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On the roster: How’s your social credit score? - WH makes veto threats against immigration proposal - Cramer to announce Heitkamp challenge - Poll: Voters trust Congress more than Intel agencies - Is there really such a thing as too much pizza?

We know that China is a much more populous nation than our own – four and a quarter times the number of people packed into an area only slightly smaller than the United States.

But only when we consider the enormity of China’s cities do we start to understand just how large a population of 1.4 billion really is.

China’s largest city, Shanghai, has a population about the size of our nine largest cities – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego and Dallas – combined.

China has at least 146 cities with more than 1 million residents. The United States has 10.

As China’s late embrace of commerce and profit has spawned these megalopolises, the country’s ruling Communist Party has struggled to retain control over an increasingly wealthy, increasingly educated populous. 

It’s the same question Peter the Great once puzzled over: How can a country obtain the fruits of an industrial revolution without ending up with the real thing?

The Chinese are doing better so far than the Romanovs did, in no small part thanks to the discipline of Paramount Leader Xi Jinping and the Politburo Standing Committee in affecting changes gradually and with protocols for control well in place before the imposition.

Technology, though, has perhaps made the greatest difference between the bloody failures of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution two generations ago and the current regime.

We’ve long known about the way China, with the help of Western businesses, controls access to information for its citizens and punishes dissent from the national ethic of Confucian quasi-capitalism. But have you read about the emerging Chinese “social credit” system?

Think of your own credit score, but then expand it to every facet of your life and make it a function of the national government. You are tracked online and by facial recognition systems in real life, with all that you do, buy and read compiled with your travels, known associates and habits into one cumulative score that reflects your worth to the nation.

The system has been in the works since 2014 and is now starting to show real results. Reviews, such as they might be under such a system, are apparently good. And even if people wouldn’t feel free to tell the truth, it’s not unthinkable that those who had already lived under repression might be relived to finally have a simple Uber-like score for their overall performance.

Those with high scores get special privileges, perhaps including international travel, access to better housing, schools and jobs or other perks of elite status. And for those who have bad ratings? 

Here’s Adam Greenfield, writing at The Atlantic: “Human Rights Watch reports that the lawyer Li Xiaolin was barred from boarding a domestic flight because a written apology he’d offered a regional court in an unrelated matter some months before was held to be ‘insincere.’ His name had been entered into a national no-fly list because he’d run afoul of the whims of a petty bureaucrat. And the activist Liu Hu was apparently ensnared by the system for undertaking political activity abrasive to the state. Frozen out by the network, he can no longer buy real estate, secure a commercial loan, or pay for airfare. He can’t even travel on the national high-speed rail network.”

It's not so hard to imagine how a Western version of these social controls could take shape. 

We already discussed the potency of credit scores, but fans of the television show Black Mirror may recognize this system from the episode “Nosedive,” in which Americans’ worth and privileges are determined by the scores of their fellow citizens – the tyranny of social media “like” chasing come to life.

But it would take more than Equifax and Facebook to make an American “social credit” system take root. It would require the help of the government to impose the kinds of restrictions and benefits that would really give the system bite, especially with a culture that still has a good bit of “give me liberty or give me death” in its bloodstream.

Given the brutal efficiency of such a system and the growing technological means for its imposition, though, what’s to keep it from these shores?

The answer isn’t complicated: It is our capacity for self-government, both in the Tocquevillian sense of strong, self-regulating, self-sustaining communities and in the literal sense of maintaining a government that broadly reflects the will of the people tempered by the limits of constitutionally protected liberties.

We don’t have an authoritarian state just because we don’t want one, but because we don’t need one. Our self-government is still rightly referred to as an “experiment” because it has not proven to be readily replicable. There are many other free people in the world, but this unique balance of place, people and system of government has produced a nation of unsurpassed freedom at such a large scale. 

We may not be China-sized, but 325 million people living under a system that prizes individual liberties and self-government to this degree is hardly the norm.  

If you want to know how that experiment might come to an end, look to both ends of that continuum: from small communities like Parkland, Fla. up to the halls of power in Washington.

As communities break down and Americans increasingly face terrible, tragic consequences from the unravelling of that Tocquevillian fabric, they increasingly look to the distant federal government to restore order where communities fail.

But here, in the seat of that more abstract version of self-government, lawmakers are largely unable to find solutions to the most pressing concerns of their constituents.

Whether it is to curb mass shootings at schools, improve schools in general, repair the broken immigration system, address multiplying threats from international rivals, ensure access to affordable, reliable health care or even just keep the potholes filled, nothing seems to be working.

What becomes of a culture when its people lose the ability to govern themselves and then the government fails in its mandate to perfect the union and “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity?”

You probably don’t need to look to China or science fiction to know the answer that one.

“Regard to the public peace, if not to the rights of the Union, would engage the citizens to whom the contagion had not communicated itself to oppose the insurgents; and if the general government should be found in practice conducive to the prosperity and felicity of the people, it were irrational to believe that they would be disinclined to its support.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 28

New Yorker: “The initiative, known as Project Iceworm, faced a long list of challenges, chief among them a lack of essential knowledge about the deep structure of glaciers. … A team of scientists and engineers set about tackling the problem… The cores, they found, were made up of layers, each one formed in a single winter, rather like the concentric rings of a tree. … When the artist Peggy Weil first learned about the National Ice Core Laboratory … she was captivated. … With the help of lab assistants, she loaded up a cart with cannisters made of thick cardboard, each containing a small segment of a two-mile-long core… Weil trundled her specimens to a cylindrical scanner and photographed them in high resolution. Eventually, she strung together eighty-eight scans, top to bottom. Then she animated them and added an accompanying score, creating a four-and-a-half-hour video, designed to be projected onto a wall.”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 39.4 percent 
Average disapproval: 55.8 percent 
Net Score: -16.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 3 points 
[Average includes: Fox News: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; Gallup: 40% approve - 57% disapprove; Marist College: 39% approve - 56% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; IBD: 35% - 58%.]

Control of House
Republican average: 40.4 percent
Democratic average: 47 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.6 points 
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 0.2 points 
[Average includes: Marist College: 49% Dems - 38% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 49% Dems - 40% GOP; IBD: 46% Dems - 41% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems - 45% GOP; Fox News: 44% Dems - 38% GOP.]


WaPo: “The White House on Thursday issued a veto threat against a bipartisan immigration plan in the Senate that was emerging as the best hope for a legislative deal, likely dooming congressional attempts to protect younger undocumented immigrants known as ‘dreamers’ from possible deportation. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that the administration ‘strongly opposes’ the proposal unveiled a day earlier whose sponsors sought to incorporate elements of [President Trump’s] immigration framework to gain his support. However, the legislative proposal — to be offered as an amendment Thursday during a round of immigration votes in the Senate — differed from that framework in some key areas. The plan from the self-anointed ‘Common Sense Coalition’ would make immigration policy ‘worse by weakening border security,’ Sanders said. If the plan reached Trump’s desk, his advisers would ‘recommend he veto it,’ she added. The threat came hours before senators prepared to vote on competing immigration proposals, all of which looked doomed to fail, and top GOP leaders were doing little to encourage bipartisan accord.”

Even with bipartisan efforts, Senate still lacking votes -WashEx: “A bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers announced Thursday it would tweak its bill to protect Dreamers and boost border security funding in a bid to win support for the measure, which could get a vote as early as today. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said a provision that would have only prioritized the deportation of illegal immigrants who arrive after June 30, 2018 will be changed to say they will be prioritized after January 1, 2018. … Either version, however, would essentially put into law that any immigrant arriving in the U.S. illegally before this year would not be a priority for enforcement action, unless they are serious criminals or pose a threat to national security. That idea is supported by Democrats… The bipartisan group has not been able to garner 60 votes for their measure and the Trump administration has threatened to veto the bill.”

Fox News: “North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer plans to announce Friday that he will run for Senate against Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, reversing an earlier decision to run for re-election in the House, Fox News has learned. A Facebook invitation went out Thursday for a ‘Cramer for Senate Announcement & Rally’ in Bismarck, N.D. A high-level campaign official confirmed to Fox News that he will announce a Senate run. The move comes after Cramer felt GOP pressure to reconsider his decision last month to stay put in the House. The Democrat-held Senate seat up for election in November is a key target for Republicans, as Heitkamp is thought to be one of the most-vulnerable senators this cycle. Until now, Republicans had failed to recruit Cramer to run against her. Cramer acknowledged earlier this week that he was being pushed to reconsider by forces both in Washington and in North Dakota.”

New poll shows Saccone in the lead, but only barely - Monmouth University: “Republican Rick Saccone has a small advantage in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, even when the potential for a Democratic surge is taken into account. However, the Monmouth University Poll finds that a partisan gap in enthusiasm around President Donald Trump has helped Democrat Conor Lamb stay within striking distance. Saccone holds a 49% to 46% edge over Democrat Conor Lamb in the race to fill the open House seat on March 13, using a turnout model similar to voting patterns seen in other special elections over the past year. Another 1% opt for a third party candidate and 4% are undecided. A historical turnout model, based on lower turnout than the 2014 midterm, gives Saccone a larger 50% to 45% lead.”

Romney postpones Senate announcement - AP: “Mitt Romney is preparing to announce a bid for Utah’s Senate seat held by retiring Orrin Hatch, a position some hope the 2012 GOP presidential nominee will use to continue his biting criticism of President Donald Trump. Romney, who once called Trump ‘a phony’ who was unfit for office, is not expected to address the president in an announcement video he has prepared for release online, according to people with direct knowledge of his plans. Romney had planned to release the video on Thursday, they said, but he tweeted Wednesday night that he would not make an announcement about Utah’s Senate race because of the deadly school shooting in Florida. It wasn’t clear when he would reschedule his announcement.”

Blackburn gains support even with Corker reconsidering - WashEx: “The effort to draft Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., back into the 2018 Senate race is missing one critical player: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who remains satisfied with Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the incumbent’s presumptive successor. As Corker confirmed he was reconsidering retirement, allies claimed top Republicans in Washington and Tennessee had asked him to run for re-election because of fresh anxiety about Blackburn’s viability. But insiders connected to GOP leadership described supposed concerns about Blackburn as nonexistent. ‘Everyone tried hard to get him to run for re-election, and he decided to say ‘no.’ The party had to move on,’ a knowledgeable Republican operative said. ‘There was no clamor for anything.’”

Former Clinton aide enters California gubernatorial race - Sacramento Bee: “Amanda Renteria, a longtime Democratic operative and the national political director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, has filed paperwork to run for California governor. Renteria, Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s operations chief, a job she took following her 2014 loss to Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, had been telling Democratic strategists that she was mulling what one described as a ‘disruptive’ bid to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown. She did not immediately return a text message seeking comment on her statement of intention to run. Becerra, who is running for a full term this year, has not endorsed in the governor’s race.”

After a delay, DNC hires new top fundraiser -
 Politico: “Three and a half months after firing its top fundraiser, the Democratic National Committee has hired a replacement. Clayton Cox, who has been serving as a senior adviser, will get the job, a DNC official confirmed Wednesday evening. Cox comes in as the DNC finished 2017 having raised half as much money as the Republican National Committee, and entered the midterms year with $6.5 million cash on hand and $6.2 million in debt. The DNC official explained the time it took to hire a new finance director by saying that chair Tom Perez and other leaders conducted a nationwide search interviewing several candidates, but Cox stood out from among them. He served as the DNC’s Midwest, Florida & Georgia finance director during the 2016 cycle.”

The Atlantic: “The Rob Porter fiasco has exposed the White House’s duplicity, disorganization, and disregard for domestic violence, but it has also exposed some of the issues with the system for granting security clearance to federal employees. …FBI Director Chris Wray on Tuesday said that the White House had been aware of problems with Porter months ago. Wray said that the FBI delivered a partial report in March 2017 and completed its report in late July. … Wray’s testimony aligns with reporting about what staff in White House, including Counsel Don McGahn and Chief of Staff John Kelly, knew and when they knew it, but it conflicts with the White House line… It also demonstrates the weaknesses in the security-clearance process. Per Wray’s testimony, the White House knew in summer of 2017 that Porter would not be recommended for clearance, and yet it kept him on—in part, Washington Post reporting indicates, because the administration was so desperate for competent staffers that it was concluded Porter was indispensable.”

Sick of playing middleman, Sanders pushes for Kelly to take podium - Politico: “Nine days into the Rob Porter scandal, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is pushing for senior officials who made the decisions surrounding the former White House staff secretary's security clearance to take over the task of explaining—and defending—those decisions to the public. Since Tuesday … Sanders has moved to have White House counsel Don McGahn or chief of staff John Kelly brief the press directly, according to a person close to the White House. The issue remained unresolved at the time Wednesday’s briefing was canceled due to a school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead, according to the person. … A senior administration official said later Wednesday that Kelly had been set to take the podium until the decision was made to cancel it.”

Priebus tells all from his view in the West Wing - Vanity Fair: “The president, [Reince Priebus] said, speaks with him often on a phone that is unmonitored by John Kelly, who replaced him as Trump’s chief of staff—sometimes just to chat, sometimes for counsel. Trump often called Bannon too—at least before his excommunication following his comments in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury. Priebus insisted, contrary to Wolff’s description, that he never called Trump an ‘idiot.’ In fact, for all the humiliation he endured, he said, ‘I still love the guy. I want him to be successful.’ … Even so, Priebus’s account of his tenure as Trump’s chief confirms the portrayal of a White House in disarray, riven by conflict. ‘Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50,’ Priebus said as we sat down. Being White House chief had been even more arduous than it looked from the outside.”


Fox News: “When it comes to the Russia investigation, voters tend to trust that Congress is protecting the country -- and not playing politics. That’s according to a new Fox News Poll, which asked the question two ways. By a nine-point margin, voters say the higher priority for Congressional Republicans is protecting U.S. elections from outside interference, rather than just ‘standing with President Trump’ (47-38 percent). There’s even more faith in Democrats’ motives. By a 20-point margin, voters think the priority for Congressional Democrats is protecting the country’s elections, instead of ‘making President Trump look bad’ (53-33 percent). Faith in U.S. intelligence agencies, however, has taken a hit.  In June, 74 percent were at least somewhat confident the agencies could keep Russia or others from hacking into U.S. election systems. … Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a congressional committee Tuesday that he has already seen evidence Russia is targeting U.S. midterm elections.”

Trump’s lawyers argue Trump should not meet with Mueller - WashTimes: “President Trump’s legal team is citing a three-pillar argument to convince investigators, and the public, that President Trump shouldn’t sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. Mr. Mueller wants access to the president as part of an inquiry into suspected obstruction of justice in the firing of the special counsel’s longtime friend, FBI Director James B. Comey, in May. The president’s legal team has resisted but not given a firm no. Here are the arguments against an interview. The White House has given Mr. Mueller unprecedented access to White House documents and people. There is no stated crime. A 1997 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, during the Clinton administration, put the onus on prosecutors to exhaust evidence avenues before turning to the president.”

Bannon returns to the Hill - CNN: “Steve Bannon appeared Thursday behind closed doors at the House Intelligence Committee, but did not answer key questions from Republican lawmakers, sources tell CNN. Amid a tense feud with Congress, Bannon appeared hours after the White House told lawmakers he would not be answering key questions pertinent to the Russia investigation. But Bannon also declined to answer questions from members about a range of topics after the 2016 campaign season, referring to a list of roughly two dozen questions authorized by the White House that he could answer, according to two sources. The White House sent a letter to Capitol Hill late Wednesday laying out its explanation for why Trump's transition period falls under its authority to assert executive privilege, a move intended to shield Bannon from answering questions about that time period, according to a person familiar with the discussions.”

Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano compares the president’s budget plan to a debt bomb: “Imagine you open the faucet of your kitchen sink expecting water and instead out comes cash. Now imagine that it comes out at the rate of $1 million a minute. You call your plumber, who thinks you’re crazy. To get you off the phone, he opines that it is your sink and therefore must be your money. So you spend it wildly. Then you realize that the money wasn’t yours and you owe it back. Now imagine that this happens every minute of every day for the next three years. At the end of the three years, you owe back more than $6 trillion. So you borrow $6 trillion to pay back the $6 trillion you owe. Is this unending spigot of cash reality or fantasy?” More here.

Mulvaney says Trump’s requested military parade could cost taxpayers millions - WSJ

EPA retracts defense on Pruitt’s first-class travels
 - Politico

“It was a really hectic morning.” – Seventeen-year-old Red Gerard said to late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel referencing how he overslept the morning of the Olympics. The reason? The Olympian spent the night with team-mate Kyle Mack, watching Netflix until late. After sleeping through his alarm not only did Mack wake up his buddy, but also let him wear his Olympics puffy coat when Gerard couldn’t find his own. 

“You are doing a good job synthesizing the unruly news every day. I cannot defend General Kelly, but I'm saddened for him. He had such a position of honor, but gave it up to do an onerous job that has left him exposed to dishonor. Maybe it's my imagination, but I thought you sounded a bit saddened yourself.” – Anna Kingry, Salem, Ore.

[Ed. note: There is sadness in me, Ms. Kingry, but not specifically for Kelly, who certainly knew what he was getting into. As the president weighs potential replacements for his chief of staff, he will do so with public knowledge that even a retired Marine, four-star general who could battle warlords in Afghanistan can’t manage this West Wing. Talk about a recruitment challenge. What is saddening, though, is the accelerating trend in American public life of people being bound only by what the law will allow and not by what decency will permit. We have said many times that our Constitution is worthless without a people, from top to bottom, willing to be governed by it. Watching this administration build on the laxity of its predecessors is saddening. We cannot pass enough specific laws to constrain an executive branch that will do whatever it can get away with. Respecting the requirements for security clearances, international travel, business dealings and other components of good government rely on willing participation by those in power. If the standard becomes that without a felony conviction nothing is impermissible, this government would get to be an even bigger goat roping that it already is.]

“I've noticed a solid handful of bias accusations over the past weeks, though I haven't read your content as such. Given how visible things have gotten with ‘how the sausage is made’ in Washington, combined with the leaks, partisanship and scandal, I think some people are just looking for some good news out of the government. It's just so few and far between; it seems like the best we get lately is ‘the shutdown only lasted a few hours this time, hooray!’ So of course it may seem biased. Thanks (to you and Brianna) for the ongoing service you provide, keeping us up to date with political highlights and thoughtful commentary, it is appreciated.” – Jim Montgomery, Frisco, Texas

[Ed. note: Thank you, Mr. Montgomery, from myself and from Brianna. We love our work and it is always gratifying to hear that it is appreciated. I think you are referring to our correspondent of Wednesday, Mr. Lolar, who wanted more good news stories about President Trump. I don’t judge people who make these kinds of accusations too harshly. Our media environment encourages a kind of arbitrary score keeping in which publications or broadcasts are measured by their favorability toward one point of view or the other. Americans love scores and quantifiable results, so it is understandable that we would try to apply similar algorithmic measures to something as subjective as media bias. And also, we must be mindful to keep our hailing frequency open, even to those people who have made up their minds about us. We don’t have to listen to cranks and kooks, but we ought to be just as careful about applying those subjective labels as we are in labeling bias.]

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HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

AP: “German police are investigating a case of severe pizza stalking in the western town of Dortmund. Police are looking for someone who’s bombarded a lawyer by sending scores of pizzas to his office. They said Wednesday the annoyed lawyer pressed charges in January but told them he had no idea who was behind the unwanted food deliveries. Local newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten named the lawyer as Guido Grolle, who told them he had already received over 100 pizzas. Grolle says ‘it’s so irritating, I don’t even get my work done anymore.’ He says sometimes notices about the first deliveries of the day pop up on his phone during his morning shower. Lately, however, the anonymous buyer’s tastes have changed: there have also been deliveries for sushi, sausage and Greek food.”

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