Sunday Reads: Earth Day

Lots of cartoons today…from cagle.com…

This is an open thread…


Lazy Caturday Reads

Photograph from Walter Chandoha: The Cat Photographer (Aperture, 2015)

Good Morning!!

The photographs in today’s post are by famous cat photographer Walter Chandoha.

Lately the media has been following the trial of Derek Chauvin in Minnesota, and understandably they have called attention other cases of Black men being killed by cops. Yesterday a man was shot and killed by police in Portland, Oregon. 

The Oregonian: Portland police fatally shoot man in Lents Park.

Portland police responding to a call of a man with a gun Friday morning in Lents Park fatally shot the man after he drew what appeared to be a firearm, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation.

The man died at the scene.

Investigators recovered what appeared to be a replica firearm with an orange tip on it, the sources said. A witness videotaped the shooting and provided the footage to police.

Police had received multiple calls about the man in the park with a gun shortly after 9:30 a.m.

Two officers who confronted the man fired less-lethal, 40-millimeter munitions at him, and an East Precinct officer shot him with a firearm, Acting Chief Chris Davis said.

Witnesses said they heard two gunshots.

Emergency medics tried to revive the man, but he was pronounced dead beside a fence by the park’s ball field off Southeast 92nd Avenue.

Police said the officer who fired the fatal shot is an 8-year veteran of the department. The bureau did not release the officer’s name.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered at the scene shortly after the shooting, screaming at officers from the park’s perimeter.

The gun wasn’t even real. The story says that the Oregonian usually doesn’t “typically does not identify a person’s race unless it is relevant.” In this case it was relevant, because the victim of the shooting was a white man.

How often do cops kill white people? According to a piece at Substack by Columbia University Professor John McWhorter, who is Black, it happens a lot: The Victorians had to Accept Darwin. We Need to Accept that Cops Kill White People as Easily as They Kill Black People.

The death of Daunte Wright in Minneapolis necessitates a new mental habit among us enlightened American souls.

We embrace assorted cognitive exercises as people with access to higher wisdom, such as understanding that a disadvantaged background can make it harder to excel, or that subtle bias can infect our thinking and actions.

walter-chandoha-cat-photography-inspiration-16Okay, but we need another one.

Whenever the national media reports on a black person killed by cops, we must ask ourselves “Would a white cop not have done that if the person were white?”

Because: we are taught that white (and even non-white) cops ice black people (usually men) out of racism. It’s possibly subconscious, but in the heat of the moment, they revert animalistically to their white supremacist assumption of black animality and pull that trigger.

This is why so many can only bristle at the idea that George Floyd did not die because he was black.

It’s why now, when the cop who killed Daunte Wright not only says she mistook her gun for a taser, and is even recorded as having done so, legions of people still insist on parsing it as evidence of “racism.” The idea is, I suppose, that she wouldn’t have made that mistake, would have been more prudent, if Daunte Wright was instead a white guy named Donald White.

The article is worth a read. McWhorter argues that poor people of any race are more likely to be killed by cops and because more Black people live in poverty, they are more likely to interact with the police and more likely to become their victims. I think he’s saying that the problem is not just racism, but economics–and policing itself.

Black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by cops, and exactly 2.5 times more likely to be poor, and data shows that poverty makes you more likely to encounter the cops, as even intuition confirms. This is why somewhat more black people are killed by cops than what our proportion in the population would predict.

Photograph from Walter Chandoha: The Cat Photographer (Aperture, 2015)

Accounts of this issue that pretend people like me have not presented figures like this – i.e. most mainstream media discussions — are out of court, even if their authors feel it’s their duty to pull people’s eyes away from “irreligious” ideas. Ignore the numbers and, even if you are writing about descendants of African slaves, you are simply plain wrong.

Reflect also: most people who take to the streets about cases like Daunte Wright are not thinking about the fact that black people are killed by cops 2.5 times more than their representation in the population would predict. They are protesting because all they see in the news is the black people killed, and have no way of imagining that whites are regularly killed in the same way and in much greater numbers.

 

Once more. Every time the media broadcasts the murder by cop of a black person, ask yourself if it’s really true that a cop wouldn’t have done it to a white person – and then go to, for example, the Washington Post database and see cops doing just that.

And upon that, we will settle upon an honest national conversation about the cops as murdering people in race-neutral fashion. Or at least we should.

Food for thought.

There’s quite a bit of news today about Trump loyalists. It even appears that some of them may finally get their comeuppance.

NBC News: Justice Department sues Trump ally Roger Stone, alleging millions in unpaid taxes.

The Justice Department on Friday sued Roger Stone, a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, accusing Stone and his wifeNydia, of owing nearly $2 million in unpaid federal income taxes and fees.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says the couple underpaid their income taxes by $1,590,361 from 2007 to 2011. It further says Stone, 68, did not pay his full tax bill in 2018, coming up $407,036 short. The couple, the suit alleges, used a commercial entity to “shield their personal income from enforced collection and fund a lavish lifestyle despite owing nearly $2 million in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties.” [….]

Stone was on his way to federal prison in July 2020 when then-president Trump commuted his sentence. Stone was sentenced earlier that year to serve 40 months in prison for lying to Congress about his efforts to connect with WikiLeaks in hopes of digging up dirt on Trump’s 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton. The lead prosecutor in the case said Stone had lied because the “truth looked bad for Donald Trump.” Stone was convicted of all seven counts against him….

Walter-Chandoha-cats8The Stones deposited more than $1 million in accounts belonging to a commercial entity, Drake Ventures, instead of personal accounts, thereby frustrating collection efforts, the government said in the filing.

From those accounts, the pair covered a down payment on a Fort Lauderdale condominium, paid for personal expenses and covered some of their tax liabilities, the lawsuit alleges, calling the entity an “alter ego” of the Stones.

Additionally, the filing wants to thwart the Stones’ transfer of their $525,000 Florida condominium to an entity known as the Bertran Family Revocable Trust, which the government says is controlled by Nydia Stone and has as beneficiaries their children, Adria Stone and Scott Stone.

A tax lien was being sought against the property, it said. The suit also seeks a judgment for $1,590,361.89.

The government also said the Stones at one point entered into an agreement to cover taxes owed through monthly installments of nearly $20,000, but stopped paying. Additionally, the filing alleges that in 2018, Stone filed his federal income tax return as “a married individual filing separately from his spouse” and owes an additional $407,036.84 for that year alone.

Politico: Pompeos violated rules on use of State Department resources, IG finds.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal ethics rules governing the use of taxpayer-funded resources when he and his wife, Susan, asked State Department employees to carry out tasks for their personal benefit more than 100 times, a government watchdog has determined.

POLITICO obtained a copy of the report on the Pompeos, which was put together by the State Department’s inspector general’s office….

By digging through emails and other documents and interviewing staff members, investigators uncovered scores of instances in which Mike or Susan Pompeo asked State Department staffers to handle tasks of a personal nature, from booking salon appointments and private dinner reservations to picking up their dog and arranging tours for the Pompeos’ political allies. Employees told investigators that they viewed the requests from Susan Pompeo, who was not on the federal payroll, as being backed by the secretary….

Mike Pompeo, in an interview with investigators, insisted that the requests were often small and the types of things friends do for friends. His lawyer, William Burck, slammed a draft version of the report he received as a politically biased “compilation of picayune complaints cherry-picked by the drafters.”

Cat-Photog-2The inspector general’s office, however, defended the investigation, noting that many of the rules governing such interactions are clear, do not make exceptions for small tasks, and that the Pompeos’ requests ultimately added up to use a significant amount of the time of employees paid by taxpayers….

Susan Pompeo, for instance, asked staff members to buy a T-shirt for a friend; arrange for flowers to be sent to friends recovering from sickness; and help her book hair salon appointments when she was in New York during the U.N. General Assembly and had to meet with foreign dignitaries. One year, a senior adviser to the secretary and a senior Foreign Service officer came in on a weekend “to envelope, address, and mail personal Christmas cards for the Pompeos,” the report states.

State Department staff members also found themselves given more intense assignments, such as planning events, including for groups with which the Pompeos were affiliated but in a non-governmental capacity.

The apparently personal Pompeo tasks required time either when they were on-duty or off-duty, the report states. The Pompeos did not separately compensate the staffers for the non-State Department-related work, the report states.

Of course all this personal work was paid for with taxpayer money.

David Ignatius has an interesting opinion piece in The Washington Post on Kash Patel, whom Trump installed in the Defense Department late in his administration. Opinion: How Kash Patel rose from obscure Hill staffer to key operative in Trump’s battle with the intelligence community.

In the Trump administration’s four-year battle with the intelligence community, a recurring character was a brash lawyer named Kashyap P. “Kash” Patel. He appeared so frequently, in so many incarnations, that he was almost a “Zelig” figure in President Donald Trump’s confrontation against what he imagined as the “deep state.”

Patel repeatedly pressed intelligence agencies to release secrets that, in his view, showed that the president was being persecuted unfairly by critics. Ironically, he is now facing Justice Department investigation for possible improper disclosure of classified information, according to two knowledgeable sources who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe. The sources said the investigation resulted from a complaint made this year by an intelligence agency, but wouldn’t provide additional details….

http___com.ft.imagepublish.prod.s3.amazonawsWhile other Trump staffers, most prominently adviser Stephen Miller, became near-household names, Patel, now 41, flew largely beneath the radar during the Trump administration. In the span of four years, he rose from an obscure Hill staffer to become one of the most powerful players in the national security apparatus. The saga of his battles with the intelligence bureaucracy shows how the last administration empowered its lieutenants to challenge what it saw as the deep state.

At the start of the Trump administration, Patel was senior counsel for Rep. Devin Nunes when the California Republican chaired the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 and 2018 and emerged as a leading critic of the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into the Trump campaign’s alleged links to Russia. Patel then joined Trump’s National Security Council staff as senior director for counterterrorism. In 2020, he was a senior adviser to acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell and his successor, John Ratcliffe, helping lead their efforts to remove senior career intelligence officers.

Patel’s most prominent role was his final job, as chief of staff for acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller in the administration’s last two months. In that position, according to sources close to events, he challenged the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, and very nearly became acting director of the CIA himself.

As with so many other still-mysterious aspects of the Trump presidency, there’s a riddle at the center of Patel’s many activities. Beyond the basic goal of advancing Trump’s personal agenda, was there a larger mission? Was there a systematic plan, for example, to gain control of the nation’s intelligence and military command centers as part of Trump’s effort to retain the presidency, despite his loss in the November 2020 election? Or was this a more capricious campaign driven by Trump’s personal pique and score-settling without a clear strategy?

At least he’s out of government now, thank goodness. Read all about Patel at the WaPo link. 

I’ll end there. What stories have you been following? As always, this is an open thread.


Friday Reads: Yet Again! It was Collusion!

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I’m feeling old!  I was doing my lecture on Options Trading and Strategies when I learned my young, most promising, bright student had never heard of a ticker tape machine.  This young man trades continually so that kind’ve blew me away.  He’d never heard of tickertape parades either. So, I had to show him the old ticker tape machines invented by Edison for Western Union that I thought were at the heart of every discussion of Black Friday, 1929 and then through a few ticker tape parades for a side discussion. We used digital and internet Bloomberg Displays during my first work years.  You know, those green and black multipixel screens plugged into a phone line.

I had to say, yes, that when my Uncle charted a stock back in the day he had to go through all the tape and find each tick or open and close.   He did it all by hand on these huge sheets of paper on either a ping pong table or a pool table.  They were all over the walls of his basement rec room too.  I actually could search for that with a command on the Bloomberg terminal.  Now, you just go to Yahoo Finance and can pull whatever off with a few selected search parameters and enter.  Plus, you don’t have to pay an exorbitant amount of money for access and the equipment.  My Uncle Jock actually had a seat on the NYSE by his lonesome to get that access.  My mother’s sister obviously married well.

Kazimir Malevich TWO PEASANT WOMEN, 1928–1930

I also am old enough to remember when no US candidate for President colluded with the Russians. Candidates generally tried to look as tough on the USSR or Russia as possible.  But then, we got the previous guy and it was so obvious it was with Russian help. Now we got the receipts.

This is from the NYT: “Biden Administration Says Russian Intelligence Obtained Trump Campaign Data. A Treasury Department document shed more light on links between the campaign and Russian spies.”

The Biden administration revealed on Thursday that a business associate of Trump campaign officials in 2016 provided campaign polling data to Russian intelligence services, the strongest evidence to date that Russian spies had penetrated the inner workings of the Trump campaign.

The revelation, made public in a Treasury Department document announcing new sanctions against Russia, established for the first time that private meetings and communications between the campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and their business associate were a direct pipeline from the campaign to Russian spies at a time when the Kremlin was engaged in a covert effort to sabotage the 2016 presidential election.

Previous government investigations have identified the Trump aides’ associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, as a Russian intelligence operative, and Mr. Manafort’s decision to provide him with internal polling data was one of the mysteries that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, sought to unravel during his two-year investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

“During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy,” the Treasury Department said in a news release. “Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

You can watch Rachel Maddow explain it all here:

Can we just agree that an entire section of the American populace appears to be captured by a huge right wing propaganda machine that includes all kinds of malcontents and evil-doers?  Now, can we find some strategy to undo this please?  We hear nothing about this at the propaganda site “The Federalist” but there’s a huge screaming headline about the same study that showed that there was not enough hard evidence to show Russians pais bounties to the Taliban even though there was ample evidence they were helping them in their fight against the US in Afghanistan.

What do these people hate so much about our democracy that they want to tank it?  And no, I’m not talking about the Russians.  We know why on that account.  My only guess is that a lot of wipopo are afraid of POC that they will do anything to stop from the potential of being treated like we treat minorities and women in this country historically.

Biden did drop a lot of sanctions on Russia yesterday but  Axios explains why: “Biden’s Russian sanctions likely to achieve little.”

Despite bold talk from top administration officials, there’s little reason to think the Russia sanctions package President Biden announced Thursday will do anything to alter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior or calculus.

Why it matters: While it’s true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia’s sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the action, telling reporters: “We can’t predict what the impact will be, but we still believe that when there’s unacceptable behavior, we should put consequences in place.”

Between the lines: Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had known and dealt with Putin for years while running Exxon Mobil, used to tell colleagues sanctions did little if anything to deter the Russian leader.

  • It’s hard to argue against Tillerson’s case.
  • The U.S. and its international allies have imposed some form of sanctions against Russia every year since 2014, when Putin’s “little green men” first appeared in Ukraine.
  • Since then, Russia has continued to occupy Crimea and eastern Ukraine; propped up the brutal Assad regime in Syria; hacked U.S. and other Western elections; crushed protests at home; and attempted to assassinate dissidents on foreign soil, among other things.

Yes, but: Where Thursday’s sanctions do break new ground is in the cyber realm.

  • The U.S. government formally accused Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service of the SolarWinds hack and identified its collaborators in painstaking detail, as German security expert Thomas Rid notes in an illuminating Twitter thread.
  • And a ban on U.S. banks directly buying Russian government bonds could create a “broader chilling effect” that will weaken the ruble and have negative implications for inflation and economic growth, a senior administration official told reporters.
  • But the ability for investors to continue buying Russian bonds on the secondary market diminishes the overall effect of the restrictions — reflecting Biden’s desire to send a clear message to the Russians without taking it too far.

Wassily Kandinsky, Painting with white lines, 1913.

Frank Thorp V–NBC News–has an incredible piece up about “After the Riot. It’s been 100 days since the attack on the Capitol, and those who were inside still struggle with their memories.”  I can only imagine.  I was traumatized enough watching it on TV from my bedroom.  These are some stories from people who lived it.

When a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6,  the world watched as the rioters entered the building, breaking windows and pushing through barriers. But it was more than just physical space that was violated. The seat of government was occupied by hundreds of lawmakers and their aides, building staff members, and journalists.

Some inside tried to flee. Some tried to barricade themselves in offices. Others inside swung into action. Journalists mobilized to document the attack in real time. The Capitol Police tried to protect the people inside.

The mob tried to stop the certification of the election of Joe Biden because they believed the false claims of then-President Donald Trump that rampant fraud had stolen victory from him. Many who experienced that fury say they continue to process the trauma of the day. And all want the events to be remembered as a lesson for Americans, and the world.

“I hope people will remember, with some solemnity, the fragility of democracy,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. “It’s a hard-won gift we’ve been given and it can slip away real quickly. So I hope people remember the precariousness of it all.”

Valentin Serov, Portrait of Maria Zetlin, 1910

The founding member of The Oath Keepers is about to plea guilty for his role (via WAPO)

A founding member of the Oath Keepers arrested in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate against others in the case — the first defendant to potentially flip in the sprawling domestic terrorism investigation that has led to charges against more than 400 people.

The scheduled plea comes exactly 100 days after Jon Ryan Schaffer and hundreds of other supporters of former president Donald Trump allegedly stormed the Capitol hoping to prevent Joe Biden from being confirmed as the next president. Prosecutors hope Schaffer’s plea spurs others to provide additional evidence in hopes of avoiding long prison sentences.

The plea marks a new stage in the historic investigation, as prosecutors seek to work up the chain of defendants to gather evidence and better understand the full scope of any planning and organizing of the violence — particularly among groups like the far-right Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. Dozens of members from both groups appeared to act in concert to storm the building, prosecutors have alleged.

We still feel like we’re in a becoming state and that we’re back on the right path. However, these last 5 or so years are likely to scar many of us for life. The unfolding numbers of young black men shot by police officers is a daily lesson.  A 13 Chicago boy follows orders and is still shot dead.  We just woke up to another mess shooting.  This time it was in Indianapolis at a Fed Ex facility.  There are 8 fatalities .  Unlike the previous guy, our President is going to make a statement shortly and has already reached out to Fed Ex.

Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday there’s “no question” that gun violence must be stopped.

“Yet again we have families in our country who are grieving because of the loss of their family members” to gun violence, Harris said. “There is no question that this violence must end and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”

Natalia Goncharova, Espagnole, circa 1916.

“Yet again” sums ups so much of this.   Yet again, the Republicans want to downsize spending that would actually help the US economy, US businesses, and US families.  Again, Republican Senators attack terrifically qualified women of color in their hearings on their way to high government posts.   Yet again, the Republicans are looking to another demagogue for help with white hegemony. This time it is failed Florida Governor and mass Covid-19 Murderer Ron DeSantisPolitico‘s article sent shivers down my spine.  “‘A nicer version of Trump’: GOP donors flock to DeSantis. The Florida governor has cultivated relationships with many of the party’s biggest givers, who admire his opposition to strict Covid mitigation policies.  One more sociopath spreading hatred and lies across the country.  A nicer version of a sociopath is still a sociopath.

Donor interest in the governor extends far beyond Florida. Andy Sabin, a New York-based precious metal company executive, said he expects to host a pair of fundraisers later this year bolstering the governor’s reelection effort. Dallas businessperson Doug Deason anticipates holding a pre-summer event. Don Tapia, who served as ambassador to Jamaica during the Trump administration, is planning on hosting a fundraiser at his Arizona home.

Like others, Tapia praised DeSantis for his handling of the pandemic and what he described as the governor’s independent style.

DeSantis “has a major political future in the Republican Party,” said Tapia, a retired electrical company executive who’s given extensively to GOP causes for several decades. Tapia wouldn’t say DeSantis was his first choice among potential 2024 candidates but called him a “strong candidate I would truly look at.”

The enthusiasm was on full display during DeSantis’ appearance at last weekend’s Republican National Committee donor gala in Palm Beach, Fla., where he drew wild applause for declaring the party needed figures who withstood public pressure and weren’t afraid to confront what he called the “elite, New York corporate media.”

The governor was mobbed over the course of the weekend. Joanne Zervos, a New York City donor who spoke with DeSantis during the conference, said many contributors saw him as “a nicer version of Trump,” someone who had embraced the former president’s policies but lacked his rough edges. Zervos said she was drawn to the governor because of his approach to dealing with the coronavirus.

Untitled, Lyubov Sergeyevna Popova circa 1915

Again, what on earth reality are they dealing with?  DeSantis has basically created a state of plague rats ready to travel around the country making every one sick?  My two favorite Republican idiots these week are the dummies who questioned Kristen Clarke about a satirical piece she wrote at Harvard when she was 19 literally taking it literally. 

Republicans also criticized Clarke over an editorial she wrote as a student at Harvard University in 1994 that sought to rebut claims made in “The Bell Curve” that tied intelligence to race. In the piece, Clarke recited research by some Black scholars that suggested Blacks are intellectually superior, a point she reiterated Wednesday was intended to be “satirical.”

Yet again, John Cornyn couldn’t stop embarrassing himself.  (Via the Mary Sue)

Kristen Clarke is President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and if confirmed, she would be the first Black woman or woman of color to lead the division since its creation more than 50 years ago. So naturally, some Republicans have big problems with her.

During Wednesday’s confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Texas’ John Cornyn wanted to talk with Clarke about an article she wrote when she was a student at Harvard. Cornyn was very concerned because in this piece, Clarke listed a number of ways in which Black people are genetically superior to whites. Concerning, no??

No, it’s not. Because the piece, as Clarke explained patiently to him, was satire.

Yet again,  Auntie Maxine had to draw the gavel down on ranting Gym Jordan during a hearing with Dr. Fauci.  Even Dr. Fauci– unleashed–told him to stop ranting in a Congressional hearing.  CNN reports: “Maxine Waters tells Jim Jordan to ‘shut your mouth’ after GOP congressman feuds with Fauci.” 

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan and the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci got into a heated exchange Thursday over the country’s Covid-19 mitigation measures, which ended with Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters telling Jordan to “shut your mouth.”

During a House subcommittee hearing about federal government’s response to the pandemic, Jordan, an Ohio conservative, asked Fauci when the nation can begin relaxing physical distancing measures and mask-wearing — posing it as a question as to when Americans will regain their freedom and liberties

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, started to respond that the time will be when the United States has more Americans vaccinated and has a level of coronavirus infection that is low enough that it’s “no longer a threat.”

“We had 15 days of ‘slow the spread’ turn into one year of lost liberty,” Jordan said. “What metrics, what measures, what has to happen before Americans get more freedoms back?”

“You’re indicating liberty and freedom. I look at it as a public health measure to prevent people from dying and going to the hospital,” Fauci countered. “This will end, for sure, when we get the level of infection very low. It is now at such a high level, there is a threat again of major surges.”

You can watch the calm Dr Fauci take on crazy ass Gym who is more concerned about getting people to fill up churches than having people fill up morgues and IC wards.

So that’s enough for me! For sure!!

Yet again, What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads

Evariste Carpentier

By Evariste Carpenpier

Good Morning!!

Wow! There sure is a lot of news out there today. I don’t know how much I can cover in a post, but I’ll do my best. 

1. After 20 long years, President Biden is finally going to pull troops out of Afghanistan, against the wishes of military leadership.

Politico: How Biden’s team overrode the brass on Afghanistan.

The military spent more than a decade urging three different American presidents to stay in Afghanistan. With President Joe Biden’s decision this week to withdraw all U.S. forces by Sept. 11, they finally lost the battle.

“We cannot continue this cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result,” Biden said Wednesday in a speech announcing the decision. “I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”

As Biden weighed a full exit from the country this spring, top military leaders advocated for keeping a small U.S. presence on the ground made up primarily of special operations forces and paramilitary advisers, arguing that a force of a few thousand troops was needed to keep the Taliban in check and prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists, according to nine former and current U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.

Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the four-star commanders of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, Central Command and Special Operations Command, were emphatic proponents of this strategy, the current and former officials said, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive planning.

But in the end, Biden and his top national security deputies did what no previous president has done successfully — they overrode the brass.

More from Susan Glasser at The The New Yorker: Biden Finally Got to Say No to the Generals.

On Wednesday, Joe Biden announced the close of the two-decade-long American war in Afghanistan, giving the U.S. military a deadline of the upcoming twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to withdraw all remaining troops. “It’s time to end the Forever War,” he said, in a speech that was both deeply personal and politically emphatic. Speaking from the White House Treaty Room, where George W. Bush had declared the start of the fight, to root out Al Qaeda and its Taliban enablers, Biden declared that there would be no more extensions of the American military presence, rebuffing pleas of the teetering, pro-Western Afghan government and his own generals. It’s finally, really, for-better-or-worse over. I guess this is how eras end: not with a culminating battle or some movie-thriller crescendo but with a Tuesday-morning leak to the Washington Post and, a day later, a fifteen-minute Presidential speech confirming the historic decision.

Karin Jureck, Behind the News

Karin Jureck, Behind the News

Biden pulled the plug in an unsentimental, sober address, with the only passionate notes reserved for the U.S. military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the two decades, including his late son Beau. “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking,” he said. The President seemed genuinely sick and tired of the endless pleas for just a little more time. “So when will it be the right moment to leave?” he said, pointedly summarizing the arguments that he had dismissed. “One more year? Two more years? Ten more years?” he asked.

On Wednesday, he made the case that the U.S. had long since accomplished its original objectives of neutralizing the Al Qaeda threat from Afghan territory and bringing justice to the 9/11 perpetrator Osama bin Laden. But no amount of clear-eyed argument from Biden could erase the embarrassing historical fact that Afghanistan has now banished another superpower. America did not lose the war—not exactly—but it did not win, either. And, as Biden pointed out, it could never, in recent years, provide a plausible explanation of what achieving its goals would look like.

Read more at the link.

See also at ABC News: Blinken visits Afghanistan after Biden’s withdrawal decision to press for diplomacy. And at The Daily Beast: The Promise and the Tragedy of Biden’s Afghanistan Speech, by Spencer Ackerman

2. After four years of Trump sucking up to Vladimir Putin, President Biden has laid down the law to Russia.

The New York Times: Biden Administration to Impose Tough Sanctions on Russia.

The Biden administration is set to announce on Thursday a string of long-awaited measures against Russia, including far-reaching financial sanctions, for the hacking of government and private networks and a range of other activity, according to people who have been briefed on the moves.

The sanctions will be among what President Biden’s aides say are “seen and unseen” steps in response to the hacking, known as SolarWinds; to the C.I.A.’s assessment that Russia offered to pay bounties to militants in Afghanistan to kill American troops; and to Russia’s yearslong effort to interfere in United States elections, according to American officials and others who have been briefed on the actions.

The moves will include the expulsion of a limited number of diplomats, much like the Obama administration did in response to the Russian efforts to influence the election five years ago. But it is unclear whether this set of actions will prove sufficient to deter Russia from further hacking, influence operations or efforts to threaten European countries.

The sanctions are meant to cut deeper than previous efforts to punish Russia for interfering in elections, targeting the country’s sovereign debt, according to people briefed on the matter. Administration officials were determined to draft a response that would impose real costs on Moscow, as many previous rounds of sanctions have been shrugged off.

Daniel R. Celantano, Reading the news

Daniel R. Celantano, Reading the News

“It will not simply be sanctions,” Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, said in February. He has frequently said it will include “a mix of tools seen and unseen,” though there have been disagreements in the administration about how many of the steps to make public.

Restrictions on sovereign debt affect a nation’s ability to raise dollar-denominated bonds, with lenders fearful of being cut off from American financial markets. The United States has used similar techniques against Iran, among others.

Russian bond prices have fluctuated in recent weeks in anticipation of possible sanctions. Russia has relatively little debt, making it potentially less vulnerable to the tactic. And rising oil prices will benefit the country’s economy.

Nevertheless, any broad sanctions on Russia’s financial sector would amount to a significant escalation in the costs that the United States has been willing to impose on Moscow. And part of the administration’s concern has been whether Russian entities could retaliate by exploiting “back doors” implanted in American systems.

See also The Washington Post: Biden administration imposes significant economic sanctions on Russia over cyberspying, efforts to influence presidential election.

3. Democrats are seriously considering expanding the Supreme Court.

NBC News: Democrats to introduce bill to expand Supreme Court from 9 to 13 justices.

Congressional Democrats will introduce legislation Thursday to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 justices, joining progressive activists pushing to transform the court.

The move intensifies a high-stakes ideological fight over the future of the court after President Donald Trump and Republicans appointed three conservative justices in four years, including one who was confirmed days before the 2020 election.

The Democratic bill is led by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. It is co-sponsored by Reps. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Mondaire Jones of New York.

The Supreme Court can be expanded by an act of Congress, but the legislation is highly unlikely to become law in the near future given Democrats’ slim majorities, which include scores of lawmakers who are not on board with the idea. President Joe Biden has said he is “not a fan” of packing the court.

But it represents an undercurrent of progressive fury at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for denying a vote in 2016 to President Barack Obama’s pick to fill a vacancy, citing the approaching election, before confirming Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett the week before the election last year.

The anger has taken hold within the Democratic Party, and the new push indicates that it has not dissipated in an era when the party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

The lawmakers, who intend to announce the introduction of the bill outside the Supreme Court building, will be joined by progressive activists Aaron Belkin, who leads Take Back the Court; Chris Kang, a co-founder and chief counsel of Demand Justice; and Meagan Hatcher-Mays of Indivisible, according to an advisory notice. All three groups advocate adding justices.

Read more at Vox: A new bill would add 4 seats to the Supreme Court, by Ian Millhauser

4. In Minnesota, another officer is charged in the senseless killing of a Black man.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune:  Officer charged with second-degree manslaughter in killing of Daunte Wright.

Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly A. Potter was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright, joining just a handful of officers who have faced charges after shooting someone they said they intended to shock with a Taser.

Haynes King, Recent News

Haynes King, Recent News

Potter, a 26-year veteran of the department who resigned Tuesday, was arrested and booked into the Hennepin County jail shortly after noon. Bodycam footage from the shooting Sunday shows her shouting “Taser!” three times before killing Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, with a single shot from her Glock 9-millimeter handgun. Police officials blamed the death on human error.

Protests over Wright’s killing have focused on how Potter, who is white, carried out a sequence of events that led to the death of a Black motorist who had been stopped for a minor traffic violation. Wright cooperated with Potter and another police officer at first, but a criminal complaint filed Wednesday showed how the encounter turned violent after one of the officers told Wright he was being arrested on a warrant.

Potter fired her gun 12 seconds after Wright pulled himself free from the officers.

Potter was released from jail Wednesday evening after posting $100,000 bond. Her attorney, Earl Gray, was unavailable for comment.

5. The Matt Gaetz scandal grows worse every passing day.

The Daily Beast: Matt Gaetz’s Wingman Paid Dozens of Young Women—and a 17-Year-Old.

As new details emerge about Rep. Matt Gaetz’s role in an alleged sex ring, The Daily Beast has obtained several documents showing that the suspected ringleader of the group, Joel Greenberg, made more than 150 Venmo payments to dozens of young women, and to a girl who was 17 at the time.

The payment from Greenberg, an accused sex trafficker, to the 17-year-old took place in June 2017. It was for $300 and, according to the memo field, was for “Food.”

Greenberg’s relationship with Gaetz, and the money Greenberg paid to women, is a focal point for the Justice Department investigation into Gaetz. And the new documents obtained by The Daily Beast—containing years of online financial transactions—establish a clear pattern: Greenberg paid multiple young women (and at least one girl) hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars on Venmo in one transaction after another.

Nearly a year after Greenberg’s June 2017 payment, Gaetz Venmo’d Greenberg to “Hit up ___,” using a nickname for the teen. She was 18 years old by then, and as The Daily Beast reported, Greenberg described the payment as being for “School.”

It was one of at least 16 Venmo payments to 12 different women listed as being for “School.” Typically, the payments were for around $500, but also went higher than $1,000 in the transactions obtained by The Daily Beast.

Gaetz made only one previously unreported transaction in the newly obtained documents: a payment from the Florida congressman to the former Seminole County tax commissioner for $300 on November 1, 2018, with the love hotel emoji (“🏩”) in the memo field. The Daily Beast was unable to tie that transaction directly to any woman, but confirmed that Greenberg booked one night for that date at The Alfond Inn, a luxury hotel in Winter Park, Florida.

Click the Daily Beast link to read the rest.

6. House hearing on law enforcement and the Capitol insurrection.

NPR: Ahead Of Hearing, Capitol Police Says It Needs Help To Address Insurrection Failures.

Members of Congress on Thursday will hear for the first time public testimony from the U.S. Capitol Police inspector general that will detail the most extensive findings yet in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Charles Sims, Reading the news

Charles Sims, Reading the News

The inspector general, Michael Bolton, will tell a congressional committee in prepared remarks that the agency must pivot from its reactionary role as a police department to one that works in a protection posture to deal with rising threats to the Capitol.

U.S. Capitol Police responded Wednesday to reports of Bolton’s findings by acknowledging that “much additional work needs to be done,” but that it will need “significant resources” from Congress to implement the new changes.

“January 6 was a pivotal moment in USCP, U.S. and world history that demonstrated the need for major changes to the way USCP operates,” the agency said in a statement.

Lawmakers will hear more about those major changes needed in a hearing before the House Administration Committee that will feature Bolton and his findings after submitting to them a 104-page report detailing a litany of concerns.

The panel’s chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, called for the testimony after receiving a briefing from Bolton last month. Lofgren, D-Calif., has said the report provides “detailed and disturbing findings and important recommendations.”

Bolton’s report — which was labeled law enforcement sensitive and was obtained by NPR but has not been made public in its entirety — said Capitol Police mishandled intelligence gathering ahead of the attack. Bolton said some of the agency’s own intelligence offered a “more alarming” warning that Congress itself was a target.

 Some scary insurrection stories:

The Washington Post: Armed ‘quick reaction force’ was waiting for order to storm Capitol, Justice Dept. says.

As the Capitol was overrun on Jan. 6, armed supporters of President Donald Trump were waiting across the Potomac in Virginia for orders to bring guns into the fray, a prosecutor said Wednesday in federal court.

Reading the Newspaper, Georgio Gosti

Reading the Newspaper, Georgio Gosti

The Justice Department has repeatedly highlighted comments from some alleged riot participants who discussed being part of a “quick reaction force” with stashes of weapons. Defendants have dismissed those conversations as bluster. But in a detention hearing for Kenneth Harrelson, accused of conspiring with other members of the Oath Keepers militia group to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Nestler said the government has evidence indicating otherwise.\“This is not pure conjecture,” Nestler said. In a court filing this week, he noted, prosecutors obtained cellphone and video evidence from the day before the riot showing that Harrelson asked someone about the quick reaction force. He then went to a Comfort Inn in the Ballston area of Arlington for about an hour before driving into D.C., prosecutors said. The day after the riot, surveillance video from the hotel shows him moving “what appears to be at least one rifle case down a hallway and towards the elevator,” according to the court records….

“We believe that at least one quick reaction force location was here and that Mr. Harrelson and others had stashed a large amount of weapons there,” Nestler said. “People affiliated with this group were in Ballston, monitoring what was happening at the Capitol and prepared to come into D.C. and ferry these weapons into the ground team that Kenneth Harrelson was running at a moment’s notice, if anyone said the word.”

The Washington Post: 17 requests for backup in 78 minutes.

At 1:13 p.m. on Jan. 6, a D.C. police commander facing a swelling crowd of protesters on the west side of the U.S. Capitol made an urgent call for more officers in riot gear. “Hard gear at the Capitol! Hard gear at the Capitol!” Cmdr. Robert Glover shouted into his radio.

​​​​​Glover and a team of D.C. police officers had rushed to the besieged complex moments earlier at the behest of Capitol Police. By the time they arrived, the Capitol grounds were already being overrun by a mob intent on overturning President Donald Trump’s electoral defeat.

Over the next 78 minutes, Glover requested backup at least 17 times, according to a Washington Post analysis of the events, and the mob on the west side eventually grew to at least 9,400 people, outnumbering officers by more than 58 to one.

The Post reviewed police radio communications, synchronized them with hours of footage and drew on testimony and interviews with police supervisors to understand how failures of preparation and planning played out that day. The examination reveals how police were hampered by an insufficient number of officers and shortages of less-lethal weapons and protective equipment and also provides a glimpse into communications breakdowns within the police response.

Read about it at the WaPo.

That’s a hell of a lot of news. What did I miss?


Wednesday Reads: Hangover

Hello… as I write this on Tuesday night it is my birthday, and I’m a little tipsy on Southern Comfort.

So allow me some leeway on my 51st to share my favorite song when I was a baby. And make this an open thread, because as of right now everything is a bit blurry…and who knows what I will feel like in the morning.

Ta-