Good Sunday morning, and a blessed Christmas Eve to you and yours. Thank you for reading and for your feedback, which makes every day of my life joyful. There's never a single day that I don't leap out of bed, excited and grateful for the honor of writing to you.
1 big thing: Coal in America's stocking
What a fitting holiday send-off:
- From the gaudy splendor of Mar-a-Lago, President Trump mean-tweets his own FBI:The FBI's #2, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, 49, after spending hours being questioned behind closed doors on Capitol Hill this week, told associates he plans to retire after he becomes eligible for his pension early next year. Trump hits "the man in charge, along with leakin' James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation."And per the N.Y. Times: The president crowed ... that James A. Baker, the F.B.I. general counsel, who was seen as an ally of Mr. Comey's, would soon step down from that post, although he will remain at the bureau."Former CIA Director John Brennan, a new tweeter: "Andy McCabe & Jim Baker epitomize integrity, competence, and respect for rule of law. ... I just donated to @FBIAgentsAssoc as a small way of saying #thanksFBI."
- The N.Y. Times, in an immigration installment of its "Trump's Way" series, reports that at a tense June meeting in the Oval, the president grumbled that Haiti had sent 15,000 people who "all have AIDS." The Times says Trump added that 40,000 Nigerians, after tasting U.S. life, would never "go back to their huts" in Africa.Sarah Sanders responds: "General Kelly, General McMaster, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Nielsen, and all other senior staff actually in the meeting deny these outrageous claims and it's both sad and telling the New York Times would print the lies of their anonymous 'sources' anyway." Breaking: "A federal judge in Seattle [yesterday] partially lifted a Trump administration ban on certain refugees after two groups argued that the policy prevented people from some mostly Muslim countries from reuniting with family living legally in the United States."
- The presidential "challenge coin" doled out by commanders-in-chief for two decades "has undergone a Trumpian transformation," per the WashPost: The presidential seal has been replaced by an eagle with Trump's signature. "E pluribus unum" has fallen to "Make America Great Again."
- Vice, launched with a "Cowboy Culture" that shamefully persisted, has paid at least $184,000 as part of "four settlements involving allegations of sexual harassment or defamation against Vice employees, including its current president," the N.Y. Times reports in a year-end opus that beats the Dec. 31 Pulitzer cutoff. In a statement posted in full by The Times, Vice Media says: "[T]he truth is inescapable: from the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive."
- "An uproar on social media helped political analyst Joan Walsh land at CNN just a day after she was dropped as a contributor by MSNBC," per Variety. "Walsh supporters [including MSNBC's Chris Hayes and Joy Reid and Katie Couric] rallied in her defense using the hashtag #KeepJoanWalsh."
- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tweet-stormed his annual #HappyFestivus #AiringofGrievances about government waste and idiocy.
2. America deserves better ...
... so here's a worthy idea if you have a second and are near a big-box store ... "How To Pay For Layaway Toys For Strangers," by Bustle:
- "[B]ig retailers like Toys R Us, Kmart, Walmart, and Target offer layaway programs at some stores, which allow shoppers to put toys and other gifts on hold while they pay them off over the course of a few months."
- "[O]ver the last few years there's been a spike in so-called 'Layaway Santas' ... who secretly pay off strangers' layaway bills."
- This is how Axios AM would do it: Call ahead and make sure the store offers layaways. Then go to the layaway counter and say how much you want to spend — some orders may have as little as $20 left. Bustle says one Layaway Santa asked: "Is there anyone who's about to lose their deposit?" I'd also specify kids' toys.
- Merry Christmas!
3. Our favorite Christmas movies
We're betting that this Axios/SurveyMonkey poll is as serious as most people want to get today.
- As Axios Managing Editor David Nather puts it: "Here's a look at everyone who didn't list 'Die Hard' as their favorite Christmas movie."
- Share the graphic and the joy.
Bonus: Pic du jour
Venezuela's dark Christmas ... Mormons sing Christmas carols at Venezuela Square in Caracas.
- Venezuela sits atop the world's largest oil reserves. But a crash in global crude prices, combined with incompetent government, sent the economy into free fall and sparked social unrest.
- "No money for presents ... How hyperinflation stole Christmas in Venezuela," the WashPost reports in a front-pager: "Just before Christmas, the world's worst inflation crisis in nearly a decade was escalating — bringing a country of nearly 32 million, once Latin America's richest per capita, to its knees."
4. Real retirement becomes elusive
"A preview of the U.S. without pensions," by WashPost's Peter Whoriskey:
- "The first full generation of workers to retire since [corporations began dropping traditional pensions about 30 years ago] offers a sobering preview."
- Why it matters: Many "are buried by debts incurred for credit cards, used cars, health care and sometimes, the college educations of their children. Some have lost their homes."
- Charles Glover, 70, a cashier at a Dollar General outside Tulsa who worked 27 years at McDonnell Douglas, then found work at a Whirlpool factory, then at a place that makes robots for inspecting welding, and also picked up some jobs doing computer-aided design: "I hope I can quit working in a few years."
5. Making do
Afghan school children play at an open-air school at the Gambiri Refugee Camp in Laghman province.
- Millions of dollars have been spent on the education sector in Afghanistan, but there are countless schools across the country that are in the same predicament — either in tents or in the open air.
6. A "bigass fight"
"Citing North Korea's ... threat, the Trump administration is moving to vastly expand the problem-plagued homeland missile defense system despite warnings that the planned upgrades may not succeed," the L.A. Times reports in its lead story:
- "Immediate plans call for building two $1-billion radar installations and adding 20 rocket interceptors to the 44 already deployed in underground silos at Ft. Greely in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California."
- "The expected cost is about $10.2 billion over five years, on top of more than $40 billion already spent for the system."
- Why it matters: "[G]overnment reports and interviews with technical experts suggest the planned upgrades ... are unlikely to protect the United States from a limited-scale ballistic missile attack ... One concern is the administration's rush to expand the system."
P.S. "The Marine Corps commandant told about 300 Marines in Norway [Thursday] that they should be prepared for a 'bigass fight' to come," the WashPost reports, citing Military.com:
- Gen. Robert Neller told the Marines: "I hope I'm wrong, but there's a war coming."
- "[H]is spokesman later said [the comments] were not in reference to any specific adversary but rather intended to inspire the troops."
7. Ho, ho — goal!
Chelsea Christmas hats, ahead of an English Premier League soccer match in Liverpool, England, yesterday.
8. Spying on spies
Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who exposed U.S. secrets and now lives in Russia, used a video message to unveil a new phone app he helped create, called Haven, that aims to protect laptops from tampering, per AP:
- "Snowden says it's an open-source tool designed for human rights activists and other people at risk."
- "[I]t uses an Android phone's sensors to detect changes in a room."
- "The software was developed with the Freedom of Press Foundation and the Guardian Project."
- The upshot: "It has been greeted with mixed social media reactions, with some people celebrating its security capabilities and others saying they don't trust Snowden."
9. An epic year: 22 of 30
Reliving 2017 in 30 images ... Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pose for an official engagement photo at Frogmore House in Windsor, England.
- N.Y. Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman wrote that the bride-to-be's "Sheer Top Was a Sneaky Statement for a Royal Portrait": "She represents, simply by background, a completely different kind of royal."
- The royal wedding will be in Windsor Castle, west of London, on Saturday, May 19 — 146 days from now. Get ready for the countdown clocks.
10. 1 fun thing: A red bow might be tough
N.Y. Times Sunday Styles takes us inside "The Most Expensive House in America" — and it's available!
- "One man [producer-turned developer Nile Niami] is building a house so enormous, and so absurdly lavish, that it may be the ultimate symbol of our age of thirst, excess and inequality. Asking price? $500 million."
- "This New Gilded Age has found an epicenter in Los Angeles, particularly where Bel-Air, Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills converge. Real estate agents call it the Platinum Triangle."
- "In 2012, Mr. Niami paid $28 million for the hilltop lot ... The One, as he has branded it, will officially hit the market when it is completed in mid-2018."
- "The list price is nearly five times the price of the most expensive home ever to sell in Los Angeles — that's a tie between the Playboy Mansion, which sold in 2016, and a speculatively built home in Holmby Hills that sold for $100 million last year."
- "The most expensive home sale to date in America is a $137 million spread in New York, in the Hamptons, and $300 million is believed to be the price of the most expensive home ever sold in the world" — a Saudi-bought chateau near Versailles, France.