POLITICS

HUFFPOST HILL - America's Dumbest Swimmer Heroically Steals Spotlight From War-Ravaged Child

The gods of August news cycles summoned the inanity of 1,000 shark attacks and gave us a story about Ryan Lochte’s possible flight from Brazilian law enforcement. The imminent closure of Gawker.com renewed calls from media observers that billionaires should stay out of the business of shuttering news outlets and stick to their historical role of owning news outlets. And Jeff Sessions admired Donald Trump’s call to execute five innocent people, leading to the obvious follow-up question of what Donald Trump would want to do with the families of innocent people. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Thursday, August 18th, 2016:

IRAN PAYMENT CONDITIONED ON HOSTAGE RELEASE - The White House is really adamant that this wasn’t ransom. It was the money that was held hostage, you see. Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee: “New details of the $400 million U.S. payment to Iran earlier this year depict a tightly scripted exchange specifically timed to the release of several American prisoners held in Iran. The picture emerged from accounts of U.S. officials and others briefed on the operation: U.S. officials wouldn’t let Iranians take control of the money until a Swiss Air Force plane carrying three freed Americans departed from Tehran on Jan. 17. Once that happened, an Iranian cargo plane was allowed to bring the cash home from a Geneva airport that day. President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have said the payment didn’t amount to ransom, because the U.S. owed the money to Iran as part of a longstanding dispute linked to a failed arms deal from the 1970s. U.S. officials have said that the prisoner release and cash transfer took place through two separate diplomatic channels.” [WSJ]

Ransom - n - a sum of money or other payment demanded or paid for the release of a prisoner.

PEOPLE MAD OBAMA NOT VISITING BATON ROUGE - Governor not mad tho. Elizabeth Crisp: “Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’s not concerned that President Barack Obama has not yet visited Louisiana to see the flood crisis first hand. ‘I’m not complaining in any way about our federal partnership,’ Edwards said during a news conference on Thursday. Obama, who is on a family vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts this week, has not commented publicly on the flooding that has sparked disaster declarations for 20 parishes, nor has he announced plans to travel to Louisiana. At least 13 people have died in the flood, and at least 40,000 homes have sustained damage.” [The Advocate]

The Advocate’s editorial board thinks Obama ought to visit: “In 2005, a fly-over by a vacationing President George W. Bush became a symbol of official neglect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The current president was among those making political hay out of Bush’s aloofness…. It’s past time for the president to pay a personal visit, showing his solidarity with suffering Americans.” [The Advocate]

DELANEY DOWNER - We sent Travis Waldron to Rio and he brought back some sad: “The six Summer Olympics held between the 1988 Seoul Games and the 2008 Beijing Games forcibly evicted or otherwise displaced more than 2 million people, according to a 2008 report from the Switzerland-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. Beijing was responsible for more than half that total. Rio, according to estimates from local activists and human rights groups, will relocate somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 more. Although host governments have disputed the specific number of removals that occurred in their city around the games, this much is clear: Displacement of the urban poor is a hallmark of the modern Olympics, a virtual certainty rather than an accidental occurrence.” [HuffPost]

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FED TO NO LONGER USE PRIVATE PRISONS - It’s a small number of jails but it’s still a huge development. Matt Zapotsky: “The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is ‘reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.’ ‘They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,’ Yates wrote.” [WaPo]

JEFF SESSIONS: YEE HAW LET’S KILL SOME INNOCENT PEOPLE - Really great, “Is you is, or is you ain’t my constits-ency?!?” moment from Alabama’s junior senator. Andrew Kaczynski: “Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, a prominent surrogate for Republican nominee Donald Trump, says Trump’s 1989 newspaper ads advocating the death penalty for five men of color accused of raping a jogger in Central Park show that he has always been a believer in law and order. ‘That speech was great, and Trump has always been this way,’ Sessions, who was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, said on the Matt & Aunie show on WAPI radio. ‘He bought an ad — people say he wasn’t a conservative — but he bought an ad 20 years ago in the New York Times calling for the death penalty. How many people in New York, that liberal bastion, were willing to do something like that?’ … Their wrongful conviction settlement, which ran into millions of dollars, was sharply criticized by Trump. He wrote an op-ed in the New York Daily News in 2014 calling the settlement a disgrace.” [BuzzFeed]

VIRULENT ANTI-SEMITISM MAKES FOR PRETTY BAD OPTICS - What Joseph Schmitz really meant to say was, “Sherrif’s badge.” Marisa Taylor and William Douglas: “Allegations of anti-Semitism have surfaced against one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers, raising further questions about the guidance the Republican presidential nominee is receiving. Joseph Schmitz, named as one of five advisers by the Trump campaign in March, is accused of bragging when he was Defense Department inspector general a decade ago that he pushed out Jewish employees...Schmitz, who is a lawyer in private practice in Washington, says the allegations against him are lies. All three people who have cited the remarks, including one who testified under oath about them, have pending employment grievances with the federal government.Daniel Meyer, a senior official within the intelligence community, described Schmitz’s remarks in his complaint file. ‘His summary of his tenure’s achievement reported as ‘…I fired the Jews,’ ‘ wrote Meyer, a former official in the Pentagon inspector general’s office whose grievance was obtained by McClatchy. Meyer, who declined to comment about the matter, cited in his complaint another former top Pentagon official, John Crane, as the source and witness to the remarks.” [McClatchy]

CLASSIC TRUMP RIGHT HERE - David Farenthold and Alice Crites: “The time had come to fire Khloé Kardashian. But first, Donald Trump had a question. ‘What’s your charity?’ Trump asked.… Trump had a pleasant surprise. Although Kardashian could not win any more prize money, he would give her cause a special, personal donation. Not the show’s money. His own money. ‘I’m going to give $20,000 to your charity,’ Trump said, according to a transcript of that show. He didn’t…. The Washington Post tracked all the ‘personal’ gifts that Trump promised on the show — during 83 episodes and seven seasons — but could not confirm a single case in which Trump actually sent a gift from his own pocket.” [WaPo]

BUT IS IT GOOD FOR THE CRUZ? POSSIBLE MICHAEL MCCAUL PRIMARY CHALLENGE EDITION - Even if Trump doesn’t win the election, a contested Republican primary in Texas could be as good a sign as any of the real estate mogul’s impact on the party...and the efficacy of mean Heidi Cruz memes. Tom Benning: “Rep. Michael McCaul declined Wednesday to rule out the prospect of challenging Ted Cruz in the 2018 Republican Senate primary, though the Austin lawmaker said he’s ‘had nothing to do with this speculation’ about a high-stakes, intra-party battle. McCaul did little to tamp down a recent CNN report that key donors and politicians are pushing him to take on Cruz in two years. Cruz angered some Texas conservatives by refusing to endorse Donald Trump during his high-profile speech at the Republican National Convention. The congressman said he’s been ‘flattered with all the interest.’ Asked to rate Cruz’s Senate tenure, McCaul said his fellow Texan has “spent a lot of time running for president.” And though McCaul said he’s focused on his re-election to the House this fall, he wouldn’t limit his future prospects. ‘Never say never,’ he told reporters, quoting former President Ronald Reagan.” [Dallas Morning News]

The Syrian boy in the ambulance is the saddest freaking thing you will ever see.

BERNIE AVOIDS FINANCIAL DISCLOSURES - Is it just us, or do you have an inkling that such disclosures would feature an awful lot about microwavable oatmeal. Dave Levinthal: “But when federal law required Sanders to reveal, by mid-May, current details of his personal finances, his campaign lawyer asked the Federal Election Commission for a 45-day extension. Request granted. On June 30, Sanders’ campaign requested a second 45-day extension, saying the senator had ‘good cause’ to delay because of his ‘current campaign schedule and officeholder duties.’ Again, regulators approved Sanders’ punt. Now that Sanders’ second extension has expired, spokesman Michael Briggs confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that the senator won’t file a presidential campaign personal financial disclosure after all.” [CPI]

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR - Here’s a duck cheering up a dog.

GAWKER.COM DIES - The remaining staff should release a second Hulk Hogan sex tape on its last day. Michael Calderone: “Gawker.com, which punctured the egos of media executives and celebrities and injected a much-imitated snarky tone into internet writing, will shut down after 14 years of operation, the website announced Thursday. Univision, the Spanish-language broadcaster and digital publisher, agreed to purchase Gawker Media’s stable of sites for $135 million in a bankruptcy auction held this week. The deal is expected to be approved Thursday. But the flagship site, Gawker.com, apparently didn’t fit into Univision’s plans. The publisher has made a big push into the millennial digital space through the acquisitions of The Root and The Onion and the takeover of Fusion, of which it had owned half. It will continue to operate six other former Gawker Media properties: Gizmodo, Deadspin, Jezebel, Kotaku, Lifehacker and Jalopnik.” [HuffPost]


COMFORT FOOD

- We are all about the head hammock.

- The dorm rooms at Ole Miss are something else.

- People are having fun with the green backdrop at the Olympic weightlifting stage.

TWITTERAMA

@ProffJeffJarvis: Should powerful people have to put up with news coverage at all? It’s very stressful.

@aedwardslevy: if you’re relying on large crowd sizes to measure voter preference you’re making...

...a rally big mistake

@SteveRushin: Synchronized swimmers would keep their story straight.

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