President Trump met with former Colombian Presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana at Mar-a-Lago last weekend, an undisclosed meeting that Colombian media says was arranged by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Rubio, Uribe, and Pastrana are all prominent critics of the peace deal Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos negotiated with the FARC guerrilla group. Next month, Santos is meeting with Trump in Washington, and he will urge Trump to support the peace deal, which won Santos the Nobel Peace Prize, by maintaining the $450 million in foreign aid that former President Barack Obama pledged to implement the agreement, McClatchy reports.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to confirm that the meeting had taken place. On Thursday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told McClatchy that Trump had "briefly said hello when the presidents walked past them," saying the two presidents happened to be visiting Trump's private club with an unidentified member. "There wasn't anything beyond a quick hello," she said.
On Twitter, meanwhile, Pastrana thanked Trump for the "cordial and very frank conversation about problems and perspectives in Colombia and the region," and Uribe ally and former vice president Francisco Santos told McClatchy that the former presidents had raised concerns with Trump about the turmoil in Colombia and Venezuela, and the FARC peace deal, in a short but direct meeting.
Colombian analysts focused on the damage to the peace process if Trump pulled funding or publicly opposed the peace plan, while in the U.S. observers were more concerned about the ease with which well-connected foreign leaders can meet with the president to press their case, without any public record. Mar-a-Lago's membership rolls are not public, the media is kept at arm's length when Trump is down there, and the club has no visitor log. You can read more about the meeting and the Colombian politics at The Miami Herald. Peter Weber
It turns out Sean Hannity isn't the only person at Fox News who has a bone to pick with newspapers. On Tuesday's Fox & Friends First, host Heather Childers had a brief segment on the pressing topic of newspaper apparel — or, as Childers put it: "Media bias on full display: Newspapers now cashing in on T-shirts splashed with anti–President Trump rhetoric." That rhetoric is: "Journalism Matters," from the Los Angeles Times; "Speaking Truth to Power Since 1847," from the Chicago Tribune; and "Democracy Dies in Darkness," from The Washington Post.
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) March 14, 2017
You can draw your own inference about what that says about Fox News and/or Trump. Peter Weber
On Thursday, as people throughout the U.S. were skipping school and work to highlight President Trump's anti-immigration policies in a "Day Without Immigrants" protest, Trump Vineyard Estates sought permission from the Labor Department to bring 23 more foreign workers to Virginia to help plant and harvest grapes. The vineyard, also known as Trump Winery, is requesting the foreign laborers using H-2 visas, or temporary permission to work in the U.S. in jobs qualified Americans can't or won't do, BuzzFeed News reports. The H-2 program has brought to the U.S. more than 100,000 foreign workers since 2003, and Trump businesses have sought to hire at least 286 guest workers since he launched his presidential campaign in mid-2015.
Trump does not appear to own the vineyard — though he suggested he did during the Republican primary last year, saying at a press conference: "I own it 100 percent, no mortgage, no debt." Instead, it is registered to his son, Eric Trump. So technically this does not violate the two rules Donald Trump laid out for his administration in December: "BUY AMERICAN and HIRE AMERICAN! #USA" On the other hand, Trump got permission to hire 64 foreign guest workers at Mar-a-Lago this winter through the H-2 program. The pay for the Trump Winery job is $11.27 an hour, by the way, though it requires working in very cold weather with "feet in bent positions for long periods of time." Peter Weber
In 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the publisher of a newspaper that was often critical of him in order to work out a deal for positive coverage, Israeli media reports.
Israel's Channel 2 says Netanyahu was recorded while negotiating with Arnon Mozes, publisher of Yediot Aharonot. Netanyahu reportedly proposed helping the struggling newspaper out by slashing the circulation of its main competitor, Israel Hayom, and limiting that paper's weekend supplement. Israel Hayom is mostly supportive of Netanyahu, and is backed by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican Party donor and patron of Netanyahu. Channel 2 reports that the tape was recorded at the request of Netanyahu's former chief of staff, Ari Harrow, and it was found during an investigation of Harrow on suspicion of financial irregularities.
There is no evidence that any agreement came out of the meeting, but that it likely happened is enough to upset many. "We expect in a democratic country that the journalistic coverage will come from the editorial echelon, from the reporters, the editors — people who are driven by the public good and the supply of information," Prof. Rafi Mann of Ariel University in the West Bank told Israel Radio. Netanyahu, who has been questioned twice by police in the last week as part of a corruption probe, has long had a combative relationship with Israeli media outlets, and previously accused Mozes of orchestrating a "ridiculous campaign of slander" against him, The New York Times reports. Catherine Garcia
"It's easy to think 2016 was unusually deadly for celebrities," says The Wall Street Journal's Tanya Rivero, and she isn't kidding. David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Carrie Fisher and her mom, Debbie Reynolds, George Michael — you can probably name a dozen more. "But was 2016 really the particularly cruel year it appeared to be?" she asked, and to answer, she brought on MarketWatch editor Quentin Fottrell, who recently wrote an article on the subject. Objectively, he said, there were maybe some more celebrity deaths than usual, but not by much — and part of the problem is that there are just more celebrities and types of celebrities, plus more ways to mourn them.
The BBC said it published more obituaries in 2016 than in 2015, but when CNN looked at celebrities with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grammy awards, or Sports Illustrated covers, they counted 34 A-list deaths, a big jump from the previous year but a decline from 36 in 2006. If you don't remember 2006 as a particularly brutal year for stars, remember, "Facebook had just a few million users back in 2006, the last time there were this many so-called A-list celebrity deaths in one year," Fottrell said. "Now it's nearly 2 billion." Focusing on the deaths of celebrities isn't frivolous, especially in a year when a reality TV star won the presidency, he added. "Celebrities reflect, in many ways, our values."
Whether or not 2016 was cursed for celebrities, Fottrell says 2017 probably won't be much better, given the rising mortality among baby boomers and the expansion of fame — and social media will make the deaths more visible. "To put it in its crudest, simplest terms: There are just more famous people around and more of them are going to die," said sociologist Ellis Cashmore at Aston University in Birmingham, England. Aram Sinnreich at American University notes that even if 2016 wasn't exceptionally deadly for the stars, "it definitely felt like a reaping." Part of that is the caliber of the celebrities we lost. "We don't have a new David Bowie, Prince, or Carrie Fisher," all of whom were trailblazers, Sinnreich said. "It's not just about losing these individuals. It's about coming to grips with the fact that we haven't replaced them." You can read Fottrell's article at MarketWatch. Peter Weber
Donald Trump on evidence he backed Bush's Iraq invasion: 'By the time the war started, I was against it'
On Thursday night, BuzzFeed News posted an audio clip of Donald Trump being interviewed by Howard Stern on Sept. 11, 2002, where Stern asked Trump if he favored invading Iraq. "Yeah I guess so," Trump said. "I wish the first time it was done correctly." Since Trump has made his opposition to George W. Bush's Iraq War a centerpiece of his foreign policy, Anderson Cooper asked Trump about his 2002 comments — made about the same time Hillary Clinton and John Kerry cast their career-haunting Senate votes in favor of authorizing the invasion — during a town hall event hosted by CNN.
"I could have said that," Trump said. "I wasn't a politician, it was probably the first time anybody had asked me that question.... By the time the war started, I was against the war." There were articles in 2003 and 2004 that proved his opposition, Trump said. "When you're in the private sector... you get asked things, and you're not a politician," he added. "By the time the war started, I was against it. And shortly thereafter, I was really against it." You can watch the back-and-forth below. Peter Weber
On Tuesday, two U.S. naval vessels were detained by Iran for trespassing in Iranian territorial waters. The original story from the U.S. government suggested that there had been a mechanical failure on one of the boats and, in the words of Joe Biden, it had then "drifted into Iranian waters," where it was detained.
The Intercept is raising a question as to the truthfulness of such a statement, especially now that the United States has changed its story. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Friday morning that the sailors had actually made a "navigational error" that took them into Iran's waters. The Intercept writes:
It is, of course, theoretically possible that this newest rendition of events is what happened. But there are multiple reasons to suspect otherwise. To begin with, U.S. sailors frequently travel between Bahrain and Kuwait, two key U.S. allies, the former of which hosts the Fifth Fleet headquarters; this was familiar waters.
Moreover, at no point did either of the ships notify anyone that they had inadvertently "misnavigated" into Iranian territorial waters, a significant enough event that would warrant some sort of radio or other notification. [The Intercept]
"What we know for certain is that the storyline of 'mechanical failure' and 'poor U.S. boat in distress' that was originally propagated [...] was complete fiction," The Intercept concludes. Read their full analysis of the event here. Jeva Lange
Rachel Dolezal, 37, is the president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP, a part-time professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University, a graduate of historically black Howard University — and she's white, according to her parents and adoptive siblings.
"It is very disturbing that she has become so dishonest," Dolezal's mother, Ruthanne Dolezal, told The Coeur d'Alene Press in Montana, where she and her husband, Larry Dolezal live, and where they say Rachel grew up. "We are saddened she has chosen to misrepresent her ethnicity," said Larry Dolezal. The mother described her daughter's ethnic background as German, Czech, and Swedish, with “faint traces” of Native American mixed in.
Rachel Dolezal, in an application for a volunteer Spokane city police oversight board, checked off boxes for white, Native American, and African-American. She has maintained that her father is black, and that Larry Dolezal is her stepfather — a claim her mother strongly disputes but one she stood by in this interview with local TV station KXLY4 on Thursday:
In a Thursday interview with The Spokesman-Review, Dolezal wouldn't answer a direct question about her race, saying "I feel like I owe my executive committee a conversation" before publicly addressing the "multi-layered" issue. "There's a lot of complexities... and I don't know that everyone would understand that,” she said, adding, when pressed: "We're all from the African continent." James Wilburn, who is black and the previous president of the Spokane NAACP, said being black isn't necessary to head the chapter, and in fact, past presidents and at least half of the Spokane chapter are white. "And that is probably a result of the fact that only 1.9 percent of the population in Spokane is African-American," he told The Coeur d'Alene Press. Peter Weber