Five rules to not be the American Putin wants you to be

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On the roster: Five rules to not be the American Putin wants you to be - Guilty plea expected from former top Trump aide – McConnell blunt: Odds say GOP will lose seats - Trading partners ready retaliations for trump tariffs - Skiing savant

President Trump
 over the weekend had much advice for American voters, most of it adding up to the not-so-surprising thesis that he and his party are good and his critics are bad.

Trump’s ability to shock, fascinate and inflame via Twitter is not what it once was. This relates both to the sameness of his material and the degree to which the medium has become such a warren of trolls that it takes quite a bit to appall anymore. When Gallagher smashed his 10,000th watermelon, the seeds just didn’t splatter like they used to.

But, in attacking Congress and law enforcement agencies for their investigations into Russian meddling, Trump said something undeniably true about the larger issue: “They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!”

Aside from his usual attacks on the FBI and congressional committees, Trump also denounced “party hatred” in his tweet about these hypothetical hysterical, buttless Russians. While Democrats may not be willing to take advice about political hate from a guy who drinks partisan vitriol like it was Carnation Instant Breakfast, they should.

And so should we all.

The world will never know exactly how many votes Russian interference cost Hillary Clinton in 2016, even though she and her erstwhile campaign staff are certain they know leaked email hacks, troll farms and the like added up to at least the 80,000 votes by which she fell short in the Upper Midwest.

That’s a comforting belief for them, no doubt. But it’s hardly a useful discussion. Barring credible evidence of vote rigging or fraud — and maybe sometimes even in the face of such evidence — candidates do better by the nation to leave past election results in the past.

But on the general Russian effort to see division, distrust and chaos in the American political and electoral systems, the Kremlin got tremendous return on its investment.

Russian operatives didn’t need to do a great deal of research to discover what we have known for a decade or more: Reflexive, stubbornly angry factions are ripping apart our culture.

Nor is it hard for Russians to find the issues about which it is easiest to elicit the desired reflexes among Americans. Just as it had been under the Soviet regime, issues of race and ethnicity are the most obvious opportunities for goading us into destructive factions.

There’s a reason that the Russians were posing as racists, black and white. It is the rawest nerve in our system.

But perhaps the next best place to find Americans at their angriest and most unyielding is over firearms. Even getting Americans to agree on the terms involved is next to impossible, let alone what kind of remedies to pursue for this plague of mass shootings.

Considering that this is exactly what our enemies want, wouldn’t the most patriotic thing be to deny them another easy victory? At the very least, shouldn’t we make it harder for them? If knowing that Kremlin wants us to have a stupid, destructive discourse, what else would it take to convince you that cruelty and incivility are harming our country?

With that in mind, Halftime Report would submit some rules for people who may be passionate about their ideas, but who are also passionate about preserving this “last, best hope of earth.” Or, as another president put it, “Get smart America!”

1) Be generous - One of the real achievements of Russian mischief has been to exacerbate the pre-existing problem of Americans doubting each other’s patriotism. Online discussions now frequently include counter accusations of users being bots or Russian trolls. That’s a next step after the already common claims that one’s ideological opponents are actually out to hurt the country. George W. Bush lied to invade and plunder Iraq. Barack Obama was a secret Kenyan bent on destroying America from within. Trump is Putin’s puppet. Until someone says or does otherwise, assume that they have the country’s best interest at heart – even if they are going about it in a way you find abhorrent. And be bold enough to reject those on your own side who attack the motives of others.

2) Be specific - There are multiple marches being planned for the coming weeks intended to curb gun violence or mass shootings, including one on Washington to be led by young people who lost classmates in Florida. Demonstrations have been a good way to bring attention to grievances in need of redress, but some are better than others. Arguably, the most successful was for African American civil rights in 1963. One of the reasons that march succeeded where others failed was that Martin Luther King and other organizers were there in support of a specific piece of legislation, not a generic demand for improvements. If you don’t have a specific purpose, your platform will be written for you by opportunistic politicians and celebrities, not to mention your rivals. The same goes for gun rights supporters: Say what you would support and oppose, don’t just wave away whole chunks of the debate with blanket dismissals.

3) Be personal without personalizing - We have all fallen into the trap of lazy generalizations. When you are tempted to say “Democrats” or “Republicans” or “liberals” or “conservatives” or “whites” or “blacks” or “Hispanics,” take a quick breath and remember that none of those groups are monolithic on any subject, particularly gun control. It is the intellectual and ideological diversity among Americans that makes this country and its politics so fascinating and wonderful. When you disagree with a politician or pundit, don’t take that person’s words and put them in the mouths of millions of others. But be careful as you do to not fall in to ad hominem or tu quoque attacks that go after the individual or his or her standing to pose questions. Stick to the issue and the facts.

4) Be prepared - Everyone in America is free to express themselves. That doesn’t mean everyone should. Do your research on a subject before weighing in. Reading up will not only save you embarrassment, but it might help you to actually persuade others. Some of our best experiences in policy debates come from finally seeing a topic in a new light after doing research.

5) Be courageous - If your ideas are good ones, they will not only stand up to scrutiny and research, but also to introduction of ideas. Read from news and opinion outlets across the ideological spectrum for the sake of not just being able to “know what the enemy is thinking” but also to test your own assumptions. Other than your love for your God (if applicable), your family and your country, most of the rest of it is substantially subject to negotiations and circumstances. Try on some other moccasins and walk around for a while. It will, at the very least, make you empathetic toward the people yelling at you.

We will all fall short of these goals, probably even within this day. But we also know that our aim is progress, not perfection. Be merciful with yourself, just as you are with your fellow Americans. 

But if we can find a way to start denying our enemies what they want – people too angry to govern themselves and a government unable to respond to the most pressing concerns of our time – we will also find we are making the country a better, happier place.

Heck, if we went to the Moon to spite the Soviets, maybe we could show a little love to each other for the sake of sticking to the Putinists.

“The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 68

Happy Presidents Day, America! Did you know about George Washington’s pre-presidential prowess as a land speculator? Library of Congress: “Washington's lifelong interest in land speculation is illustrated in the fight over bounty lands promised to the veterans of the Virginia Regiment who fought with him in the French and Indian War.... In 1754, Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie issued a proclamation designed to encourage enlistment in the local militia for the war against the French. In addition to their pay, those who enlisted in Lieutenant Colonel George Washington's fledgling Virginia Regiment were offered a share in two hundred thousand acres west of the Ohio River. ... Out of a total of 64,071 acres apportioned on the map, 19,383, or approximately 30 percent, were patented in Washington's name. In a 1794 letter to Presley Neville, Washington said that these lands were "the cream of the Country in which they are; that they were the first choice of it; and that the whole is on the margin of the Rivers and bounded thereby for 58 miles."

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Trump job performance
Average approval: 
40.6 percent
Average disapproval: 54.2 percent
Net score: -13.6 points
Change from one week ago: up 1.6 points
[Average includes: Fox: 43% approve – 55% disapprove; Gallup: 40% approve - 57% disapprove; Marist College: 38% approve - 54% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; Monmouth University: 42% approve - 50% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 40.4 percent
Democratic average: 50.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 9.8 points
Change from one week ago: unchanged
[Average includes: Marist: 49% Dems - 38% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems - 45% GOP; ABC/Post: 51% Dems - 39% GOP; CNN: 51% Dems - 41% GOP; Pew: 53% Dems - 39% GOP.]

LA Times: “A former top aide to Donald Trump's presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days — and has made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort, the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign. The change of heart by Trump's former deputy campaign manager Richard Gates, who had pleaded not guilty after being indicted in October on charges similar to Manafort's, was described in interviews by people familiar with the case. ‘Rick Gates is going to change his plea to guilty,’ said a person with direct knowledge of the new developments, adding that the revised plea will be presented in federal court in Washington ‘within the next few days.’ …Robert Mueller is heading the prosecutions of Gates and Manafort as part of the wide-ranging investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump or his aides committed crimes before, during or since the campaign.”

Manafort accused of bank fraud’ by Mueller team - Fox News: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his legal team say they have uncovered additional ‘bank fraud’ and other ‘criminal conduct’ by Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign manager, according to court documents obtained by Fox News. The allegations are part of negotiations between Mueller’s team and Manafort’s lawyers to allow their client to remain free on $10 million bail. … The document signed Friday by Mueller’s team is in response to Manafort lawyers' continuing efforts to present a bail package -- essentially based on Manafort’s real estate holdings -- to keep their client out of confinement and allow him some freedom to leave his Northern Virginia residence.”

Bob Casey warns against releasing Russia report near midterms -  WashEx: “Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., believes it would be a mistake for special counsel Robert Mueller to release his final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election near the fall midterm elections. … ‘I don’t think we’ll know anywhere near the full story until [Mueller] issues his report,’ Casey said in an interview with John Catsimatidis in New York. ‘I don’t know if that report will be in the spring or the summer.’ Casey cautioned that once it's the summer and closer to the fall midterms, ‘I think it’s a mistake for him to release it late. I think you should wait until after [the election].’”

Grassley: Trump should tell Putin to ‘butt out’ of US elections - The Hill: “Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) demanded Saturday that President Trump tell Russian President Vladimir Putin to ‘butt out’ of U.S. elections. ‘The next time President Trump that you talk to Putin tell him to butt out of our elections quit the cyber warfare interference in our democracy,’ Grassley wrote on Twitter. Grassley's tweet came after special counsel Robert Mueller unsealed indictments against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on Friday for their alleged roles in an effort to disrupt and influence the 2016 presidential election.”

Trump allies push for pardons in Russia probe - Politico: “President Donald Trump’s supporters are issuing increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons to limit the [Mueller] investigation’s impact. ‘I think he should be pardoning anybody who’s been indicted and make it clear that anybody else who gets indicted would be pardoned immediately,’ said Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA analyst and senior vice president at the conservative Center for Security Policy. The pleas for mercy mainly extend to the four former Trump aides who have already been swept up in the Russia probe: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. But they don’t stop there. ‘It’s kind of cruel what’s going on right now and the president should put these defendants out of their misery,’ said Larry Klayman, a conservative legal activist. ‘I think he should pardon everybody — and pardon himself.’”

Former Russian troll says indictment of 13 should include ‘hundreds’ - Daily Beast: “When Lyudmila Savchuk read the U.S. federal grand jury indictment of 13 Russians accused of interfering in the the 2016 U.S. elections and other crimes, including bank fraud and identity theft, she was disappointed. All of those named by special counsel Robert Mueller were connected to the Internet Research Agency, also known by its infamous sobriquet the Troll Factory. Savchuk used to work there, and Mueller’s list, she said, should include hundreds of people. ‘I am super excited to see the indictment, but for now 13 trolls sounds like a joke,’ Savchuk told The Daily Beast on Sunday, after she read and studied the 37-page document.”

Kushner security clearance in jeopardy due to Kelly’s new rules - WaPo: “White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly announced Friday that beginning next week, the White House will no longer allow some employees with interim security clearances access to top-secret information — a move that could threaten the standing of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law. Kushner, a senior adviser to the president, has been able to see some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets even as his background investigation has dragged on for more than a year. White House officials have privately discussed concerns that Kushner’s clearance faces obstacles … Among the potential problems: repeated amendments that he had to make to a form detailing his contacts with foreign officials. Two U.S. officials said they do not expect Kushner to receive a permanent security clearance in the near future.”

Halting election interference won’t be easy for tech, experts say - WSJ: “The US indictment handed down against three Russian companies and 13 individuals shows starkly how ill-prepared the tech giants were for the type of aggressive influence campaign the Russians allegedly mounted. The details also suggest it won't be easy to stop such tactics in the run-up to the midterm election in less than nine months, say researchers who study social media. The indictment shows that ‘there are lots of levers that get pulled in social media for the sake of manipulation, and a lot of those levers aren't even known by the companies themselves,’ said Sam Woolley, an Oxford University research associate who has studied propaganda efforts on social-media platforms. Outside researchers say the companies haven't released enough details about their anti-influence efforts to determine whether they will work.”

Business Insider: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn't sound too enthusiastic about his party's chances to maintain its slim majority in Congress. In an interview with The New York Times published Saturday, the longtime Kentucky senator sounded pessimistic about the midterm elections coming up later this year. ‘The odds are that we will lose seats in the House and the Senate,’ McConnell said. ‘History tells you that, the fired-up nature of the political left tells you that. We go into this clear-eyed that this is going to be quite a challenging election.’ … Although McConnell had previously seemed optimistic about the GOP's chances and said Republicans have ‘a pretty good map,’ he has since grown more cautious. Since December, McConnell has reportedly been voicing his worries about the midterms in private.”

Advises Trump to support Romney’s Senate bid - NYT: “Senator Mitch McConnell said in an interview on Friday afternoon that President Trump should rally behind the Senate candidacy of Mitt Romney despite his blistering criticism in 2016, arguing that Mr. Romney’s potent bid was an illustration of the Republican Party’s improving fortunes entering a challenging midterm campaign. ‘I can’t imagine that he’s not,’ Mr. McConnell said when asked whether Mr. Trump was comfortable with Mr. Romney, who on Friday made official his long-expected candidacy for a Senate seat from Utah. ‘We don’t want to lose the seat, and this looks like a pretty formidable candidate.’ … ‘He will come in here with a level of national identity and respect that will make him effective from Day 1.’”

Romney backs better background checks - IJR: “Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Senate campaign announcement came with a call to possibly implement new gun control legislation. … The Salt Lake Tribune reported that while making his first speech as a Senate candidate, Romney said he'd support legislation to ramp up the federal database for firearms background checks. ‘I think we can’t just sit and wait and hope for things to get better,’ he said. ‘It is wrong and unacceptable for children in our schools to fear for their lives.’ He explained that the issue is ‘very much in front of the national mind’ … but added that federal legislation may not be the answer. ‘I’ve looked at federal legislation but there’s no federal legislation I’ve seen that would have prevented the attacks that have occurred,’ he said. ‘I don’t support any of the federal legislation that’s been out there.’”

Trump slams Oprah as ‘insecure’, hopes to ‘expose’ her in 2020 - Fox News: “President Donald Trump went after ‘very insecure’ Oprah Winfrey on Sunday, tweeting that he hopes to see her run for president so ‘she can be exposed and defeated.’ ‘Just watched a very insecure Oprah Winfrey, who at one point I knew very well, interview a panel of people on 60 Minutes,’ Trump tweeted Sunday night. ‘The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect. Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!’ Winfrey appeared on CBS’ ‘60 Minutes’ leading a discussion with 14 people from Grand Rapids, Mich.”

Sheriff Joe rounding up a posse for another run? - AP: “Former Vice President Joe Biden is tiptoeing toward a potential presidential run in 2020, even broaching the possibility during a recent gathering of longtime foreign policy aides. Huddled in his newly opened office steps from the U.S. Capitol, Biden began a planning meeting for his new diplomacy center by addressing the elephant in the room. He said he was keeping his 2020 options open, considering it a real possibility. He insisted he had made no decision, and didn’t need to yet, according to five people who either attended the meeting or were briefed on it by those who did.”

Bloomberg: “While U.S. steel and aluminum producers surged after the Commerce Department released its recommendations for restricting imports on Friday, a muted reaction among the biggest Asian metals stocks suggests the international impact will be spread thinly -- unless U.S. action prompts retaliation from its biggest suppliers. Japan’s top steelmakers, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. and JFE Holdings Inc., and its largest maker of aluminum products, UACJ Corp., all rose in Tokyo, while Posco, South Korea’s biggest steel mill, fell slightly. The reactions came as President Donald Trump’s administration weighs tariffs as high as 53 percent on steel and 23.6 percent on aluminum. The proposals risk a chain effect under which restrictions on U.S. imports encourage other nations to impose duties -- top producer China has already warned as much -- or divert shipments to alternative markets, SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. said in a note.”

Spending deal sets deadline for solution to ‘multiemployer’ pensions - NYT: “The sprawling agreement to boost government spending reached by Republicans and Democrats this month quietly included a step toward defusing what could be a financial time bomb for 1.5 million retirees and hundreds of companies in the industrial Midwest and the South. The deal creates a select congressional committee to craft what could effectively be a federal rescue of as many as 200 so-called “multiemployer” pension plans — in which employers and labor unions band together to provide retirement benefits to employees. Many of these plans are hurtling toward insolvency in the coming decade, with benefits owed to retirees projected to swamp what the plans can afford to pay. The 16-member, bipartisan committee will have to come up with a solution and legislation by the end of November, which the full Senate would need to vote on by the end of the year.”

Goldman Sachs warns fiscal repercussions of tax cuts - CNBC: “Federal deficit spending is headed toward ‘uncharted territory,’ the firm said on Sunday, suggesting that the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans may not be able to count on the economic boost of tax reform for very longer. In the wake of an ambitious infrastructure plan and a budget that drew fire from virtually all sides, Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients that the federal deficit would reach 5.2 percent of U.S. growth by 2019, and would ‘continue climbing gradually from there.’”

Hatch apologizes for dismissing Rob Porter allegations - WashEx

Pruitt scraps Israel trip amid travel cost backlash Fox News

Nuclear football brings about physical altercation between John Kelly, Chinese officialsAxios

GOP feeling heat to pass gun control after Florida shooting - WSJ

Bill Clinton wants a say on release of Lewinsky documents - CNN

“I'm not going to dignify the question.” – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to CBS News when again asked about an October report that he had referred to President Trump as a “moron.”

“Many people fail to realize President’s Day was originally intended to celebrate George Washington’s birthday, but was moved to the third Monday of February because of the Uniform Holiday Act of 1968. I find this disrespectful to Mr. Washington and totally symbolic of American laziness. Can we not celebrate a national hero without watering it down in favor of a three-day weekend? I would support a holiday recognizing Abraham Lincoln as well.” - Sidney Long, Cary, N.C.

[Ed. Note; Hear, hear!]

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NPR: “She went up the hill a snowboarder but came down an Olympic champion skier. That's one way to tell the story of Ester Ledecka, the Czech athlete who stunned the world — and herself — by winning the women's Super-G race at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. ‘How did that happen?’ she asked a cameraman at the bottom of her run. Before today, Ledecka had been most well-known as a snowboarder — that's where she's had the most success, including world titles and a trip to the Sochi Games in 2014. But she has refused to specialize in one sport, and she started racing on the World Cup Alpine circuit two years ago. … When asked for her reaction after seeing her name flash on top of the leaderboard, Ledecka said she thought, ‘This must be some mistake, that they're going to switch the time for some others.’”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Dave Sweet contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.