Thursday ReadsPosted: February 8, 2018
Today’s Google doodle honors pioneering impressionist artist Paula Modersohn-Becker. I had never heard of her, so I decided to look at her work. I’m using some of her paintings to illustrate this post. Time Magazine has some background on her life and art.
The first woman to paint a naked self-portrait didn’t care much for the traditional expectations or institutions that constrained most European women at the turn of the 20th century. Paula Modersohn-Becker’s parents wanted her to become a teacher, and told her to abandon her “egotism” in order to carry out her wifely duties; instead, she became one of the era’s most prolific artists, and helped give rise to the modernist movement alongside Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse….
At the age of 18, she defied her parents to join an artist colony in Worpswede, in northern Germany. There, she met her future husband, the older, respected artist Otto Modersohn.
Eager to learn more about modern art, Modersohn-Becker soon after moved to Paris, and encouraged Modersohn to join her. The two got engaged, at which point Modersohn-Becker ‘s family intervened and sent her to a cooking school in preparation for her coming marriage.
But she refused to put aside her ambitions and paint brushes, and boldly declared she “was going to become somebody“. Her works often featured regular women, frequently painted nude, as they slept, breastfed and gardened.
In 1906 alone, the prolific artist painted 80 pictures. She died later the following year of an embolism, 18 days after giving birth to her daughter at the age of 31.
She “declared she ‘was going to become somebody.” I just love that! Reading about this courageous woman took me out of the insanity of America’s present moment for a little while, and I’m grateful for that brief respite.
Today’s news is as crazy as ever. I wrote in a comment on JJ’s post that maybe Trump’s “success” in business was partially a result of the chaos he constantly creates. He frequently had to be bailed out of his massive mistakes–first by his father and then by various banks and investors. He refused to pay contractors and employees until they simply gave up in disgust.
Many of the people who have tried to deal with Trump have ended up simply throwing up their hands. We see that happening in the White House and even in the media. The man is a walking, talking disaster area. Everything he touches turns to shit and everywhere he goes he leaves terrible damage in his wake. I wonder if American democracy will survive.
Trump also seems to attract other people with dark and ugly personalities. Take White House chief of staff John Kelly, for example. When he was first appointed to his current position, the media celebrated Kelly as the “adult in the room” who would tame Trump’s wild and dangerous authoritarian tendencies. Now we know Kelly and Trump are two peas in a pod. The only difference is that Kelly had a slightly more dignified facade. But that’s gone now; Kelly has shown us who he is: a bigoted, foul-mouthed, unapologetic authoritarian, just like Trump.
Gail Collins at The New York Times: Trump’s Worst Watcher.
Do you remember back when everybody thought John Kelly was going to calm down the Trump White House?
Stop laughing. Although it has been another wow of a week, hasn’t it? We had one top administration official, Rob Porter, resigning over claims of domestic abuse regarding two ex-wives. Kelly defended Porter as “a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional” shortly before a picture popped up of one former Mrs. Porter sporting a black eye.
This was a little bit after Kelly himself made headlines for suggesting that some young immigrants couldn’t qualify for federal help because they were just “too lazy to get off their asses” and file some paperwork. Meanwhile the president, apparently unsupervised, was calling for a government shutdown and lobbying enthusiastically for an expensive new military parade. Because he saw one in Paris and thought it was cool.
A good chief of staff advises the president against doing things that will make the administration look stupid or crazy. So, are we all in agreement that Kelly, retired general turned Trump chief of staff, appears to be … a failure? And sort of a jerk in the bargain?
The world began to notice that Kelly was perhaps not as cool, calm and collected as we’d bargained for when he was coordinating a condolence call by the president to Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was killed while serving on a strange mission in Niger.
It did not go well. Ms. Johnson said the president seemed to forget her husband’s name. His idea of comfort, she said, was to tell her La David knew “what he was signing up for.” Trump naturally denied everything. Representative Frederica Wilson, a family friend, made the whole disaster public. Kelly then waded in with an emotional speech in which he assailed Wilson for taking credit for getting funding for a Florida building named after two slain F.B.I. agents. Its overall weirdness was matched only by its total inaccuracy.
The next step, in theory, would be an apologetic call from Kelly to the congresswoman. Or assigning someone to reach out to La David Johnson’s widow and try to smooth the whole awful situation over. Never happened.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: Beyond Disbelief: John Kelly’s Defense of Rob Porter Roils The West Wing.
For weeks, Donald Trump has been souring on his Chief of Staff John Kelly because of his controlling ways and rising public profile. And now Kelly is in the midst of a bonafide crisis, one that exacerbates the president’s own #MeToo problems. On Tuesday, Kelly strongly defended White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter against disturbing allegations, first published in the Daily Mail, that he abused his ex-wives. Kelly’s decision to back Porter has left many people inside the White House angry, two sources with knowledge of the matter said. On Wednesday afternoon, Porter resigned. Axios reported Kelly wanted Porter to “stay and fight.”
Yesterday, Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, told the Mail that Porter called her a “fucking bitch” on their honeymoon, and once pulled her naked out of the shower. In response, Kelly put out a statement calling Porter “a man of true integrity and honor” and a “trusted professional.” But shortly after Kelly rallied behind his colleague, Porter’s first wife came forward with additional harrowing allegations. Colbie Holderness, who married Porter in 2009, told the Daily Mail that Porter punched her in the face and choked her, among other alleged abuses. The article included a photo of her with a black eye. “It was not hard enough for me to pass out, but it was scary, humiliating, and dehumanizing,” she said. Porter told the Daily Mail that the allegations were “slanderous and simply false.”
Kelly’s decision to go to bat for Porter deeply frustrated White House staffers, sources told me. He was supposed to be the West Wing’s resident grown-up, but staffers are increasingly questioning Kelly’s judgment, four Republicans close to the White House told me. “It’s beyond disbelief. Everyone is trying to figure out why Kelly is leading the charge to save him,” one former West Wing official said. Another Republican said: “How many times has Kelly put out a statement defending Trump?”
Sources said Kelly was so quick to defend Porter because the two have grown very close since Trump appointed Kelly chief of staff last summer. Porter, a Rhodes scholar, has helped Kelly instill discipline in the West Wing. Kelly has told people that Porter has a “calming effect” on White House operations. For instance, it’s Porter who screens all the information that gets to Trump’s desk. Porter also helped Kelly conduct a West Wing organizational study that provided Kelly with a cudgel to sideline Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, two former West Wing officials told me. The officials also said Kelly supported Porter even after the F.B.I. delayed granting Porter’s security clearance because they uncovered his alleged history of spousal abuse.
Kelly needs to go. Now. Late last night, he finally claimed (probably after urging from WH staff members who still have consciences) that he was “shocked” by the allegations of abuse that he previously didn’t give a shit about.
There’s plenty of news on the Russia investigation.
Last night NBC News published new details on Russia’s hacking of state voting systems: Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, top U.S. official says.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”
Jeh Johnson, who was DHS secretary during the Russian intrusions, said, “2016 was a wake-up call and now it’s incumbent upon states and the Feds to do something about it before our democracy is attacked again.”
“We were able to determine that the scanning and probing of voter registration databases was coming from the Russian government.”
There is no evidence that any of the registration rolls were altered in any fashion, according to U.S. officials.
Read more details at the link above.
Meduza (“The Real Russia, Today”): An escort girl may be the latest ‘Russia Gate’ link.
Alexey Navalny has published new corruption allegations against Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko and oligarch Oleg Deripaska, alleging that the two met aboard Deripaska’s yacht in August 2016 off the coast of Norway, possibly to discuss the oligarch’s relationship with Paul Manafort and his role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Navalny says he learned about the meeting thanks to an escort who posted photos from the excursion on Instagram. Navalny says the trip amounts to a bribe, insofar as Deripaska apparently flew Prikhodko in on his private jet and then provided him with the services of an “escort girl.”
Navalny also alleges that Prikhodko owns a home valued at 300 million rubles ($5.2 million) in a luxurious area outside Moscow, as well as two apartments in the city worth almost 500 million rubles ($8.7 million) — real estate that the oppositionist says Prikhodko could only afford because of bribes.
We’ll have wait and see if this story gets filled out in U.S. or British media.
Former president George W. Bush appeared to take aim at President Trump on Thursday when he said at an economic summit that there was “pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled” in the 2016 U.S. election.
Bush did not directly name Trump during his talk in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. He appeared there as part of a conference by the Milken Institute, a think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif.
“Whether (Russia) affected the outcome is another question,” Bush said. “It’s problematic that a foreign nation is involved in our election system. Our democracy is only as good as people trust the results.”
The Washington Post: Justice Dept. official who helped oversee Clinton, Russia probes steps down.
David Laufman, an experienced federal prosecutor who in 2014 became chief of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, said farewell to colleagues Wednesday. He cited personal reasons.
His departure from the high-pressure job comes as President Trump and his Republican allies have stepped up attacks on the Justice Department, the FBI and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III for their handling of the Russia probe.
“It’s tough to leave a mission this compelling and an institution as exceptional as the Department of Justice,” said Laufman, 59. “But I know that prosecutors and agents will continue to bring to their work precisely what the American people should expect: a fierce and relentless commitment to protect the national security of the United States.”
“David’s departure is a great loss for the department,’’ said Mary McCord, a former acting head of the National Security Division who resigned in May. “He has the integrity and attention to detail that is critical to investigating and prosecuting the types of sensitive matters handled by the department’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.”
I hadn’t heard of Laufman before, but the story says he was a target of right wing attacks.
Laufman became a target of the far-right blogosphere, with conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich accusing him last year of being the source of “national security leaks.” Cernovich’s claim, which Laufman’s colleagues have called baseless, surfaced after media reports detailed then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s discussion of U.S. sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The online attacks persisted for months. After Comey’s firing in May, Cernovich posted a piece titled “Will DOJ leaker David Laufman be next to leave after #Comey?”
Critics noted that Laufman had donated to Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, referring to him as a “holdover.” But he is a career attorney who has served as a political appointee in Republican administrations as well, notably as chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003.
One more interesting read is this long piece at Politico Magazine by Luke Harding: Why Carter Page Was Worth Watching. There’s plenty of evidence that the former Trump campaign adviser, for all his quirks, was on suspiciously good terms with Russia.
The article is an excerpt from Harding’s book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.
What stories are you following today?