Thursday Reads

Paula Modersohn-Becker with Elspeth c1903

Good Afternoon!!

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.

Self Portrait

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?

For example:

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.”

Girl in a red dress with a sunflower

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.”

A boy in front of apple trees, 1901

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.”

NBC News reported in Sept. 2016 that more than 20 states had been targeted by the Russians.

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.

USA Today: George W. Bush: ‘Clear evidence Russians meddled’ in election.

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?

 

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37 Comments on “Thursday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Devin Nunes is another dark personality that Trump has drawn into his web.

    The Hill: Nunes: We’ve ‘grappled’ with approaching Chief Justice Roberts.

    House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has weighed whether it would be possible to bring Chief Justice John Roberts to “testify” before Congress as part of his investigation into political malfeasance at the Department of Justice.

    In an interview with Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday, Nunes said GOP investigators had “grappled” with how to approach the courts about their
    conclusion that the FBI misled a clandestine surveillance court. Roberts appoints the judges to that court.

    “This is something that we have, like I said, we have thought a lot about this. And the answer is we don’t know the correct way to proceed because of the separation of powers issue,” Nunes said when asked if he would welcome a committee appearance by Roberts.

    • bostonboomer says:

      CBS News: House Intel Republicans plan to wall off their aides from Democratic staffers.

      Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee plan to construct a wall – a physical partition – separating Republican and Democratic staff members in the committee’s secure spaces, according to multiple committee sources. It’s expected to happen this spring.

      For now, some Republican committee members deny knowing anything about it, while strongly suggesting the division is the brainchild of the committee’s chairman, Devin Nunes, R-California.

      “I’m not part of that decision,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas. “You’ve got to talk to Devin. I don’t know what they’re trying to do one way or the other.”

      “I swear to God I didn’t know that,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Florida, when asked about the plan. While acknowledging a wall might not be constructive for the committee’s work, he said, “The level of trust and the level of everything down there is – it’s poison. It’s absolute poison down there.”

  2. Pat Johnson says:

    I continue to ask how much longer this madness goes on.

    So many WH staff do not have proper security clearance that in and of itself is enough to raise an alarm.

    Russians keep popping out of the woodwork and this does not seem to trouble the GOP.

    Nothing has been done to secure our voting systems even though it has been acknowledged that we were attacked by Russia and they may have tampered with the voting machines.

    President Lardass is demanding a military parade that will cost millions and is something we cannot afford.

    The list goes on day after miserable day and nothing seems to moving other than deliberate lies to cover Trump’s ass.

    Pelosi stands on the House floor for 8 hours, begging for action to be taken on behalf of the Dreamers whose future is in peril.

    Insanity abounds.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I know. I’ve been having trouble falling asleep again and I wake up every morning afraid to look at the news. It’s been like this most of time since Trump took office.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Newsweek: Trump and Large Russian Delegation Attend National Prayer Breakfast, Organizers Say

    More than 50 people from Russia’s religious and political elite are attending the National Prayer Breakfast along with President Donald Trump on Thursday, according to organizers. The number is three times higher than last year’s quota of Russians to attend the high-profile event.

    The Fellowship Foundation, a religious organization that organizes the National Prayer Breakfast, does not disclose how it compiles its guest list. But several members of Russia’s parliament and a member of the political opposition running for president against Vladimir Putin were reportedly invited to the event. Officials told Russian media that the event provided an opportunity to hold informal meetings and build bridges between different layers of society, according to CNN. Every president since Dwight Eisenhower has attended the annual event….

    Meanwhile, Trump’s staunchest religious supporters, white evangelical Christians, have also developed long-standing ties to Russia through international pro-life and anti-LGTB conferences and organizations. The World Congress of Families, an anti-LGTB rights group, regularly brings together members of Russia’s Christian right with evangelical Christians.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    New at the WaPo: John Kelly’s credibility is at risk after defending aide accused of domestic violence

    White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly first found his credibility being challenged in October when he leveraged his standing as a retired four-star Marine Corps general who had lost a son on the battlefield to try to contain a political crisis over President Trump’s calls to the families of fallen soldiers.

    His reputation took another hit when he later refused to apologize for falsely attacking a Democratic congresswoman. And another when he called Confederate general Robert E. Lee “honorable” and blamed the Civil War on a lack of compromise. And yet another when early this week he said some immigrants known as “dreamers” were “too lazy to get off their asses.”

    Then came the Rob Porter saga.

    • Enheduanna says:

      That is beyond tragic. I wonder why he started the killing. Sounds like he has developmental issues of some kind?

    • Fannie says:

      Let him live in hell for the rest of his life.

    • palhart says:

      dak, do you have young pet dogs that would growl at and chase/bite an intruder? I know you’ve adopted that darling grey and white cat. My cat would just loudly meow at a stranger or stroll away.

  5. dakinikat says:

    I keep wondering about the “handful” of states that were breeched. I’d like to know who, what and how. Plus, how Bad.

    • Enheduanna says:

      Why would they hack voter registration files to just “look”? To target social media accounts?

      I think they did more than just look. Is there any information on the numbers of voters turned away at the polls?

      • NW Luna says:

        I know Ari Berman and some others have written and tweeted about that. I didn’t save direct links. Go to Berman’s Twitter page and search.

    • NW Luna says:

      I think it’s bad. A “handful” was all that was needed to tip the EC to Trump.

  6. Sweet Sue says:

    Of course white evangelicals are silent about Porter. These cult members believe that women (like children) serve at the pleasure of the patriarch and should be slapped around when they get out of line.

  7. dakinikat says:

    Ouch

  8. bostonboomer says:

    More on the Oleg Derapaska/Manifort story from the Telegraph:

    Oligarch met with top Russian official after Trump aide ‘offered briefings’

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/08/oligarch-met-top-russian-official-trump-aide-offered-briefings/

  9. bostonboomer says:

    The Guardian: Richard Pryor and Marlon Brando were lovers, Pryor’s widow confirms

    https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/08/richard-pryor-and-marlon-brando-were-lovers-pryors-widow-confirms

  10. RonStill4Hills says:

    Trumpkin wishes Porter well. Says nothing about the women he beat up.

    Stunning.