Most members of President Trump's Cabinet do not have senior leadership teams or top deputies in place amid historically slow nominating and hiring of White House appointees, "but they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries' loyalty," The Washington Post reported Sunday, citing "eight officials in and outside the administration." The Post called the arrangement "unusual," and some of those political liaisons, called White House senior advisers, have apparently overstayed their welcome.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, Don Benton — a former Washington state senator who ran Trump's campaign in the state — offered his unsolicited opinion on policy matters so frequently that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has reportedly disinvited him from meetings, in a situation one official described to The Post as out of an episode of Veep. Pentagon officials privately call Brett Byers, charged with keeping an eye on Defense Secretary James Mattis, "the commissar," The Post reports, helpfully explaining that the nickname is "a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal."
Most of these political overseers, placed near the Cabinet secretary's office in every department, have little expertise in the subject matter handled at their assigned agencies — Frank Wuco at Homeland Security, for example, plays a fictional jihadist on YouTube to illustrate his blogged contention that Islam is the root of the terrorist threat — and some observers expect their influence to wane once the departments get staffed up. Also, some Cabinet secretaries have been more welcoming of their White House liaisons.
Trump allies argue that the arrangement is necessary for a new president from a different party — though none of Trump's three predecessors employed a similar system. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who still advises Trump, describes the political monitors as part of Trump's pledge to root out corruption in Washington — in this case, the "swamp" would be career bureaucrats and not, say, lobbyists. "If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators," he said. "These people are actively trying to undermine the new government." You can read more, including what some experts see as the likely outcome of this system, at The Washington Post. Peter Weber
President Trump's son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner reportedly held discussions with Russia's ambassador about setting up a secret communication channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin shortly after the election, intelligence officials confirmed to The Washington Post.
The Post first learned of Kushner's inquiry in an anonymous letter sent in December; Kushner's meeting with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reportedly happened at Trump Tower on Dec. 1 or 2. Kushner apparently suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities for the secret communications, alarming Kislyak, as that would have been a security risk for Russia, too.
... Kushner conveyed to the Russians that he was aware that it would be politically sensitive to meet publicly, but it was necessary for the Trump team to be able to continue their communication with Russian government officials.
In addition to their discussion about setting up the communications channel, Kushner, [Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael] Flynn, and Kislyak also talked about arranging a meeting between a representative of Trump and a "Russian contact" in a third country whose name was not identified, according to the anonymous letter. [The Washington Post]
Senior U.S. officials expressed shock at Kushner's bold proposition, especially as Russian communications are closely monitored by the U.S., with one calling his idea "extremely naive or absolutely crazy.” Read the full scoop at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange
A Yale University dean has been put on leave over racially insensitive remarks she made in Yelp reviews. "If you are white trash, this is a perfect night out for you," June Chu wrote about a Japanese restaurant. In other posts, she noted "I am Asian" as proof of her culinary expertise, warned of "sketchy" crowds at a movie theater, and called the workers "morons" who serve "snack orders to the obese."
President Trump on Friday condemned the "merciless slaughter of Christians in Egypt" and urged "all who value life" to confront terrorists' "war against civilization." At least 26 people, including children, were killed Friday when eight gunmen dressed in military uniforms attacked a bus and a pickup truck carrying Coptic Christians. The Coptic Christians, a minority group that has long faced discrimination in Egypt, were traveling to St. Samuel Monastery in Egypt's Minya province, located south of Cairo.
"Civilization is at a precipice — and whether we climb or fall will be decided by our ability to join together to protect all faiths, all religions, and all innocent life," Trump said in the statement, pushing for everyone to unite "for the righteous purpose of crushing the evil organizations or terror, and exposing their depraved, twisted, and thuggish ideology." Becca Stanek
We've all been there — tossing and turning in sweat-soaked sheets, fan on full blast, wishing we could just fall asleep. A nearly decade-long study of 765,000 Americans, published Friday, found that as the world warms as a result of climate change, we are likely to get worse and worse night sleeps due to the difficulty of slumbering when it's hot out. "Elderly people, and people making less than $50,000 per year, seem especially affected by the trend," The Atlantic writes.
Basically, for thousands and thousands of years hot days would cool into comfortable nights as the sun's heat radiated back out into space in the evening. But now greenhouse gases reflect that heat back at the Earth, even at night, keeping us toasty if we don't have the a/c on full blast. "We know from a broad literature in the laboratory context that our sleep is regulated pretty heavily by our body temperature — and especially by our core body temperature," said Nick Obradovich, one of the study's authors.
Obradovich added that while the study focused on the U.S., it could be even harder for people in other parts of the world to power through the hot nights. "In Ghana, it's really hot and really humid, and there are no other options. You just suffer through the heat," he said.
Getting adequate sleep, of course, is important for good health. Deprivation has been linked to conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity, as well as shorter-term consequences like problems with mood and memory. Obradovich noted that older people tend to have higher mortality rates during heat waves, too, and part of the reason could be all the tossing and turning cutting into their sleep.
It may almost be June 2017, but 2016 presidential election rhetoric lives on. After Hillary Clinton took some jabs at President Trump during her commencement speech Friday at her alma mater, Wellesley College, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel released a statement swinging back. "Today's speech was a stark reminder why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016," McDaniel said in the statement. "Instead of lashing out with the same partisan talking points, Hillary Clinton would be wise to look inward, talk about why she lost, and expand the dwindling base of Democratic Party supporters — we won't hold our breath though."
Clinton didn't call Trump out by name in her speech, which she began by discussing former President Richard Nixon and what it was like living through his resignation. "We were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice," Clinton said. She added that this happened "after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice," a not-so-veiled allusion to Trump's recent firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
Clinton encouraged the graduates to remain hopeful despite the "full-fledged assault on truth and reason" and to reach out to people "hurt" by the Trump administration's newly introduced budget plan, which she called a "con." Becca Stanek
Singer Ariana Grande said Friday that she will be returning to Manchester for a benefit concert to help the victims of the Monday attack at her show that left 22 dead and dozens more injured.
"Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder, and to live more kindly and generously than we did before," said Grande, 23, in a statement. "I'll be returning to the incredibly brave city of Manchester to spend time with my fans and to have a benefit concert in honor of and to raise money for the victims and their families."
Grande added that while "there is nothing I or anyone can do to take away the pain you are feeling or to make this better … I extend my hand and heart and everything I possibly can give to you and yours, should you want or need my help in any way." Read her full statement below. Jeva Lange
— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) May 26, 2017
In case anyone needed another reason to be afraid of the slippery, slithery creatures that are snakes: They might hunt in packs. Well, at least one snake species might.
Vladimir Dinets, a scientist from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, recently observed the Cuban boa hunting fruit bats in caves — only to realize that if more than one snake was present, the snakes would engage in what seemed to be "coordinated hunting." "Snakes arriving to the hunting area were significantly more likely to position themselves in the part of the passage where other snakes were already present, forming a 'fence' across the passage and thus more effectively blocking the flight path of the prey, significantly increasing hunting efficiency," the study's abstract says.
In case the mental image of snakes hunting in a pack weren't reason enough to stay inside, the snakes did this group hunting while dangling from the top of the cave. "After sunset and before dawn, some of the boas entered the passage that connected the roosting chamber with the entrance chamber, and hunted by suspending themselves from the ceiling and grabbing passing bats," the study said.
This isn't the first time a group hunting effort among snakes has been observed, though it remains unclear if this is actually a widespread serpentine phenomenon or if there's really any purposeful coordination between the snakes. "It is possible that coordinated hunting is not uncommon among snakes, but it will take a lot of very patient field research to find out," Dinets said. Becca Stanek