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Situational awareness: "Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations," the WSJ reports.

1 big thing: The new power plays

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In state capitals around the country, we're seeing year-end power plays aimed at permanently icing out the political opposition.

Why it matters: The architects of these drives say they’re just running to the tape before they lose juice. But at a time of declining faith in public institutions, these moves can alienate voters, and make it harder for states to be responsive when the electorate demands change.

Driving the news:

  • New Jersey Democrats want to change the state constitution so that the redistricting process is no longer bipartisan, but rather largely led by whoever controls the statewide offices. The state's Democratic governor has vowed to fight the effort, calling it undemocratic.
  • Wisconsin and Michigan Republicans, who lost statewide races but control their state legislatures, are using lame duck sessions to strip incoming Democratic governors and attorneys general of their power and tighten their control on redistricting committees.

The big picture: "The Republican efforts could hurt the party’s image with moderate voters [in the Midwest] ... Yet GOP leaders are determined to push ahead, fearing that their decade-long dominance in the Midwest is coming to an end as newly elected Democrats and the prospect of more competitive districts threaten to shift the balance of power." [NYT]

Be smart: Some of America's most difficult political problems tend to trickle up from the states. Reformers might want to refocus their efforts on where the problems begin.

Bonus: Pic du jour

Photo: Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has successfully launched its VSS Unity space tourism rocketship to the edge of space, just beyond 50 miles above the surface of the Earth. Go deeper.

2. What you missed
  1. The countries most at risk for major humanitarian crises: Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Venezuela. Go deeper.
  2. Maria Butina has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges alleging that she acted as an unregistered foreign agent on behalf of the Russian government. Go deeper.
  3. The Senate has voted to pull U.S. support from Yemen war: It's a major rebuke to Trump, who has threatened a veto, and to the Saudis.
  4. The new oil order: The U.S. has joined Russia and Saudi Arabia as entrenched members of the super-producers club. Go deeper.
  5. Most states have shown strong revenue performances throughout fiscal year 2019, but five states — Idaho, Maine, Missouri, New York and North Carolina — are experiencing shortfalls. Go deeper.
3. The most California thing you've ever read

Nearly six years after his infamous Big Sur wedding went viral for all the wrong reasons, Napster co-founder Sean Parker has released a mobile app showing where Californians can enter the coastline in public areas, the L.A. Times reports.

  • "The saga began in June 2013, just before Parker was set to wed artist Alexandra Lenas in a Big Sur redwood grove on a hotel property."
  • "Workers had installed a 20-foot-tall gate, and set decorators had built bridges, a ruined stone castle and Roman columns in the old-growth forest glade."
  • As part of his punishment for this, Parker agreed to create an app for the state, along with a publicity video.
  • "YourCoast shows users a map of 1,563 access points that the commission tracks along the California coast."

Why it matters: "Often, public entry to the beach is just a narrow set of stairs or an alleyway next to a gated community — and certain neighborhoods are known for going out of their way to leave these entryways unmarked or unwelcoming."

Check it out.