Quick Takes: Feeding That Swamp Thing

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

* Can someone please explain to me why anyone would need bullet resistant seat covers?

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt upgraded his official car last year to a costlier, larger vehicle with bullet-resistant covers over bucket seats, according to federal records and interviews with current and former agency officials.

Recent EPA administrators have traveled in a Chevrolet Tahoe, and agency officials had arranged for Pruitt to use the same vehicle when he joined the administration in February. But he switched to a larger, newer and more high-end Chevy Suburban last June.

One former EPA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation, said that Pruitt remarked that he wanted the larger car because it was similar to ones in which some other Cabinet officials rode.

* Can we just refer to this entire administration as “that swamp thing?” Is there some kind of Cabinet competition going on where members are trying to out-do each other with extravagance?

President Trump’s trade representative is spending nearly $1 million on new furniture…

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spent more than $917,000 to furnish the two trade offices near the White House, according to contracts reviewed by The Post.

* Here’s more on the ongoing saga of “Trump’s Katrina.”

You may have thought the world had run out of superlatives to describe the misery that Hurricane Maria brought to Puerto Rico. Well now, here’s another one: second-largest blackout in history.

Since the monster storm slammed into the American Caribbean territory in September 2017 and heavily damaged the power grid, more than 3.4 billion hours of electricity have been lost there. That makes it the second-longest blackout in world history, according to a report from the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm.

The only blackout in world history bigger than Puerto Rico’s is the one that came after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013. About 6.1 billion hours of power were lost after that massive storm.

* Color me not surprised to learn that Fox News has no journalistic standards.

* The Supreme Court weighed in on an immigration case today.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday invalidated a provision of federal law that requires the mandatory deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of some “crimes of violence,” holding that the law is unconstitutionally vague.

The case, Sessions v. Dimaya, had originated during the Obama administration but had been closely watched to see if the justices would reveal how they will consider the Trump administration’s overall push to both limit immigration and increase deportations.

As expected after the oral argument, Justice Neil Gorsuch joined with the more liberal justices for the first time since joining the court to produce a 5-4 majority invalidating the federal statute. In doing so, Gorsuch was continuing the jurisprudence of Justice Antonin Scalia, who also sided with liberals when it came to the vagueness of statutes used to convict criminal defendants.

* Alec MacGillis teamed up with ProPublica to tell the fascinating story of “How Liberty University Built a Billion Dollar Empire Online.”

Liberty is spread out on more than 7,000 acres overlooking Lynchburg, a former railroad-and-tobacco town on the James River below the Blue Ridge Mountains. The student body on campus is 15,500 strong, and the university employs more than 7,500 people locally. Throughout the university grounds, there is evidence of a billion-dollar capital expansion: mountains of dirt and clusters of construction equipment marking the site of the new business school; the $40 million football-stadium upgrade, to accommodate Liberty’s move into the highest level of N.C.A.A. competition; and the Freedom Tower, which at 275 feet will be the tallest structure in Lynchburg, capped by a replica of the Liberty Bell…

The real driver of growth at Liberty, it turns out, is not the students who attend classes in Lynchburg but the far greater number of students who are paying for credentials and classes that are delivered remotely, as many as 95,000 in a given year. By 2015, Liberty had quietly become the second-largest provider of online education in the United States, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, its student population surpassed only by that of University of Phoenix, as it tapped into the same hunger for self-advancement that Trump had with his own pricey Trump University seminars. Yet there was a crucial distinction: Trump’s university was a for-profit venture…Liberty, in contrast, is classified as a nonprofit, which means it faces less regulatory scrutiny even as it enjoys greater access to various federal handouts.

* Adam Gopnik explains why we shouldn’t ignore Trump’s words and tweets.

Trump, in maintaining that the opposition is not merely wrong but criminal, not mistaken but illegitimate, undermines not a norm or a manner or some stuffy curlicue of liberalism’s house rules; he assaults its essence. We are shocked by Trump’s language not because we’re prim but because we understand intuitively, instinctively, that the language is itself an assault on the rule of law, not merely a prologue or preface to it…

…even at the height of Bill Clinton’s war with Ken Starr or Nixon’s war with everybody, the President’s words were never this violent, because even under duress there was a shared, broad-based understanding that to use violent language was to invite violence into the world. The connection between the language of demonization and the execution of diabolic acts was all too familiar in history.

* Finally, I was introduced to Madison Ryann Ward when I watched David Letterman interview Jay-Z last weekend and was blown away after just a few notes. Take a listen to this set ‘o pipes.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.