WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump speak on the telephone as they answers calls from people calling into the NORAD Santa tracker phone line in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. _ AFP

Democratic leaders have accused an isolated President Donald Trump of sowing
Christmas "chaos" after the stock market plummeted and the US
government shutdown hit a third day. "It's Christmas Eve and President
Trump is plunging the country into chaos," Nancy Pelosi, who takes over
next month as House speaker, and Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the
Republican-led Senate, said in a joint statement. With Congress out of town,
there was no chance for progress on the government funding crisis.

Trump's demand
for a $5 billion US-Mexico border wall-a pillar of his election platform-has
been rejected by Democrats and some Republicans. In retaliation, Trump refused
last week to sign a wider spending bill, temporarily stripping funding from
swaths of the government. "Nothing new on the shutdown. We need more
security," Trump said at the White House on Monday. Trump tweeted more
than 10 times on Monday to lash out at opponents of the wall project and to
renew his verbal assaults on the Federal Reserve, which he blames for growing
jitters over the US economy. The Dow Jones index sank more than 650 points, the
worst ever performance on a Christmas Eve, according to CNBC television.

Outside the White
House, Washington's National Christmas Tree became a forlorn symbol of the
dysfunction when the National Park Service-one of the government bodies hit by
the funding shutdown-briefly turned off the lights. It was brought back on
after help from the service's charity foundation. And the budget standoff could
drag on into January, when the new Congress is seated, although negotiations
were planned for Thursday, offering a glimmer of hope. Trump, who had to delay
his annual Christmas holiday in Florida, tweeted: "I am all alone (poor
me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back."

'He can't putt!'

The government
shutdown adds to uncertainties spooking global stock markets after a tumultuous
week in which respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned and the president
stepped up attacks on the supposedly independent chairman of the Federal
Reserve. Last week, the central bank hiked rates, infuriating Trump who has
ignored traditional respect for the Fed's independence, calling it
"crazy," "out of control" and a greater economic threat
than China.

In a tweet
Monday, Trump compared the Fed to a blundering golfer "who can't score
because he has no touch - he can't putt!" Trump's Treasury Secretary
Steven Mnuchin had spent much of the weekend in damage control mode following
reports that Trump had privately asked cabinet members whether he has the
authority to fire Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. And domestic issues are just part
of the far from merry Christmas picture, with Trump also juggling a trade war with
China and fallout from his abrupt decision to pull US troops from Afghanistan
and Syria.

Wall of worry

three-quarters of the government, including the military, is fully funded
through September 2019 but the partial shutdown forced several other major
agencies to cease operations from Saturday. The shutdown meant that more than
400,000 federal employees reported to their jobs on Monday without getting
paid, while nearly 400,000 others "will be locked out of work with no
pay," the American Federation of Government Employees union said. "No
private business or company would be permitted to impose on or disrupt the
lives of their employees in such a manner," the Federation said in letters
to the Senate and House of Representatives.

A deal to end the
funding shortfall appears a distant prospect as Congress adjourned on the
weekend for Christmas. "It's very possible that this shutdown will go
beyond the 28th and into the new Congress" which takes its seat in early
January, White House budget director and incoming acting chief of staff Mick
Mulvaney said. But while trying to pin the blame on Democrats, Mulvaney,
speaking on "Fox News Sunday," acknowledged that Trump's hardline
stand played a role. "This is what Washington looks like when you have a
president who refuses to sort of go along to get along," Mulvaney said.

Flasher arrested

A choice
political gesture, or holiday merriment gone awry? A man has been arrested
after exposing himself in front of the White House. Five people were posing
together for pictures Sunday at around 1:30 am near the north fence of the
White House when a police officer saw more than he wanted from one of them. The
man, turning around to face the executive mansion, "proceeded to lower his
pants and undergarment exposing his genital to plain view," said the
incident report by Washington police.

The suspect was
arrested for indecent exposure, a misdemeanor. Police did not assign a motive.
While it was unlikely that President Donald Trump or his family caught a glimpse
of the flasher, the incident came after Trump postponed a holiday trip to
Florida due to a political showdown that has partially shut down the US
government. -  AFP