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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Needs to Name Five Key Ambassadors
      •  Four Middle Eastern Headaches Trump Will Inherit
      •  Trump to Shut Down Family Foundation
      •  Trump Will Enter Office with Dismal Favorability Ratings
      •  Miller Opts Out of Administration Post
      •  Why Trump Prefers "Merry Christmas"

Trump Needs to Name Five Key Ambassadors

Traditionally, all ambassadors offer their resignations when a new president is sworn in so that the new president can name his own people. There are roughly 196 countries in the world, more or less, depending on what you call a country (Taiwan, anyone?). The U.S. has ambassadors to nearly all of them (excepting Iran, North Korea, and a few others). However, a few are much more important than others, so the ambassadors sent to those places are key players in world diplomacy. We will get a better idea of president-elect Donald Trump's foreign policy when he picks the ambassadors to the following countries:

  • Russia: Trump seems determined to cuddle up with Vladimir Putin, and the Donald's choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is also buddy-buddy with Putin, so everyone is watching to see whom Trump picks as ambassador. Will he pick one of his friends or a career diplomat? The post is notoriously difficult, and is even tougher for someone who does not speak Russian. This will limit Trump's choices. One name that has been leaked is that of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a congressman who has been less anti-Russia than many of his House colleagues. He recently stated that he doesn't believe the Russians interfered with the U.S. election; that may make him a hard sell to the Senate, which must confirm him.

  • Mexico: The ambassador to Mexico will be the one who presents the bill for the Great Wall of Trump to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. In addition, if Trump decides to tear up NAFTA, the ambassador will be the person who has that on his plate, too. It won't be a fun job. Recent ambassadors to Mexico have been career diplomats, but Trump may make a nontraditional pick. One serious candidate is Al Zapanta, head of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce. He has a business and military background, which Trump likes, but there are also other candidates.

  • Japan: Because Japan is one of the United States' most trusted and dependable allies in Asia, the ambassadorship is a key position. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is a possibility. He speaks fluent Mandarin but not Japanese, which works against him. Tensions between the U.S. and Japan over Okinawa are rising and the ambassador will have to deal with this. Some reports say that former Mets manager Bobby Valentine is also under consideration; he does speak (some) Japanese, but other than that his primary qualification is that he managed in Japanese baseball for several years.

  • United Kingdom. Usually, the ambassador to the Court of St. James is a political appointee, typically a big donor to the president's campaign. If Britain follows through and leaves the European Union, the U.S. might negotiate a new trade agreement, and the ambassador would be a key player here. The rumor here is that New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, a big Republican donor and friend of Trump's, might be in line for the job.

  • NATO: This is going to be a tricky one, since Trump wants major changes to NATO. Trump's remark that in the event of an attack on a member state, the U.S. might or might not come to its aid is causing a lot of nervousness about the future of the alliance and the ambassador will have to deal with that. NATO and Russia have a tense relationship. The NATO country with the second largest military is Turkey and America's relationship to Turkey is complicated, to say the least (more below). One name that has been bandied about is that of Michele Flournoy, a top Pentagon official, but she has denied interest in the job.

Because Trump is so famously unpredictable, it may be that all these rumors are wrong, but the eventual choices will give some idea of how Trump plans to actually govern. (V)

Four Middle Eastern Headaches Trump Will Inherit

Of course, the messiest part of the world is the Middle East. Time has an overview of the four trickiest situations there, at least at the moment. They are as follows:

  • Yemen: The Saudis, with American support, have been hammering Yemen for close to two years. The nation has no real government left, and tens of millions of citizens are on the brink of starvation. Between the people's suffering, and the power vacuum that exists, the nation could become a breeding ground for ISIS supporters, or for the emergence of a similar sort of movement.

  • Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds: This one's a real mess. There's Bashar al-Assad, a brutal dictator who's working with the Russians. His primary opponent is a coalition of Sunni Arab rebel groups, which often includes ISIS. Also involved are the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, who don't like al-Assad, the Sunnis, or the Turkish government, and who are helping the U.S. with ISIS in other parts of the Middle East. And finally, the Turks have also sent troops, primarily with the goal of limiting Kurdish advances. So, there are at least four sides to the conflict, and the U.S. is friendly with two of the four (the Kurds and the Turks). And the further the Turkish troops advance, the more likely it is there will be an ugly showdown between them and the Syrian government.

  • ISIS: ISIS is down but not out, having lost the key city of Mosul, but having gained the city of Palmyra. And even if the group loses all of its territorial holdings, it could still linger for years, or decades, or generations.

  • Iraq: Right now, the three main factions in Iraq (Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds) are being held together by their desire to evict a common enemy (ISIS). Once that fight ends, however, historical tensions among the groups will surely flare again. The government of Iraq will have to deal with that, along with rebuilding a nation that's been torn apart by war over the last 10 years.

As the article points out, Trump tends to prefer very black-and-white "us versus them" rhetoric. But, in each of these four places, it's just not that simple. (Z)

Trump to Shut Down Family Foundation

On Saturday, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he will shutter his eponymous foundation, so as to, "avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as President." Instead, he will pursue his "strong interest in philanthropy in other ways."

Of course, with The Donald, nothing is ever simple, and this is no exception. To start, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman promptly made clear that he cannot shut the foundation down yet; not while it is under investigation for misappropriation of funds. Meanwhile, Democrats were underwhelmed by the move, observing that an entity that gives money away (though Trump hasn't donated since 2008) is much easier to sacrifice than one that takes money in. "He still has not taken any concrete steps to divest from his business, which currently allows him to profit off of the presidency while leaving him susceptible to foreign influence," complained DNC spokesman Eric Walker.

The DNC's position appears to be supported by news on Saturday that the nation of Kuwait has rescheduled its most important and lavish reception of the year. The event was originally supposed to take place at the Four Seasons, but will now be held at Trump International Hotel in Washington. According to documentation uncovered by ThinkProgress, members of Trump's team strongly suggested to the Kuwaitis that they make the move. And whether or not those documents are correct, there is no question that foreign dignitaries might well choose the hotel in an effort to curry favor with The Donald. The conflict here is so overt that it is hard to see how Trump can avoid divesting himself from the property, even if he retains his other holdings. (Z)

Trump Will Enter Office with Dismal Favorability Ratings

The 2016 election was unquestionably a "lesser of two evils" kind of contest, featuring the two most unpopular candidates to appear on a presidential ballot since favorability ratings began to be measured in the 1940s. That meant that regardless of who won, they were going to enter office already underwater. Since November 8, Donald Trump has seen a slight uptick in his numbers, rising from a 35% approval rating, which is atrocious, up to a 43%, which is merely dismal. This means that on his first day in office (usually the start of a "honeymoon" period), he will already be more unpopular than Dwight D. Eisenhower (48%) and JFK (56%) at their very lowest points, and he'll be just a shade ahead of Barack Obama at his lowest (41%). He'll also be within shouting distance of the lows for Bill Clinton (37%), LBJ (35%), and Ronald Reagan (also 35%).

Trump pretends that he does not pay attention to such things, which may or may not be true. Whatever the case may be, the politicians in the House, who have to worry about getting re-elected every two years, definitely do pay attention. So too do those Senators who are up in 2018. And the lower Trump's numbers go, the more opportunity and/or motivation the members of Congress have to oppose him. So, if Trump's favorability remains in the low 40s, or drops back into the 30s, or somehow reaches the doldrums of the 20s (Richard Nixon/Jimmy Carter/Harry S. Truman/George Bush territory), then he may have great difficulty implementing his program. (Z)

Miller Opts Out of Administration Post

Jason Miller was named Donald Trump's White House communications director three days ago. Yesterday, however, he decided that he doesn't want the job after all, and bowed out. This may well be a record for the quickest resignation in the history of the executive branch.

Officially, Miller's reason for the change of plans is that he wants to be available to spend more time with his family, particularly given that he and his wife are expecting a new baby next month. That's probably part true, but there's a good chance that there are other reasons, as well. For example, that he didn't relish a constant power struggle with White House press secretary Sean Spicer (not to mention strategic adviser Steve Bannon). Similarly, Miller may well see the high-paying world of political consulting (from whence he came) as a greener pasture than the not-so-high-paying world of government service. Miller won't be replaced, with his duties to be absorbed by Spicer. (Z)

Why Trump Prefers "Merry Christmas"

Donald Trump has made a point, on Twitter in particular, of emphasizing his preference for "Merry Christmas" over "Happy Holidays." His reason for this is obvious: "Merry Christmas" is preferred by conservatives, who see their culture and/or religion as being under attack in 21st century America, while "Happy Holidays" is preferred by liberals, who tend to believe that's more sensitive/inclusive as it includes people who do not celebrate Christmas.

A new study of Twitter trends reveals just how clearly this dichotomy shakes out. The researchers, from the University of South Carolina and Aston University, mapped the prevalence of "Merry Christmas" on a county-by-county basis, and the result (which can be seen at the link) looks an awful lot like Trump's electoral map (excepting the Mountain West states, where the researchers often did not have enough data to draw conclusions). So, we may have to relabel the "red" states as the "red and green" states. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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