America’s week of zero


(CNN)Call it the week of zero. Zero work for many federal employees (and zeroes in their paychecks) as the government shutdown slipped into the record books on Saturday, becoming the longest one ever; zero movement on a southern border wall, even after President Trump used an Oval Office speech to demand it, and then threatened to get the money by declaring a national emergency.

“What a waste,” lamented SE Cupp. “On his key issue, his raison d’être, he has utterly and completely lost.”
What did shift? Trump’s evolving descriptions of his $5.7 billion wall (concrete? Steel? Concrete and steel?); and his explanations of how Mexico would pay for it — no, really — or taxpayers would, possibly via redirected unspent funds, including those earmarked for civil works projects that are part of disaster recovery in Puerto Rico, Texas, California, Florida, and elsewhere.
    Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rossello was appalled: “No wall should be funded on the pain and suffering of US citizens who have endured tragedy and loss through a natural disaster,” he declared on Twitter. “Today it’s us, tomorrow it could be you.”
    On Friday 800,000 federal employees missed their first paycheck. Some Trump supporters will be rethinking the wall by now, wrote C. Nicole Mason. “Furloughed workers and those who sympathize with them have begun to realize the wall will not feed their families, keep their lights on or make sure their mortgage is paid.” Trump has failed to deliver on the promise that he would improve the lives of working people, she said.
    At week’s end the blame game was in high gear. Scott Jennings cautioned that Democrats’ hypocrisy on border security — and the President’s threatened overreach to get around them — could blow up in all of their faces.
    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has blocked Democrat efforts to reopen parts of the government, was not there when the Senate gaveled in Friday. He was headed home to Kentucky.

    Donald vs. Chuck and Nancy

    Some 41 million people watched Trump’s Oval Office speech Tuesday. But more people watched House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer deliver their rebuttal.
    The Democrats came off as “partisan” and “petty,” wrote Marc Thiessen in the Washington Post, because they “failed to use the one word that millions of Americans were longing to hear — compromise.” He said, “to normal Americans watching in the heartland, and who are not steeped in Trump hatred, the president must have seemed like the adult in the room,” noting the President’s description of the “human cost of our broken system to illegal migrants themselves.”
    Communications experts Juliana Silva and Bill McGowan saw it differently: an overhyped heavyweight prize fight in which Trump was scripted, stilted and “stripped of his mojo,” and Pelosi and Schumer “about as animated as a modern rendition of ‘American Gothic,’ minus the pitchfork.” America deserves its money back, they said.
    Jean Guerrero, a southern California writer who has covered immigrants and the border for years, observed that the immigrants Trump depicts as criminal invaders are real human beings striving to better their lives: Central Americans “dream and plan and agonize about entering the US in quest of an image of their own: the American dream, el sueño americano.”
    Trump could actually build his wall, insisted Jonathan Turley, writing in The Hill, under the 1976 National Emergencies Act. Unwise, but constitutional, he wrote. Democrats’ objection to such an end-run would be more convincing if they hadn’t supported President Obama when “he openly circumvented Congress on immigration reforms,” he wrote.
    Finally, if Democrats want to break the stalemate, suggested Julian Zelizer, they should put the GOP on the spot. “Democrats should shift the debate to different ground. they should propose spending more money to ensure a smarter, more efficient and more humane border policy.” This would “give wavering Republicans something they can latch on to.”

    The President goes medieval

    This week the President also tried out a snappy comeback to critics who mock his border wall as a medieval answer to a modern problem. Look, he says, the wheel is medieval, too, like the wall, and they both work — hah!
    Except a real historian of the Middle Ages, David Perry, called balductum on that. “Wheels date to the 4th millennium BCE. Defensive walls are around 5,000 years older than that, dating to the 9th-millennium BCE walls of Jericho,” which of course came tumblin’ down. The truth, said Perry, is that walls were not the rule in medieval Western Europe. “Peoples, objects and ideas moved easily throughout the region. There were neither borders to protect nor hordes against which to defend, although plenty of key strategic places were well fortified.” Trump’s wall won’t work, “not because it’s a throwback to imagined medieval barbarism, but because it’s a con.”

    Divorce, Bezos-style

    People can argue all they want about what Jeff Bezos, the Amazon titan whose fortune has been estimated at $137 billion, owes his wife, MacKenzie, in their upcoming divorce. But they’ll be fine, wrote sociologist Philip Cohen. Why not instead spare some concern for all the divorcing non-billionaires who have been failed by the social safety net — those who “can’t realistically exercise the same individual freedom that the Bezoses have — to choose to leave a failing or abusive marriage without facing crushing economic stress or hardship.”
    Of course, amicable-sounding divorces like the Bezoses’ are easier when money is abundant, wrote psychologist Peggy Drexler (The couple tweeted Wednesday that they would continue “their shared lives as friends.”) And these days “all signs point to the idea that friendly divorce is on the rise,” she says, thanks to fewer taboos and a modern culture of self-care and social-media openness.

    Six more years?

    On the surface, Washington is all about the shutdown, and that may be just what Trump wants as his campaign and his administration confronts multiple investigations, wrote Frida Ghitis. The two spheres are connected: Trump is manufacturing distracting controversies from every direction as he faces a Democratic Congress and an imminent report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. “The news that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, will testify publicly before Congress in February is likely to become yet another thing from which the President will try to distract us,” she wrote.
    Meanwhile, Democrats are starting to jump into the 2020 race, perceiving a weakened presidency. Still, “a second term for Trump is wholly attainable, wrote political scientist Robert Alexander, “and it winds through the Electoral College process.” The prospect is fueling calls to abolish the Electoral College or to support a workaround, he says.
    As Washington’s crises are scrambling traditional political alliances, even the historically Republican Koch network of donors is rethinking its approach. That means rejecting partisanship in favor of problem solving, wrote the network’s James Davis: “Partisanship too often gets in the way of achieving what’s possible.” He noted the recent bipartisan passage of criminal-justice reform, which President Trump signed into law last month, and “which will expand second chances for formerly incarcerated individuals and help them succeed when they re-enter their communities.”
    In any case, now would be a good political moment to take a page from George Washington himself, wrote thriller writer Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch. They told the story of how Washington responded to a secret plot to kill him during the Revolutionary War by launching “a methodical and top secret investigation.” “Modesty, humility and selflessness — remember when those were American values?,” they wrote. “Washington set the standard of not just a humble president, but a humble presidency — an office meant to serve the public, not to serve itself.”

    What’s behind the reaction to the weatherman’s racial slur

    Jeremy Kappell, a weatherman on WHEC-TV in Rochester, said what sounded like “Martin Luther Coon Park” on air and was quickly fired. He swears he innocently misspoke. “We may never know what is in Kappell’s heart,” wrote CNN’s Marcus Mabry, but here’s the thing: “The constant exposure to racial slights, big and small, the daily assault, and the way non-black people refer to some of the places where we live and go to school, rubs nerves raw. And when a slight is made publicly, the hurt leads to demands for repair.
    Go cautiously here, wrote CNN’s John Blake: “We get outraged over a man for saying ‘Martin Luther Coon,’ but then we go to back to our all-white communities with our all-white friends and lose no sleep over what we’re doing to brown kids at our Mexican border.” He added: “None of us are innocent. But the way we talk about intolerance on social media doesn’t reflect that.”

    President of immigration?

    Donald Trump has long demonized immigrants to rile up his base, but how did his dog whistles turn into policy? Meet Stephen Miller, the Trump advisor behind the administration’s campaign of anti-immigrant executive orders and policies, wrote Rafia Zakaria. At least one official calls him “president of immigration.” Who needs a wall when Miller is busy “disabling work, student, immigrant, asylum and refugee programs.” she wrote.
    In Congress, controversy swirled around Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa. The New York Times, in a profile article, quoted him as saying: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Senator Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, rebuked King in the Washington Post. “Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism — it is because of our silence when things like this are said,” he wrote.
    Observed Jamelle Bouie on Twitter: “amazing to me that we had a week long controversy over a congresswoman saying “motherf***er” when steve king is just hanging out in congress as an open white supremacist”
    And Nicole Hemmer raised a fraught question. “In an era in which supporters of racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic ideas are increasingly visible and violent, how do you inform the public without legitimizing the fringes?” Media outlets, she said, need to be aware that their reporting can expose vulnerable people to extremist ideas. Still, “that the GOP turned so quickly on King, after supporting him for so many years, is powerful evidence that putting a spotlight on hateful ideas can discredit them.”

    Astronaut: China went there, America better catch up

      America is still the only nation to send men to walk on the Moon — a dozen between 1969 and 1972. But China is now the first to land a spacecraft on the Moon’s far side. It’s “a warning shot,” warned former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao: “The US must now step up its game to maintain its place as the leader” in space. That means exploration, he wrote, not creating a military “space force” or privatizing management of the International Space Station.

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