim O'Donnell

October 13, 2019

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had some mixed reviews for the Trump administration Sunday.

During an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation, Cruz told host Margaret Brennan that he believes it was inappropriate for President Trump to have asked the Chinese government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Cruz said "elections in the United States should be decided by Americans and it's not the business of foreign countries to be interfering in our elections."

He did, however, praise the administration for agreeing to release the transcript of Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump is accused of pressuring his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the Bidens. And the senator wasn't ready to let the Bidens off the hook, either, saying that if there's "credible evidence" of wrongdoing, he would support a Justice Department probe. He also had some advice for Biden — Cruz urged him to follow in Trump's footsteps and release the transcript of his own conversations with Ukraine from when he was vice president, so that the American people can judge for themselves. Tim O'Donnell

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