Tuesday Reads: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Breton Children Reading, Emile Vernon, 1913

Good Afternoon!!

Thank goodness the “holidays” are almost over now, and soon a new year will begin. What will 2018 bring? Will Trump continue his goal of destroying democracy or will we somehow manage to keep it alive? First we have to get through the journalistic ritual of looking back over the year that is ending.

Eugene Robinson posted his evaluation of 2017 last night: Trump’s first year was even worse than feared.

Grit your teeth. Persevere. Just a few more days and this awful, rotten, no-good, ridiculous, rancorous, sordid, disgraceful year in the civic life of our nation will be over. Here’s hoping that we all — particularly special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — have a better 2018.

Many of us began 2017 with the consoling thought that the Donald Trump presidency couldn’t possibly be as bad as we feared. It turned out to be worse.

Did you ever think you would hear a president use the words “very fine people” to describe participants in a torch-lit rally organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan? Did you ever think you would hear a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations thuggishly threaten that she would be “taking names” of countries that did not vote on a General Assembly resolution the way she wanted? Did you ever think the government of the world’s biggest military and economic power would reject not just science but also empiricism itself, preferring to use made-up “alternative facts” as the basis for major decisions?

We knew that Trump was narcissistic and shallow, but on Inauguration Day it was possible to at least hope he was self-aware enough to understand the weight that now rested on his shoulders, and perhaps grow into the job. He did not. If anything, he has gotten worse.

Read the rest at The Washington Post.

Paul Krugman still has hope: America Is Not Yet Lost.

Auguste reading to her daughter, by Mary Cassatt

Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party — including so-called moderates — turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it’s evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle — and every shred of their own dignity — as long as their donors get big tax cuts.

Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda….

What we’ve seen instead is the emergence of a highly energized resistance. That resistance made itself visible literally the day after Trump took office, with the huge women’s marches that took place on Jan. 21, dwarfing the thin crowds at the inauguration. If American democracy survives this terrible episode, I vote that we make pink pussy hats the symbol of our delivery from evil….

Let’s be clear: America as we know it is still in mortal danger. Republicans still control all the levers of federal power, and never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy.

This obviously goes for Trump himself, who is clearly a dictator wannabe, with no respect whatsoever for democratic norms. But it also goes for Republicans in Congress, who have demonstrated again and again that they will do nothing to limit his actions. They have backed him up as he uses his office to enrich himself and his cronies, as he foments racial hatred, as he attempts a slow-motion purge of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.

I count it as a good sign that journalists are coming right out and calling Trump a wannabe dictator. Also a good sign: both Robinson and Krugman acknowledge that if we are to survive Trump, women’s leadership will be the reason. How ironic that a woman had to be excoriated and mocked by abusive male journalists for this awakening of women’s power to happen.

Jan Van Eyck – Madonna with the Child Reading (1433)

It’s also a good sign that journalists finally recognized the Russian threat, although this only happened after a monster was installed as POTUS. Yesterday The Washington Post published a breathtaking analysis of what the Russians accomplished last year and the danger they still pose to our democracy: Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options. Here’s a brief excerpt; please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.

One previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said….

The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential electiontrace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a “third-rate regional power” that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery.

Senior U.S. officials didn’t think Russia would dare shift its focus to the United States.

“I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.”

Much more at the WaPo link.

From former CIA Deputy Director and Acting Director Michael Morrell: Russia never stopped its cyberattacks on the United States.

Every first-year international-relations student learns about the importance of deterrence: It prevented a Soviet invasion of Western Europe during the height of the Cold War. It prevented North Korea from invading South Korea in the same time frame. Today, it keeps Iran from starting a hot war in the Middle East or other nations from initiating cyberattacks against our infrastructure.

The Reader, by Federico Zandomeneghi (Italian, 1841)

And yet, the United States has failed to establish deterrence in the aftermath of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. We know we failed because Russia continues to aggressively employ the most significant aspect of its 2016 tool kit: the use of social media as a platform to disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.

There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day.

This should alarm everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy.

Read about the continuing threats from Russia at the WaPo link.

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Jonathan Peters reports on the work of NYT master’s student to examine Trump’s Twitter attacks on the media.

Trump’s prolificacy on Twitter is well documented, and some of his press-related tweets have captured vast public attention. For example, Trump tweeted in July a doctored video in which he wrestled a man whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo. It got hundreds of thousands of retweets.

Off Twitter, of course, Trump has waged a rhetorical war on the press, threatening to sue various newspapers and calling journalists “the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” all while characterizing as “fake news” any story he dislikes.

That’s what prompted an NYU master’s student to start tracking Trump’s tweets critical of the press. “I took it on as a labor of love and hate, and I suffered through his tweets every few days to log them,” says Stephanie Sugars, who is pursuing a joint MA in journalism and international relations. “It seemed important to maintain a record of what has appeared to be a deliberate and sustained campaign to discredit the media as an institution.”

By Zulia Gotay de Anderson

Sugars was working as a researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists last spring when she created the Trump-tweet spreadsheet that she recently shared with me. She was helping to launch a website that documents press freedom incidents in the US. (CJR is a partner.) Originally, she and others at CPJ thought it would include not only arrests and equipment seizures but also anti-press social media posts.

“That just wasn’t manageable,” Sugars says. “We decided to pare the site back and not focus on tweets. I kept up with the spreadsheet, though, and continued to add to it, even after leaving [CPJ] when my term as a researcher there ended.”

Peters then assigned his students a the University of Georgia to “review the spreadsheet and to help me identify notable items and trends in the data.” Read the rest at the CJR link to see the results.

One more interesting read: could Ivanka be in trouble with the law? GQ: Ivanka Trump’s Old Jewelry Business Is Now Caught Up in an Alleged Fraud Scheme. Author Ben Schreckenger begins by asking, “Why do people looking to launder money seem to find Trump family businesses so appealing?”

Throw a dart at a map of the world and there’s a solid chance it will land near a spot where a Trump family business has allegedly gotten caught up in a money laundering scheme.

There’s Panama, where the Trump Ocean Club is said to have washed dirty cash for Russian gangsters and South American drug cartels. There’s Azerbaijan and the Trump Baku, where the money allegedly being laundered was said to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. And of course, there’s the Trump Soho in Manhattan, a magnet for money from Kazakhstan and Russia, and a property that one former executive on the project now calls “a monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion.”

In each of those cases, the Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing and has sought to distance itself—and the Trump family—from the property, saying they merely licensed ​the Trump name. But as it turns out, it’s not just Trump-branded real estate developments that perhaps have attracted the wrong kinds of money.

Thanks to an overlooked filing made in federal court this past summer, we can now add a jewelry business to the list of Trump family enterprises that allegedly served as vehicles to fraudulently hide the assets of ultra-rich foreigners with checkered backgrounds. In late June, the Commercial Bank of Dubai sought—and later received—permission to subpoena Ivanka Trump’s now-defunct fine jewelry line, claiming its diamonds were used in a massive scheme to hide roughly $100 million that was owed to the bank, according to filings at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Read the rest at GQ.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


32 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: Looking Back and Looking Forward”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Have nice day after Christmas Sky Dancers!

    • dakinikat says:

      Same to you and stay warm! Here’s why Republicans are panicked about 2018…

      • NW Luna says:

        And the majority of white women with degrees voted for Hillary.

      • Fannie says:

        I certainly hope so, but don’t trust white women.

        • Sweet Sue says:

          All of us, Fannie? That’s a little harsh or am I reading it wrong?

        • NW Luna says:

          That’s why I pointed out the category of white women who are different from the “what’s the problem with white women?” category.

          Reasons? I think they include all of these: the analytical skills learned/practiced through higher education, the enquiring minds of women who seek higher education, being less likely to have kids at a young age — and thus less likely to be stay-at-home women who are more dependent on (subservient to?) their husbands, more independent, less conservative.

        • dakinikat says:

          From the stats that I’ve seen it’s the fundamentalist xtian white women

  2. bostonboomer says:

    https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

  3. bostonboomer says:

    https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

    • gregoryp says:

      I really and truly hope that the Democrats can regain the House and Senate with enough Senators to convict; however, I find it highly doubtful they’d impeach Trump and Pence or any of those frauds on the Supreme Court. Republican’s absolutely won’t do the right thing and Democrats seem to be afraid of wielding power when they have it. It is past time for the garbage to get swept out of Washington. We don’t need Tea Partiers, Koch employees, Roberts, Alito, Thomas or Gorsuch, any where near our government. And this includes the Granny starver and Mitch McConnell.

    • NW Luna says:

      We absolutely should contest every race. Women and running in historically large numbers. I hope the new candidates will be fired up and ready to act once they’re in office.

  4. Pat Johnson says:

    Merry Christmas,bb! I was in your neck of the woods these past few days and woke up to a White Christmas. Had a great 4 day weekend with family and have been “off the grid” so to speak meaning it was essentially Trump free!

    Fingers crossed that Mueller will bring us a surprise in 2018. Even so, I will be another year as a faithful reader here at Sky Dancers, consuming the wise words of Dak, jj, and yourself. It keeps me sane.

    To give you an idea of how long we’ve been together my 2 granddaughters are 15 and 13. Really growing into young ladies and quite lovely. Both are honor students and lacrosse players (a game I truly do not understand). Just no longer babies. I am sure this applies to your nephews as well.

    Love the paintings you provided. Hoping for a better New Year but with that lunatic still in the WH it is all we can do is hope.

    Thanks for all you 3 do to keep us going. Love being part of this community. You guys are the best!

    • bostonboomer says:

      My nephews are 12 and almost 15. Time goes by too fast! I’ll probably never have access to another little baby. But I have my memories.

  5. Minkoff Minx says:

    Have y’all seen this shit.

  6. NW Luna says:

    Democrat in tied Va. House race says she will challenge disputed ballot in court

    Lawyers for a Democrat locked in a tied Virginia House of Delegates race were preparing a court challenge Tuesday, hoping to head off a name-drawing scheduled for Wednesday that will decide not only that race, but also which party controls the chamber.

    In her legal motion, Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds will ask the Newport News Circuit Court to reverse its decision following a recount last week to count a disputed ballot for Republican incumbent David Yancey.

    Simonds’s lawyers provided copies of the motion to reconsider but could not file it Tuesday because the court was closed.

  7. NW Luna says:

    Love the paintings, BB. You always find ones which help calm me and provide an antidote to the anxiety- and anger-provoking news.

  8. NW Luna says:

    This is encouraging:

    The prospect of a lesbian unseating a Republican incumbent in a red-leaning Virginia district once seemed unfathomable.

    Now it seems unremarkable.

    In three weeks, nurse practitioner Dawn Adams will take her seat as the first openly gay woman to serve in the Virginia General Assembly. But she received little national attention after the Nov. 7 Democratic sweep that also saw the ascension of the first transgender, Latina and Asian American women to the legislature.

    The relatively muted response to her win reflects how rapidly attitudes have changed in Virginia and how candidates who happen to be gay or lesbian are seen more as the norm instead of a liability, LGBTQ advocates say.

    “People have understood it’s not an issue that’s going to play well if you try to demonize people just because of who they love,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.

  9. NW Luna says:

    Well, isn’t this interesting? I knew that Christmas was not that special among church holidays until the last century, but not these details.

    For most of its history, the Christian church regarded Christmas as a small event on its calendar not requiring much observation. Puritans in England and later the American colonies went one step further, banning the holiday altogether since they could find no biblical support for celebrating the day. As the historian Stephen Nissenbaum has explained, the Puritans imposed fines on anyone caught celebrating and designated Christmas as a working day. These strict rules were necessary since so many men and women engaged in the drunken carousing that accompanied winter solstice festivities, an ancient tradition that the church had failed to stamp out when it appropriated Dec. 25 as a Christian holiday.

    In this setting, “Merry Christmas” was born. The greeting was an act of revelry and religious rebellion, something the uncouth masses shouted as they traveled in drunken mobs. Troubled by such behavior, the New Haven Gazette in 1786 decried the “common salutation” of “Merry Christmas.” “So merry at Christmas are some,” the paper lamented, “they destroy their health by disease, and by trouble their joy.”

  10. NW Luna says:

    From a Venezuelan citizen who was born and raised there (but now lives in Europe). He has some excellent points, even if he does ignore the other reasons Trump won: misogyny, Russia, Electoral Collage system, and Comey

    To beat President Trump, you have to learn to think like his supporters
    Scandals will never defeat a populist.


    It does not matter that he is eroding the nation’s democratic institutions. That this combat is dangerous, hypocritical, built on lies. That you, after all, are innocent. His supporters are convinced that you are to blame. Until you can convince them otherwise, they will cheer him on. The name of the game is polarization, and the rookie mistake is to forget you are the enemy.

    I know how you feel. You are outraged. What did you ever do to these people to deserve their hate? What can possibly be going on? How can they, for example, make sense of so many former Goldman Sachs men in the Trump Cabinet? Weren’t the bankers supposed to be the enemy? Not to mention Russia? All your senses (and your Facebook friends) tell you that, with all this hypocrisy, justice demands that Trump be impeached, indeed it should have happened long ago. For your sake and for his supporters’ sake, too. Instead, it continues, and each day that goes by, it makes less sense to you. As Venezuelans used to tell one another: Chávez te tiene loco. Trump is making you crazy. Making you scramble for ways to make this end.

    Look, I’ve been there. And I still don’t have all the answers; Chávez is dead, but chavismo lives on. But I do know that before trying to convince Trump supporters that he is a hypocrite who must be impeached, that the news is not actually fake, that your statistical charts and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are in dire need of their attention, before you try to persuade them that they are being racist, or worse, ignorant by believing in Trump, you should ask yourself: Will this help convince them that I am not their enemy? Because what can really win them over is not to prove that you are right. It is to show them you care. Only then will they believe what you say.

    This is not a call for appeasement, only for efficiency. If dwelling on scandal too much can be counterproductive, then the focus must be elsewhere. Again, I believe it should rest on understanding and emphasizing with the grievances that brought Trump to power (wage stagnation, cultural isolation, a depleted countryside, the opioid crisis). Trump’s solutions may be imaginary, but the problems are very real indeed. Populism is and has always been the daughter of political despair. Showing concern is the only way to break the rhetorical polarization.

    • NW Luna says:

      OTOH:

      • quixote says:

        I disagree. Not a stupid take. A very worthwhile point. BUT, as Joy Reid said, the time to remember it is once you have power. Then remember their problems and try to solve those as well as your own.

        You’re not going to win by appealing to them because their minds can’t be changed in enough numbers to alter outcomes.

        Once you’ve won, that’s when it’s time to be considerate.

        I think she’s right.

        • NW Luna says:

          Then remember their problems and try to solve those as well as your own.

          Yes for healthcare, improving infrastructure, (which will create jobs), reasonably priced broadband in all areas, debt-free college (including community and technical) and the like.

          Yet if their imagined problem is that they (fundie whites) are not ahead of black people, nothing else will matter to them. They’d be small enough in number to not worry about if we got rid of gerrymandering, voter suppression, Russian hacking (and probably the Electoral College system). There will always be some percentage of those deplorables who we don’t want to attract.

          • quixote says:

            Well, yes, their actual problems, not the Hulk-Smash!-(but only smaller people cuz that’s safe) bullshit they lay on top trying to make themselves feel better.

            All the anti-democracy things you mention are absolutely the first order of business. Can’t get rid of the trolls pulling their strings, and can’t get to the point of some actually helpful policies, without that.