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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Jr. Linked to Yet Another Friend of Putin
      •  What is Donald Trump's Foreign Policy?
      •  USA No Longer Number One
      •  Trump's Ability to Launch Nukes May Be Limited
      •  Donald Trump to Pay Donald Trump's Legal Bills
      •  Alabama Pastors Slam Moore
      •  It's Ball Vs. Trump

Trump Jr. Linked to Yet Another Friend of Putin

We may soon reach a point where it's just easier to list the Vladimir Putin associates that the Trump campaign did not have contact with. The latest news involves Aleksander Torshin, who reached out to First Son-in-law Jared Kushner in early 2016 with "information" (possibly from Putin) and an offer to arrange a secret meeting with the Russian leader. After much internal discussion, Kushner declined the meeting, not because it would be wrong or illegal, but because Torshin's credentials could not be verified.

Thanks to reporting from the New York Times and NBC News this weekend, we now know that a couple of unpleasant questions are now being raised about Torshin's overtures. The first is why Jared Kushner neglected to mention this incident when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Trump campaign never had any contact with the Russians. The second is how Donald Trump Jr. just happened to end up at the same event as Torshin just a couple of months later, possibly—depending on whom you believe—seated next to the Russian. Thus far the White House has had no comment on the matter, though it is clear that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into it. As if he and his team didn't already have enough to do. (Z)

What is Donald Trump's Foreign Policy?

When it comes to that question, it would seem that your guess is as good as that of the people working in the Trump administration. The Washington Post spoke to numerous ambassadors to the United States, and found that they are uniformly frustrated by their efforts to deal with Team Trump. First, because the President himself is consistently uninterested in anything other than each nation's defense spending and the size of its trade deficit with the United States. Second, because diplomats have great difficulty finding anyone at the understaffed State Department to talk with whenever there is a need. Third, because even when they do find someone to talk with, that person has no idea what is going on. "The problem is that people don't know anything," said one ambassador in Washington who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They are quite open about it...It doesn't matter what level. It is all levels."

Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of leadership from Washington, various foreign leaders are turning to states and cities (mostly blue ones) in search of the leadership and the partnership they desire. There are some issues that are beyond the power of states, of course, but others that are right in the wheelhouse of a California or a New York, like trade deals and climate control. "There is an impression by politicians here that President Trump in person is no longer the voice of the free Western world," explained German lawmaker Christian Ehler. "We are much more carefully looking now to the diversity of what is being discussed in the United States, and we see that California is one of the powerhouses of the world economically."

Meanwhile, in the absence of a clearly-articulated foreign policy vision from the administration, The Economist—hardly a bastion of left-wing politics—has taken a stab at trying to characterize the Trump Doctrine. Their take: "America's foreign policy: embrace thugs, dictators and strongmen." They note the President's friendly relationship with Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and others, not to mention his disdain for refugees, immigrants, and the like. While the magazine is no fan of Barack Obama's foreign policy, he seems like Nixon or Talleyrand or Metternich next to Trump. Their conclusion:

Mr. Obama reflected a loss of confidence in the certainties of the neolibs and neocons. He may have allowed the pendulum to swing back too far, but he reflected the mood of war-weary voters. Mr Trump stands for something different and darker: a contemptuous repudiation of the use of American strength in the service of anything other than self-interest. His enthusiasm for a brute like Mr Duterte gives heart to brutes everywhere. The consequences for America's power and influence are likely to be grave.

Who knew that they had "fake news" over in Europe, too?

USA No Longer Number One

Each year, the German firm Anholt-GfK prepares a ranking of the "brand" of each of the world's major nations. In 2016, the United States held on to first place for the 10th year in a row. Not anymore, though. The 2017 rankings have been released, and while some nations—France, Japan, Germany, Italy—are on the upswing, the United States has dropped all the way to number six. That means that America is not even number one on its own continent any more, as it now trails number four Canada.

Given that the United States' decline in fortunes is the obvious lede here, Anholt-GfK's press release preemptively explained what the problem is: The "Trump Effect." It would seem that the other nations of the world do not like instability, or willingness to act unilaterally, or governance-via-tweet. This does not seem to be a path to making America great again, nor to gaining the upper hand in trade deals, but perhaps the President knows something the rest of us do not. (Z)

Trump's Ability to Launch Nukes May Be Limited

Given, well, the Trump administration's instability, willingness to act unilaterally, and governance-via-tweet, quite a few people are nervous about the fact that the President's finger is on the nuclear trigger. That includes the leaders of America's allies, and most members of Congress. Gen. John Hyten, commander of US Strategic Command, was at the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday, and he sought to assuage such concerns. "He'll tell me what to do," explained Hyten, "and if it's illegal, guess what's going to happen? I'm gonna say, 'Mr. President, that's illegal.'" Translation: "If he goes off half-cocked, I will tell him 'no.'" It is highly unusual, to say the least, that the person in charge of the nuclear arsenal is not only preparing for the possibility that he might have to disregard the President's orders, but is also admitting that fact publicly.

Soon, Hyten may not be the world's only insurance policy against an ill-conceived nuclear strike. For the first time in 40 years, when Congress first granted the President all-but-unlimited authority to launch a nuclear strike in case of an emergency, they are rethinking that policy. Led by Trump nemesis Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), hearings are being held to look into the possibility of making a declaration of war necessary before the White House could launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. It's early in the process, but the smart money says that if Trump wants to nuke...well, one of the countries that doesn't have a Trump-owned golf course, then he better do it quickly. (Z)

Donald Trump to Pay Donald Trump's Legal Bills

It might seem obvious that a person, particularly one who claims billions of dollars in assets, should be picking up the tab for their own legal woes. This was not obvious to Donald Trump, however, who apparently never met an expense that he did not try to foist off on a business partner, or one of his "charities," or anyone else who might pick up the tab. Consequently, it is not a surprise that the President's been letting the Republican Party pay the costs of defending him against charges he colluded with Russia during the campaign. A bit more surprising, perhaps, is that he's been letting the Justice Department foot the bill as he defends himself against charges that he's violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, with about a dozen government lawyers working full time on the matter. One might think that such questions are a private issue that just so happens to involve a question of public policy, but Trump has taken the position that they are a public policy issue that just so happens to involve a once-and-future private citizen.

At least, that was Trump's position until the latter decision came under public scrutiny. Most people didn't have a problem with the GOP's paying the Russiagate bills, but many did have an issue with the DoJ paying the emoluments clause bills. Now, the President says he will cover his own legal fees, for both matters. His staff also explained, on his behalf, that he has no idea how the DoJ ended up covering his legal costs, and that he was working with the Office of Government Ethics to refund the money. No word on whether or not the RNC will be getting its money back, too. (Z)

Alabama Pastors Slam Moore

Earlier this week, a dozen conservative religious leaders from Alabama called a press conference to announce that they were sticking with senate candidate Roy Moore, child molestation be damned. Or not damned, apparently. On Saturday, a considerably larger group of liberal and liberal-leaning religious leaders called their own press conference and blasted Moore, declaring that his supporters are embracing an "extreme form of Republican religionism." In addition, over 100 of them have signed a letter declaring that:

It is our belief that in light of Roy Moore's extremist beliefs, his patterns of behavior, and the recent allegations against him, no person of faith can, in good conscience, support him or his religious nationalism. He has done harm to our government; he has done harm to our Christian witness; and he has done harm to vulnerable people.

The signatories lead congregations across the state, including in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and Huntsville.

The press conference and the letter immediately sparked a war of words between the liberal ministers and the conservative ones, with each side claiming that the other has completely misunderstood what the Bible says. Odds are good, then, that Saturday's event is not going to change too many minds, since supporters of Moore have a convenient "out" for ignoring what the folks on Saturday had to say. There is also a racial dimension here; the city that is far and away most represented on the letter is Birmingham, which is 63% black. It is fair to infer, then, that a sizable percentage of the signatories are black. All of this said, the polls now suggest that the former judge has a very narrow margin of error, if he has any margin at all, so if even one Alabamian in a hundred has second thoughts about him based on what they heard Saturday, or is motivated to get themselves to the polls to vote against him when previously they would have stayed home, that could prove fatal. (Z)

It's Ball Vs. Trump

There is a man in America who is arrogant, hot-headed, and disrespectful towards women. He craves media attention, and is willing to say any outrageous thing to get his name in the papers, even when his absurd exaggerations make him the butt of jokes. Fortunately for him, the media eats it up, and gives him a platform whenever he wants it. His sons are famous, too, in large part because dad has managed to turn the family name into a brand. Their products don't sell too well, because they are overpriced, but you can't have everything. This man, of course, is LaVar Ball, patriarch of the basketball-playing Ball family, and creator of the Big Baller Brand line of sneakers and apparel.

Last week, LiAngelo Ball and two other players were arrested for shoplifting in China, and may (or may not) have been freed due to intervention from Donald Trump. And so, LaVar Ball is now directly connected to a man with whom he might have one or two things in common. Trump, as is his style, made headlines by using Twitter to demand an apology from LiAngelo and his two fellow shoplifters. And now, as is his style, LaVar has fired back. When asked about the "favor" that Trump did for his son, Ball said, "Who? What was he over there for? Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out."

Trump has, of course, done public battle with many a foe, though never one that was running the same exact playbook. Already, Trump's social media guru Dan Scavino Jr. has fired back on Twitter:

Will Ball and/or the President decide to keep the feud going? The odds are good they will. Team Trump may want to think twice, though, about wading into it with someone who is more than willing to hit below the belt, and who has an open invitation to just about every sports talk show in the land. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov18 Murkowski Wants to Stabilize Health-Care Market Before Voting on Tax Bill
Nov18 Russiagate Plot Thickens Even More
Nov18 Trump Building in Panama Under Scrutiny
Nov18 Jones' Strategy in the Alabama Senate Race
Nov18 Moore's Polling Is Trending Downward
Nov18 Would a 51-49 Senate Be Different from a 52-48 Senate?
Nov18 Cook Political Report Predicts a Democratic Wave in 2018
Nov18 Female Staffers Rush to Franken's Rescue
Nov18 Aides Give Up on Trump Tweeting
Nov17 House Passes the Tax Bill
Nov17 More Trouble for Kushner
Nov17 Six Possible Outcomes for the Alabama Senate Race, Ranked
Nov17 Not Everyone Is Fleeing from Roy Moore
Nov17 Republicans Are Getting Nervous about 2018
Nov17 Menendez Escapes--For Now
Nov17 Franken Groped and Kissed a Woman Without Her Consent
Nov16 Health-Care Industry Gets Involved in the Tax Bill
Nov16 First Republican Senator Opposes the Tax Bill
Nov16 Former Defense Secretaries Oppose the Tax Bill
Nov16 Moore Saga Continues to Develop Rapidly
Nov16 Could the Republicans Try a Constitutional Hail Mary?
Nov16 NRSC Poll Shows Jones Up by 12 Points
Nov16 Bannon Sees the Republican Party as a Headless Chicken
Nov16 Lots of Blowback on Potential Uranium Investigation
Nov16 Kaine Wants to Abolish Superdelegates
Nov16 Trump Wades into UCLA Basketball Controversy
Nov16 Russian Trolls Stoked Voter Fear before the Election
Nov15 Senate Tax Bill Will Repeal ACA Mandate
Nov15 Sessions Has Trouble Remembering Things
Nov15 Five Ways the Alabama Senate Race Could End
Nov15 How Will Trump Handle Moore?
Nov15 Republican National Committee Drops Moore
Nov15 Hannity Is Feeling the Heat
Nov15 Alabama Democrats to National Democrats: Stay Out of This
Nov15 Moore Leads Jones in New Polls
Nov15 How American Politics Went Batshit Crazy
Nov15 Judicial Candidate May Be in Trouble
Nov15 The U.S. Stands Alone on the Paris Accord
Nov14 Fifth Woman Gives Explosive Testimony against Moore
Nov14 Mall Banned Moore in the 1980s
Nov14 McConnell Calls on Moore to Drop Out
Nov14 Cory Gardner Calls for Moore to Be Expelled from the Senate if He Runs and Wins
Nov14 Trump Jr. Had Contact With Wikileaks
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Nov14 Huge Wave of Puerto Ricans Have Moved to Florida
Nov14 Menendez Jurors Are Deadlocked
Nov13 McConnell Fears He Is Going to Lose the Alabama Senate Seat
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