TRNS News Notes is brought to you by Victoria Jones. Victoria Jones is the Chief White House correspondent and global analyst of the Washington DC based Talk Radio News Service, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.
L’Shana Tova! Happy and Healthy New Year!


News Now

  • Calif wildfires rage
  • Syria: US split on refugees
  • Syrian refugees: Europe struggles
  • Obama to Iowa: Student aid
  • Shutdown countdown: GOP scramble
  • Missouri panel on racial divide: Inequality
  • Poll: Clinton slips; Trump, Carson Tops
  • GOP debate week: Let’s fight
  • Sanders’ southern swing
  • Walker: Ax the unions
Calif Wildfires Rage (AP, me)
• Two of California’s fastest-burning wildfires in decades overtook several Northern California towns, killing at least one person, destroying 400 homes, two apartment complexes and 10 businesses, sending residents fleeing Sunday. Residents fled from Middleton, dodging smoldering telephone poles and downed power lines
• Four firefighters who are members of a helicopter crew were injured Saturday while battling the flames. People were ordered Sunday to evacuate a stretch along Highway 281, including Clear Lake Riviera, a town with about 3,000 residents, Cal Fire said
• The 78-square mile fire erupted Saturday. Entire towns as well as residents along a 35-mile stretch of State Route 29 were evacuated. Gov Jerry Brown (D) on Sunday declared a state of emergency to free up resources


• Brown had already declared a state of emergency for the separate 101-square-mile wildfire about 70 miles southeast of Sacramento that has destroyed at least 81 homes and 51 outbuildings and turned the grassy, tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills an eerie white. The fire was threatening about 6,400 more buildings
• Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Officer of Emergency Services, said this summer’s fires are the most volatile he has seen in 30 years of emergency response work. The main cause behind the fast-spreading fires is dry conditions from the four-year drought, he said
• In Fresno County, the largest of 13 wildfires in the state continued to march westward as firefighters increased the areas of their backfires to try to stop the advancement. The fire was 31% contained Sunday. Firefighters have maintained a precautionary line around Grant Grove, an ancient grove of Giant Sequoia trees, some 3,000 years old


• Security forces in Egypt have mistakenly killed 12 people, including Mexican tourists, during an anti-terror operation, the interior ministry says. The tourists were traveling in vehicles that entered a restricted zone in the Western Desert, a statement said. Mexico’s president has demanded an “exhaustive investigation.” (BBC)
Syria: US Split on Refugees (Hill, Hill, Defense One, Reuters, me)
• House Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said on ABC Sunday that he couldn’t support President Obama’s goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees next year. “If I could be assured these people could be vetted properly I would be supportive,” he said. “We don’t know who they are.”
• Sen Chris Murphy (D-Conn) said on Fox News Sunday, “It doesn’t stand to reason that Germany is going to take 800,000 and the U.S. has only taken 1,500. If we want credibility in the region, we’ve got to be seen as a partner in trying to solve this humanitarian crisis. Right now, we’re not.” (and we likely won’t be)
• In Syria, where the U.S. is leading an air campaign against ISIS and Russian military advisers are arriving to help the Assad regime, the two militaries aren’t talking to each other. “Coalition forces are focused on conducting counter-ISIL operations, so to my knowledge there is no military-to-military contact at this point, said CENTCOM spox Air Force Col Pat Ryder Friday (great)
• Hours before Ryder’s press briefing, Russian FM Sergei Lavrov confirmed that Moscow had sent troops and equipment to help its longtime client, Assad, fight ISIS. Lavrov warned of a growing risk of “unintended incidents” if the countries’ militaries didn’t cooperate in Syria (not sure that going in helped…)

• Horrific way that Hungary is treating Syrian refugees summed up in one awful video. Not only have they been herded into chain-linked-pens like animals, but guards then throw food at them. At 0:30, watch the guards ignore the toddler right next to them. Heartbreaking (Vox, me)


Syrian Refugees: Europe Struggles (BBC, me)
•Thousands of refugees could be left in “legal limbo” as European countries adopt different border rules to deal with the record influx of migrants, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) warned. It called for the establishment of big European-run reception centers in countries where refugees are arriving (rather than ghastly war-like camps – see below)
• The statement came as Germany imposed controls on its border with Austria on Sunday, saying it was struggling to cope with thousands of asylum seekers arriving every day. European interior ministers are to hold an emergency meeting on the migrant crisis later today. Germany is trying to put pressure on other countries to step up to the plate
• Germany’s trains with Austria restarted this morning. The move to close goes against the principle of the Schengen zone, which allows free movement between many European countries. Germany expects 800,000 refugees this year. Austria said it would deploy troops to help impose stricter controls on the border with Hungary
• Hungary is aiming to complete a 13ft fence along the border with Serbia by Tuesday, when tougher measures, including arresting illegal immigrants, come into force (it’s going to get very unpleasant – then they’ll get penned up in Serbia, which doesn’t want them – then what happens?)


• Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis is set to return to work today after spending five days in jail last week for defying a judge’s order and refusing to issue marriage licenses owing to her objections to gay marriage. Will she permit her deputies to continue to issue licenses? Unknown… Back to jail if she won’t (CNN, me)
Obama to Iowa: Student Aid (AP, AP, me)
• Aspiring college students will be able to apply for federal financial aid three months earlier than now and submit a previous year’s tax return, changes aimed at helping more people pay for school, the WH said Sunday. President Obama plans to announce the revisions this afternoon during a town hall with high school students in Des Moines, Iowa

• The visit to Iowa allows Obama to make an imprint on the 2016 race, arguing for Democratic priorities and drawing a contrast with the many Republican candidates blanketing the state – watch for him to take some shots at GOP 2016ers. He’ll be joined by Education Sec Arne Duncan

• Under the current system, students planning to start school in fall 2017 must wait until Jan of that year to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The new system will let them complete the form as early as Oct 2016, the month that marks the traditional start to the college application season
• The govt uses that form to determine eligibility for Pell Grants and federally backed student loans. The WH said requiring applicants to wait until Jan slows down the aid process and makes it harder for prospective students to figure out if they can afford to go to college

• Some 2 million college students are eligible for federal Pell Grants but miss out because they never apply, said James Kvaal, the deputy director of the WH’s Domestic Policy Council. “We wonder how many more students would be in college if they knew this aid was available,” Kvaal said


• House Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said on ABC Sunday, “We are monitoring very closely threats against the pope as he comes in to the U.S. We have disrupted one particular case in particular.” (CBS News)
Shutdown Countdown: GOP Scramble (Politico, Hill, NYT, me)
• Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told supporters Saturday, “What Barack Obama is doing for Planned Parenthood is radical, it’s extreme, it’s unreasonable. It’s wrong for Barack Obama to threaten to shut down the govt over the issue.” PP has been the subject of heavily edited, misleading undercover videos alleging the clinic traffics fetal body parts from abortions for profit
• Cruz has vowed the Senate will not pass a budget that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said Friday, “It’s an exercise in futility,” while President Obama is in the WH – and Democrats would filibuster (did you note how Cruz didn’t refer to Obama as “President” but “Barack” – wonder if he thinks he’s legit)
• Instead, McConnell plans to pursue a two pronged strategy to deal with the end-of-the-month govt funding deadline: A short-term funding bill to buy time to negotiate a longer-term spending measure and separately, a vote this month to federally ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (which will fail due to Democratic filibuster)
• McConnell gave no indication that he’s begun serious budget talks with Senate Democrats – they’ve been asking for months. “This is yet another Republican-manufactured crisis straight out of Sen McConnell’s playbook,” said Kristen Orthman, a spox for Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev)
• Meanwhile, the House plans to vote this week on The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, HR-3134, penned by Sen Diane Black (R-Tenn). It would deny Planned Parenthood all funds for a year unless abortions aren’t performed. It will clear the House by a wide margin but come unstuck in the Senate


Missouri Panel on Racial Divide: Inequality (NYT, me)
• A commission appointed by Gov Jay Dixon (D-Mo) after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a white police officer, is calling for sweeping changes across the St Louis region on matters of policing, the courts, education, health care, housing and more
• Among 47 priorities laid out in a 198-page report to be made public this afternoon in Ferguson, the group calls for increasing the minimum wage, expanding eligibility for Medicaid and consolidating the patchwork of 60 police forces and 81 municipal courts that cover St Louis and its suburbs
• The commission found that black motorists were 75% more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops in Missouri than whites last year. The average life expectancy in one mostly black suburb, Kinloch, is more than three decades less than in the mostly white suburb of Wildwood, the report finds (that’s almost unimaginable in the U.S. – and yet)
• Many of the commission’s recommendations would require significant action from the State Legislature, locally elected councils and boards, and others. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democratic state senator, said she feared the findings would be announced with fanfare, “but then we’re just going to hear crickets, crickets, crickets.”
• On policing, the commission calls for assigning the state AG as a special prosecutor in all cases of police force resulting in deaths; requiring the state highway patrol to investigate most police use of force cases ending in deaths; creating a statewide use of force database; available to the public, among other things (read article – more details)


• The House and Senate are at odds over the Iran nuclear deal. The House voted to reject a resolution of approval on the Iran deal on Friday, one of three measures it’s to vote on. Thursday, Senate Democrats blocked a resolution of disapproval of the Iran deal. The Senate is expected to vote again this week (TRNS)
Poll: Clinton Slips; Trump, Carson Tops (WaPo, me)
• A WaPo/ABC News poll out today finds that among Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents, Hillary Clinton is the choice of 42% of registered voters. Bernie Sanders has 24% and VP Joe Biden, undecided about a run, has 21%. If Biden decides not to run, the survey indicates that Clinton would benefit far more than Sanders, at least initially – she jumps 14 points

• Clinton’s support has dropped 21 points among Democrats since July and the sharpest drop has come among women and particularly white women: 64% – 31%. Sanders’ support has doubled among this group (they think she’s lying to them). And 55% of Americans disapprove of the way Clinton has handled questions about her emails

• Donald Trump is the favorite of 33% of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents – jump of nine points since mid-July. Ben Carson has 20% – jump of 14 points since July. Jeb Bush has 8%. Then come the others. Scott Walker has the steepest decline – falling from 13% to 2% (and his desperation is showing – below)

• Almost 6 in 10 Americans say Trump isn’t honest and trustworthy, while 56% say that about Clinton. At this point, 6 in 10 say Trump isn’t qualified to be president, though more than 6 in 10 Republicans say he is
• Two-thirds say Trump doesn’t understand the problems of “people like you.” More than 6 in 10 say he doesn’t have the kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president. Just over half of all Americans say Clinton doesn’t understand their problems, but 56% say she has the personality and temperament to serve as president
• Was Trump University a scam? In three pending lawsuits, including one in which the New York AG is seeking $40 million in restitution, former students allege that the real estate workshop enterprise bilked them out of their money with misleading advertisements (WaPo, me)
GOP Debate Week: Let’s Fight (NYT, Hill, AP, me)
• Several of Donald Trump’s rivals are taking shots at the pack leader ahead of Wednesday’s CNN GOP debate. The field will narrow, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus said Sunday on CNN: “There’s not enough hard cash to go around to pay campaigns in these states to keep 17 candidates alive”
• “Someone has to bring him down,” Sen Rand Paul (R-Ky) said last week. “I’m not going to sit quietly by and let the disaster that is Donald Trump become the nominee.” Trump has said Paul is a “lightweight” who doesn’t belong in the debate
• “Mr Trump says that I can’t speak Spanish,” former Gov Jeb Bush (R-Fla), speaking Spanish, told supporters Saturday, “Pobrecito (poor guy).” At the Iowa vs Iowa State tailgate party on Saturday, Gov Scott Walker (R-Wis) said: “It takes more than just talk. It takes action. Actions speak louder than words.” (louder than his. No one could hear his speech – bad speakers)


• On Friday, former Gov Rick Perry (R-Texas), the leading anti-Trump voice among GOP contenders, became the first candidate to drop his troubled bid for the nomination. Perry tangled with Trump over immigration and Perry vigorously defended Sen John McCain (R-Ariz) against Trump’s suggestion that he wasn’t really a war hero (NYT, TRNS, me)
• Carly Fiorina, in a speech to the National Federation of Republican Women on Friday, addressed Trump’s slam on her face, and said, “This is the face of a 61-year-old woman. I am proud of every year and wrinkle.” “Leadership is not about position. It is not about title. It is not about how big your office is or how big your plane or your helicopter or you ego.”
• But Trump hammered away at Ben Carson on Saturday. “I don’t think Ben has the energy. Ben is a nice man, but when you’re negotiating against China, we need people that are really smart, that have tremendous deal-making skills and that have great, great energy.”
• Carson said on ABC on Sunday, “
[I]t doesn’t bother me, because I recognize that I have plenty of energy – you know, operating on people for 10,12, sometimes for greater than 20 hours at a time, making critical decisions after many hours of intense work, having unexpected situations come up.”
• New, powerful TV ad contrasts Ronald Reagan’s upbeat tone in welcoming people to the U.S. against the words of the current Republican party candidates. Will run primarily on CNN, also Fox and MSNBC. Timed for this week’s GOP debate. It’s stark (Forum Action Fund, NYT, me)
Sanders: Southern Swing (USA Today, me)
• Once dismissed as a long shot for the Democratic nomination for 2016, Sen Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) is now focused on the challenges of branching out beyond early voting states Iowa and New Hampshire and connecting with African-American and Hispanic voters. For two decades, he’s represented the small, 95% white state of Vermont
• Sanders made his second trip as a candidate this weekend to South Carolina, the first southern primary state where he’ll face a Democratic primary electorate that will be largely African-American. Hillary Clinton enjoys long-standing support and name recognition there while Sanders is relatively unknown. Sanders campaigns in Virginia today

• Sanders held three public events in South Carolina, including a town hall in Florence, where he also met privately with about 50 mostly black leaders and elected officials, most of whom had been committed to Clinton. “It’s clear they are rethinking their position,” said author and civil rights activist Cornel West, who joined Sanders for the events


Walker: Ax the Unions (AP, me)
• Republican presidential candidate Gov Scott Walker (R-Wis) today will call for sweeping restrictions on organized labor in the U.S., seeking to replicate nationwide his successful effort as Wisconsin’s governor to curb the power of unions – (and desperate to regain relevancy for his presidential bid as he plummets in the polls)
• At a town hall meeting in Las Vegas, Walker will propose eliminating unions for employees of the federal govt, making all workplaces right-to-work unless individual states vote otherwise, scrapping the federal agency that oversees unfair labor practices and making it more difficult for unions to organize

• Lee Adler, a labor law expert at Cornell University, said, “Mr Walker could only be making these types of proposals to satisfy his most backward-looking, wealthy contributors, just as he pursued, as governor, policies advanced by these people that sought to destroy school teachers and other public employees’ rights in Wisconsin.”

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar and William McDonald contributed to this report


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