Lazy Caturday Reads

Happy Caturday!!

Elena Salnikova Russian Painter

By Elena Salnikova

Today is the last day of 2022. Another year has gone by without Trump being held criminally accountable. His crimes are being revealed on a daily basis though; perhaps he will pay a price in 2023? We can only hope.

Yesterday, Dakinikat wrote about the public release of Trump’s tax returns, and it’s not looking good for him from that standpoint. Here’s some more analysis out today:

David Cay Johnston at The Daily Beast: Trump’s Taxes Are the Best Case Yet for Putting Him in Prison.

Johnston makes an impassioned argument for using Trump’s manipulations of the tax system to make important changes.

Among other things, Trump’s tax returns make a strong case for restoring the law that until 1924 made all income tax returns public. Newspapers back then ran long lists showing the income of and taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans.

Knowing that your income, deductions, and tax paid will be publicly available can do far more to encourage honest tax-paying than audits, which are increasingly rare and increasingly superficial.

Not even 500 of the nearly 25,000 households reporting incomes of $10 million or more in 2019 were audited. That’s 2 percent—just 1 in 50. Only 66 audits were completed.

People like Trump who earn money from legal sources can cheat like crazy on their tax returns with almost nothing to fear. That’s because fewer than 600 people at all income levels are convicted of tax fraud in a typical year.

That makes the odds of conviction about 1 in 275,000 taxpayers. But the odds for business owners are much better (which is to say less), because most people convicted of tax crimes are drug dealers, politicians who took bribes, or people who paid bribes.

The IRS, as funded by Congress, spent far more money auditing the working poor than the 24,457 households with incomes of $10 million and up in 2019. But don’t get angry at the IRS. They are just the tax police, enforcing the law as they are instructed by Congress. If Congress tells the IRS to focus on high-income tax cheating, it will….

Specific discussion of Trump’s taxes:

Trump also turned a profit off a portion of the tax system, making $2.8 million profit off the Alternative Minimum Tax, or AMT.

He paid $15.9 million in AMT, while collecting $18.7 million in refunds in 2015 through 2020, as a Congressional staff analysis released last week showed. No one should be able to turn a tax into a profit center, but rich people and big companies do it all the time, as I showed in my book Perfectly Legal.

Since 1987, tens of millions of Americans have paid AMT, mostly married couples with children who are homeowners. Some paid because they spent huge sums on medical expenses to save the life of a family member.

Their AMT, by the way, was used to finance tax rate cuts for the likes of Donald Trump under the George W. Bush 2001 tax law. Think about that. Our Congress taxes the sick to help the rich.

Unlike those American families, Trump gets his AMT refunded.

That’s because of a 1992 law that Trump successfully lobbied Congress to restore after President Ronald Reagan signed a 1986 law denying those juicy AMT refunds to some real estate investors.

This is all Greek to me, but it’s clear that the rich a favored by our tax system. No surprise there.

Elena Kirillova

By Elena Kirillova

Bernie Becker and Benjamin Guggenheim at Politico: Trump taxes show foreign income from more than a dozen countries.

Trump’s returns, which were made public by House Democrats on Friday after a lengthy legal fight, disclosed income from 2015 to 2020 from a wide range of foreign countries, including Canada, Panama, the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom, among others.

While the documents did not provide details on the money flows, Trump owns golf courses in Scotland and Ireland, and his name has adorned luxury hotels from Panama to Canada.

The former president was known for fusing his business interests with America’s highest public office, drawing allegations of using his role to promote his private resorts, direct federal money to his hotels and encourage foreign governments to spend money that would directly benefit the Trump family interests.

His far-flung concerns, foreign and domestic, are nested in more than 400 separate business entities. A 2019 report by the watchdog group OpenSecrets said he had more than $130 million in assets in more than 30 countries.

The six years of tax returns disclosed Friday show that Trump received extensive income from Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom — including gross business income of at least $35.3 million from Canada in 2017, the year he entered office.

That year, Trump also brought in $6.5 million from China, $5.8 million from Indonesia and $5.7 million from India.

By 2020, his last full year in office, Trump reported $8.8 million in income from the U.K. and another $3.9 million in Ireland.

David Goldman, Allison Morrow, and Alecia Wallace at CNN Business: Unanswered questions about Trump’s tax returns.

Here are some of the questions; read the rest at the link.

What was Trump doing with a Chinese bank account?

Trump reported having foreign bank accounts, including a bank account in China between 2015 and 2017, his tax returns show.

The tax returns do not show what the bank account was used for or how much money passed through it or to whom. The New York Times first reported about Trump’s Chinese account in 2020, and Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten told the Times that the account was used to pay taxes on the Trump International Hotels Management’s business push in the country.

Trump did not report the Chinese bank account in personal financial disclosures when he was president, likely because it was listed under his businesses. Yet he may have still been required to report accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

What’s the scope of Trump’s foreign business operations, and who are his partners?

Trump’s companies and business interests span the globe. On his tax return, Trump listed business income, taxes, expenses or other notable financial items from or in Azerbaijan, Panama, Canada, India, Qatar, South Korea, the United Kingdom, China, the Dominican Republic, United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, Grenada, US territory Puerto Rico, Georgia, Israel, Brazil, St. Maarten, Mexico, Indonesia, Ireland, Turkey and St. Vincent.

But the tax returns don’t explain what business ties he had in those countries and with whom he might have been working while he was president.

Why was Trump loaning money to his adult children? And did Trump claim gifts to his children as loans?

In each year of Trump’s presidency, Trump claimed that he had loaned three of his adult children – Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric – undisclosed sums of money on which he collected interest.

snow Cat by Vicky Mount

Snow Cat by Vicky Mount

The tax returns don’t say how much he lent them or why he gave them loans in the first place.

Between 2017 and 2020, Trump claimed he received exactly $18,000 in interest on a loan he gave his daughter Ivanka Trump and $8,715 in interest from his son Donald Trump, Jr.. In 2017 to 2019, Trump said he received exactly $24,000 from his son Eric Trump, and Eric paid him $19,605 in interest in 2020.

The bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation said the loans and the amounts of claimed interest could indicate Trump was disguising gifts to his children. If the interest Trump claims to have charged his children was not at market rate, for example, it could be considered a gift for tax purposes, requiring him to pay a higher tax rate on the money.

More interesting questions at the link.

The New York Times with more evidence of corruption on the Supreme Court: A Charity Tied to the Supreme Court Offers Donors Access to the Justices.

In some years, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. does the honors. In others, it might be Justice Sonia Sotomayor or Justice Clarence Thomas presenting the squared-off hunks of marble affixed with the Supreme Court’s gilded seal.

Hewed from slabs left over from the 1930s construction of the nation’s high court and handed out in its magnificent Great Hall, they are a unique status symbol in a town that craves them. And while the ideological bents of the justices bestowing them might vary, there is one constant: All the recipients have given at least $5,000 to a charity favored by the justices, and, more often than not, the donors have a significant stake in the way the court decides cases.

The charity, the Supreme Court Historical Society, is ostensibly independent of the judicial branch of government, but in reality the two are inextricably intertwined. The charity’s stated mission is straightforward: to preserve the court’s history and educate the public about the court’s importance in American life. But over the years the society has also become a vehicle for those seeking access to nine of the most reclusive and powerful people in the nation. The justices attend the society’s annual black-tie dinner soirees, where they mingle with donors and thank them for their generosity, and serve as M.C.s to more regular society-sponsored lectures or re-enactments of famous cases.

The society has raised more than $23 million over the last two decades. Because of its nonprofit status, it does not have to publicly disclose its donors — and declined when asked to do so. But The New York Times was able to identify the sources behind more than $10.7 million raised since 2003, the first year for which relevant records were available.

At least $6.4 million — or 60 percent — came from corporations, special interest groups, or lawyers and firms that argued cases before the court, according to an analysis of archived historical society newsletters and publicly available records that detail grants given to the society by foundations. Of that, at least $4.7 million came from individuals or entities in years when they had a pending interest in a federal court case on appeal or at the high court, records show.

There’s just no end to the corruption, is there?

This doesn’t look good for Elon Musk. Kyle Wiggers at TechCrunch: Fidelity slashes the value of its Twitter stake by over half.

Fidelity, which was among the group of outside investors that helped Elon Musk finance his $44 billion takeover of Twitter, has slashed the value of its stake in Twitter by 56%. The recalculation comes as Twitter navigates a number of challenges, most the result of chaotic management decisions — including an exodus of advertisers from the network.

Unknown artist

Unknown artist

Fidelity’s Blue Chip Growth Fund stake in Twitter was valued at around $8.63 million as of November, according to a monthly disclosure and Fidelity Contrafund notice first reported today by Axios. That’s down from $19.66 million as of the end of October.

Macroeconomic trends are likely to blame in part. Stripe took a 28% internal valuation cut in July, while Instacart this week reportedly suffered a 75% cut to its valuation.

But Twitter’s wishy-washy policies post-Musk clearly haven’t helped matters.

The network’s become less stable at a technical level as of late, on Wednesday suffering outages after Musk made “significant” backend server architecture changes. Twitter recently laid off employees in its public policy and engineering department, dissolving the group responsible for weighing in on content moderation and human rights-related issues such as suicide prevention. And the company’s raised the ire of regulators after banning — and then quickly reinstating — accounts belonging to prominent journalists.

There were two notable deaths yesterday.

AP: Benedict XVI, first pope to resign in 600 years, dies at 95.

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the shy German theologian who tried to reawaken Christianity in a secularized Europe but will forever be remembered as the first pontiff in 600 years to resign from the job, died Saturday. He was 95.

Benedict stunned the world on Feb. 11, 2013, when he announced, in his typical, soft-spoken Latin, that he no longer had the strength to run the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic Church that he had steered for eight years through scandal and indifference.

His dramatic decision paved the way for the conclave that elected Pope Francis as his successor. The two popes then lived side-by-side in the Vatican gardens, an unprecedented arrangement that set the stage for future “popes emeritus” to do the same.

And now Francis will celebrate Benedict’s funeral Mass on Thursday, the first time in the modern age that a current pope will eulogize a retired one. As tributes poured in from political and religious leaders around the world, Francis himself praised Benedict’s “kindness” Saturday and thanked him for “his testimony of faith and prayer, especially in these final years of retired life.” [….]

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger never wanted to be pope, planning at age 78 to spend his final years writing in the “peace and quiet” of his native Bavaria.

Instead, he was forced to follow the footsteps of the beloved St. John Paul II and run the church through the fallout of the clerical sex abuse scandal and then a second scandal that erupted when his own butler stole his personal papers and gave them to a journalist.

Being elected pope, he once said, felt like a “guillotine” had come down on him.

The New York Times: Barbara Walters, a First Among TV Newswomen, Is Dead at 93.

Barbara Walters, who broke barriers for women as the first female co-host of the “Today” show and the first female anchor of a network evening news program, and who as an interviewer of celebrities became one herself, helping to blur the line between news and entertainment, died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 93.

Her publicist, Cindi Berger, confirmed the death but did not cite a cause. ABC News, where Ms. Walters was a longtime anchor and a creator of the talk show “The View,” reported the death earlier.

Irina Garmashova

Irina Garmashova

Ms. Walters spent more than 50 years in front of the camera and, until she was 84, continued to appear on “The View.” In one-on-one interviews, she was best known for delving, with genteel insistence, into the private lives and emotional states of movie stars, heads of state and other high-profile subjects.

Ms. Walters first made her mark on the “Today” show on NBC, where she began appearing regularly on camera in 1964; she was officially named co-host a decade later. Her success kicked open the door for future network anchors like Jane Pauley, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer.

Ms. Walters began at NBC as a writer in 1961, the token woman in the “Today” writers’ room. When she left NBC for ABC in 1976 to be a co-anchor of the evening news with Harry Reasoner, she became known as the “million-dollar baby” because of her five-year, $5 million contract.

The move to the co-anchor’s chair made her not only the highest-profile female journalist in television history, but also the highest-paid news anchor, male or female, and her arrival signaled something of a cultural shift: the moment when news anchors began to be seen less as infallible authority figures, in the Walter Cronkite mold, and more as celebrities. A disgruntled Mr. Reasoner privately dismissed her hiring as a gimmick.

Gimmick or not, the ABC experiment failed. Chemistry between the co-anchors was nonexistent, ratings remained low, and in 1978 Mr. Reasoner left for CBS, his original television home, and Ms. Walters’s role changed from co-anchor to contributor as the network instituted an all-male multiple-anchor format. Shortly after that she began contributing reports to ABC’s newsmagazine show “20/20.” In 1984 she became the show’s permanent co-host alongside Hugh Downs, her old “Today” colleague.

But it was her “Barbara Walters Specials” more than anything else that made her a star, enshrining her as an indefatigable chronicler of the rich, the powerful and the infamous. The specials, which began in 1976, made Ms. Walters as famous, or nearly as famous, as the people she interviewed.

The Los Angeles Times: Barbara Walters dies at 93; news anchor broke the boy’s club of network television.

Barbara Walters, the first woman to break up the all-male club of network television anchors and one of the last remaining megastars in broadcast news who deftly coaxed world leaders and celebrities alike into revealing their secrets and deepest fears, has died.

“Barbara Walters passed away peacefully in her home surrounded by loved ones, She lived her life with no regrets. She was a trailblazer not only for female journalists but for all women,” Cindi Berger, Walters’ publicist, said in a statement to The Times….

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger, Walters’ former boss, announced on Twitter that Walters died Friday evening at her home in New York.

“Barbara was a true legend, a pioneer not just for women in journalism but for journalism itself. She was a one-of-a-kind reporter who landed many of the most important interviews of our time, from heads of state and leaders of regimes to the biggest celebrities and sports icons,” Iger wrote….

A canny interviewer who prodded ranks of public figures into tearful confessions, Walters was an aggressive practitioner of “the get” who outmaneuvered competitors to land exclusives with figures as varied as Cuban leader Fidel Castro, actress Katharine Hepburn and White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

She made history when she was named the first female co-host of NBC’s “Today” show in 1974 and again two years later when ABC tapped her as the first female co-anchor of the network evening news. Walters faced open hostility from her male counterparts in both places, but never let it rattle her publicly, despite being shadowed by deep insecurities that she said lifted only late in her career.

“I was completely unwelcome,” she told The Times in 2008. “They didn’t want a woman, and they didn’t want me.”

Veteran network producer Av Westin, who worked with her at CBS and ABC, said Walters overcame what was a huge hurdle at the time: “To be able to plow through the resistance of a woman being accepted as more than a bit of pretty fluff — she really was the first who did that.”

She was a trailblazer, that’s for sure.

That’s all I have for you today. What are your thoughts? What other stories are you following today?

Fruitful Friday Reads

Burpee’s Farm Annual 1895

Good Day Sky Dancers!

We got one good day of Sunshine yesterday, and now it’s grey and raining! The only good thing is that the freezing temperatures have gone away! My brightest day this month was when Burpee’s seed catalog came, and I could page through the promise of spring planting and summer harvests! Burpee’s has been publishing its catalog since 1876.

My Burpee’s blackberry slip in its pot went outdoors yesterday for a bit of sun! It and my potted herbs were in the dining room while we got rid of the hard freezes. Today, they’re getting a good watering along with all the plants that survived. I’d planned to get some big yard trash bags and tackle some of the dead stuff today. Instead, I’m warm and snug inside, waiting for the next sunny day.

The big news today is the release of the Trump tax forms. They really are a mess! This is from Noah Bookbinder, writing for The Atlantic. “The IRS Really, Really Should Have Audited Trump. The failure to do so is outrageous and needs to be investigated.” Indeed! However, I’m not sure the Republican Congress will do it.

Six years after Donald Trump should have disclosed his tax returns to the public, they have finally been released. This took advocacy, congressional action, and litigation that went to the Supreme Court—all to obtain basic financial transparency from a president.

But the House Ways and Means Committee’s report on its investigation, released last week in conjunction with the committee’s vote to disclose Trump’s tax returns, revealed new information that may be as astonishing as anything in the returns themselves: The IRS did not even begin auditing Trump’s taxes until 2019, on the same day the committee began asking the agency about them. This is outrageous, and it must be investigated.

Getting Trump’s tax returns should not have been this hard. Every president elected since Richard Nixon—with the exception of Trump—has publicly disclosed his tax returns. Tax returns can tell the American people, and Congress, whether a president is following the law and behaving honestly. Crucially for Trump, who uniquely and inappropriately retained ownership of a massive international business while president, they can provide information about conflicts of interest that may have swayed his decision making.

Examining Trump’s tax returns and discovering all they can reveal about how his finances may have intersected with his presidency will take time. The committee released an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation stating that Trump had paid nothing, or close to it, in some years of his presidency. The income information included in that analysis also seems to support the assertion that Trump’s use of the presidency to steer business to himself from the government and those seeking to influence it may have reversed years of financial losses for Trump’s companies and led to hefty profits in 2018 and 2019, until COVID’s arrival in 2020 reversed his fortunes again. Now that the detailed returns are available, we’ll learn much more about those companies’ earnings, losses, and tax payments, and about Trump’s financial interests.

Burpee’s catalog from 1944

CNN has begun the analysis of the documents. “Trump’s tax returns shed new light on former president’s finances.” There’s a team of reporters on this story.

Six years of Donald Trump’s federal tax returns released on Friday show the former president paid very little in federal income taxes the first and last year of his presidency, claiming huge losses that helped limit his tax bill, among other revelations.

The returns, long shrouded in secrecy, were released to the public on Friday by the House Ways and Means Committee, the culmination of a battle over their disclosure that went to the Supreme Court. They confirm a report issued from the Joint Committee on Taxation that Trump claimed large losses before and throughout his presidency that he carried forward to reduce or practically eliminate his tax burden. For example, his returns show that he carried forward a $105 million loss in 2015 and $73 million in 2016.

The thousands of pages of documents from the former president’s personal and business federal tax returns – which spanned the years 2015 through 2020 – provide a complex web of raw data about Trump’s finances, offering up many questions about his wealth and income that could be pursued both by auditors and Trump’s political opponents.

The returns were obtained by the Democratic-run committee only a few weeks ago after a protracted legal battle. The committee voted last week to release the tax returns, but their release was delayed to redact sensitive personal information like Social Security numbers.

CNN is currently reviewing the tax returns.

David Corn has already sniffed out something interesting. What would we do without great investigative journalists?

In writing for Politico, Josh Gerstein analyzes “How Justice Kagan lost her battle as a consensus builder. ‘She’s clearly not very happy,’ one associate says.”

Speaking at a small university in Rhode Island earlier this year, Justice Elena Kagan committed an act of Supreme Court heresy.

For years, justices have told the same anecdotes to assure the public that — despite the court’s increasingly polarized decisions in high-profile cases— the powerful jurists are committed to putting the best interests of the institution ahead of their personal agendas.

They point to genteel traditions like the handshakes exchanged before arguments, the ban on discussing cases during their private lunches, and the camaraderie they share when discussing books, vacations, children, grandchildren and sports, often baseball. The oft-told tale of Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg bonding over a mutual love of opera took the sting out of any notion that the court’s most high-profile conservatives and liberals were angry with each other.

But Kagan, the Democratic appointee who has sought to be a consensus-builder for much of her legal career, broke sharply with the court’s tradition of downplaying disagreements and emphasizing off-the-bench bonhomie. In her speech at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., last September, she even went so far as to argue that these mundane staples of the justices’ public patter may actually now be obscuring the dysfunction on the nation’s highest court.

“To be a truly collegial, collaborative court, you have to be talking about more than: ‘Do they talk about baseball together?’” Kagan declared to about 1,000 students gathered on the lawn. “You have to be talking about: ‘Can they engage in the real work that they’re doing in collegial and collaborative ways?’ … That comes only with serious, sometimes difficult, but persistent effort to engage. And to try to work out divisions and reach places you thought you could not be — places of common ground.”

About a month later, speaking at the University of Pennsylvania, Kagan again suggested that the justices’ ability to make small talk is no substitute for genuine engagement on the crucial issues the court is asked to resolve.

“I don’t see why anybody should care that I can talk to some of my colleagues about baseball, unless that becomes a way for a better, more collaborative relationship about our cases and work,” Kagan said. “I think it is in service of that.”

Kagan, a nominee of President Barack Obama, then unmistakably signaled there have been breakdowns in the substantive give-and-takeshe views as essential to the court’s success.

“That is a work in progress. I mean, some years are better than other years,” she said. “Time will tell whether this is a court that can get back … to finding common ground.”

I’m not holding my breath for any of this.  Hardliners on the bench think heaven anointed them and speaks through them. The best we can hope for is some meaningful reform of court ethical behavior.

If you haven’t heard, Maryland Representative Jame Raskin is facing cancer and treatment.  You may read about his diagnosis and treatment plan on his Twitter link.  We wish him the speediest of healing and success in his treatments! He’s one of the jewels of the House of Representatives.

Burpee’s seed catalog, 1898

I was Wednesday years old when I found a reference to this disgusting misogynist on Greta Thunberg’s Twitter feed. I was Thursday years old reading this about him and his brother. I found this on the BBC, and I hope you’ve digested your most recent meal if you read this. “Andre  Tate detained in Romania over rape and human trafficking case.”

Controversial online influencer Andrew Tate has been detained in Romania as part of a human trafficking and rape investigation.

Tate – who was detained alongside his brother Tristan – had his house raided in the capital, Bucharest.

A police spokesperson confirmed the arrests to the BBC.

The former kickboxer rose to fame in 2016 when he was removed from British TV show Big Brother over a video which appeared to show him attacking a woman.

He went on to gain notoriety online, with Twitter banning him for saying women should “bear responsibility” for being sexually assaulted. He has since been reinstated.

Despite social media bans he gained popularity, particularly among young men, by promoting an ultra-masculine, ultra-luxurious lifestyle.

He regularly appeared in videos with a fleet of expensive sports cars, on private jets, and enjoying expensive holidays.

Speaking to the BBC, a spokesperson for the Directorate for Investigating Organised Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) said prosecutors had applied to hold the influencer at a “detention centre” for an additional 30 days.

A judge will rule on the application on Friday afternoon, the spokesperson added. The brothers have been under investigation since April alongside two Romanian nationals.

“The four suspects… appear to have created an organised crime group with the purpose of recruiting, housing and exploiting women by forcing them to create pornographic content meant to be seen on specialised websites for a cost,” DIICOT said in a statement.

Video on social media showed Tate and his brother being led away from a luxury villa.

 Burpee Catalog from 1903

With men like these, we will never take back the night, let alone any other places. Women should not have to create safe places because of the predatory behavior and power of so many men.

CNN reports on how many concessions to crazies Kevin McCarthy has made to secure the Speakership. This cannot be good for the country. The report is by Melanie Zanona.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has offered a key concession to critics of his bid for the House speakership during private conversations this week: reducing the threshold that is required to force a floor vote on ousting the sitting speaker, according to six Republican sources familiar with the internal discussions.

McCarthy has been trying to find a compromise threshold that would appease his critics enough to earn their speaker vote, while still being palatable to the rest of the House GOP, and has been sounding out all corners of the conference in private phone calls this week.

One of the numbers that has come up in recent conversations between McCarthy and GOP lawmakers – and which has not been previously reported – is a five-person threshold, according to two of the Republican sources.

Currently, the majority of the House GOP is required to call for the so-called motion to vacate the speaker’s chair. But some conservative hardliners are pushing for a single member to be able to call for such a vote, which they see as an important mechanism to hold the speaker accountable.

A five-person threshold, however, may be too low for the moderate wing of the party, some of whom have privately suggested they would be willing to agree on a 50-person threshold.

And some of McCarthy’s fiercest critics, including Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Ralph Norman of South Carolina, told CNN they see the five-person threshold as still too high, underscoring the significant challenge McCarthy faces as he works to lock down the speakership.

“No, less than 5!!” Norman said in a text message of the proposed motion to vacate threshold. “2 or less (my opinion).”

And Gaetz said: “He’s gotta get down to 1.”

All of this will be a major topic of discussion during a crucial conference call on Friday afternoon that McCarthy scheduled with the various ideological caucuses in the House GOP, just four days ahead of the January 3 speaker’s vote.

I could just spend a few moments here going on about “your reap what you sow” or “‘For there will be peace for the seed, the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce, and the heavens will give their dew, and I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things.” That last bit is from Zechariah 8:12. There are all kinds of fruit and seed quotes in literature, so I guess I may not be the only one that looks forward to the harvest.  I try to know what I plant and yank out the weeds. I’m a believer in karma, and I see some ripen.

“Hang there like fruit, my soul,
Till the tree die.”

― William Shakespeare, Cymbeline

It’s just kind of nice that the day after the darkest and longest night of the year, Burpee’s keeps offering a promise of food and beauty for sunnier days from the farms of my great grandparents to the victory gardens of my grandparents and my yard here in New Orleans. Have a great New Year’s week! I will see you on Monday. Let’s hope this year we get many fruitful days!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Thursday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

George Santos is still dominating the political news. At this point you have to question everything this guy says and does. Is is name really George Santos? Is he even an American citizen? It’s wild. I’ll get to that, but first I want to share two other interesting stories. 

President Biden vs. the Secret Service

Major Biden

Major Biden

According to a new book by Chris Whipple, President Biden doesn’t trust the Secret Service and believes that many agents are sympathetic to Trump. Andrew Feinberg at The Independent: Biden won’t speak freely near Secret Service and thinks agents lied about dog bite incident, book reveals.

President Joe Biden was so disturbed by the Secret Service’s handling of text messages sought by the House January 6 select committee that he stopped speaking candidly in the presence of special agents assigned to his protection detail, a new book on the Biden White House has revealed.

In The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House, author Chris Whipple writes that Mr Biden’s discomfort with the post-Trump era agency began early on in his presidency, when it became clear that “some of” the agents charged with protecting him from assassination were strong supporters of the man he defeated in the 2020 election, former president Donald Trump.

According to a copy of the book obtained by The Independent ahead of its 17 January 2023 release date, Whipple writes that Mr Biden simply did not trust the agents, and noted that his attitude is a sharp contrast from how he felt during his years as vice president, when he’d become very close with the agents on his detail. He added that the change in Mr Biden’s view is also a result of the increased size of the detail assigned to the chief executive and suggested that the president shouldn’t have been surprised by the presence of “Maga sympathisers” among his bodyguards because the Secret Service “is full of white ex-cops from the South who tend to be deeply conservative”.

Biden believes a Secret Service agent lied about being bitten by the Biden’s dog Major.

He added that Mr Biden’s trust in his protection detail was further shaken by a March 2021 incident involving a Secret Service agent and his then-three-year-old German Shepherd, Major.

Major, who Mr Biden adopted from the Delaware Humane Association in 2018, was the first rescue dog to serve as First Canine. He allegedly bit a Secret Service agent in the private residence portion of the White House on 8 March 2021, and was temporarily relocated to Delaware for training in the wake of that incident, though he later bit a National Park Service worker just after returning to the White House at the end of that month.

According to Whipple, Mr Biden was quite sceptical about the details of the first alleged biting incident. He writes that although no one disputed that an incident had taken place, the president “wasn’t buying the details,” particularly the alleged location of the biting.

Whipple reveals that Mr Biden expressed his concerns to a friend while he was giving a tour of the White House family quarters. The president reportedly pointed to the alleged location of the biting — on the second floor of the executive mansion — and told the friend: “Look, the Secret Service are never up here. It didn’t happen”.

He added that Mr Biden thought “somebody was lying … about the way the incident had gone down”.

Read more at The Independent. 

Junk Science in the U.S. Justice System.

I want to recommend this investigation of junk science in the U.S. courts at ProPublica. 

It’s very long, but if you’re at all interested in how our justice system works–and doesn’t work–it’s a must read. It’s about a former cop who dreamed up a way people who call 911 are actually guilty of the crimes they are reporting and who, with the help of ambitious prosecutors got judges to accept this utterly unscientific “research.” This is far from the only example of junk science being used to convict innocent people. The introductory paragraphs

Tracy Harpster, a deputy police chief from suburban Dayton, Ohio, was hunting for praise. He had a business to promote: a miracle method to determine when 911 callers are actually guilty of the crimes they are reporting. “I know what a guilty father, mother or boyfriend sounds like,” he once said.

Harpster tells police and prosecutors around the country that they can do the same. Such linguistic detection is possible, he claims, if you know how to analyze callers’ speech patterns — their tone of voice, their pauses, their word choice, even their grammar. Stripped of its context, a misplaced word as innocuous as “hi” or “please” or “somebody” can reveal a murderer on the phone.

So far, researchers who have tried to corroborate Harpster’s claims have failed. The experts most familiar with his work warn that it shouldn’t be used to lock people up.

Prosecutors know it’s junk science too. But that hasn’t stopped some from promoting his methods and even deploying 911 call analysis in court to win convictions.

In 2016, Missouri prosecutor Leah Askey wrote Harpster an effusive email, bluntly detailing how she skirted legal rules to exploit his methods against unwitting defendants.

“Of course this line of research is not ‘recognized’ as a science in our state,” Askey wrote, explaining that she had sidestepped hearings that would have been required to assess the method’s legitimacy. She said she disguised 911 call analysis in court by “getting creative … without calling it ‘science.’”

“I was confident that if a jury could hear this information and this research,” she added, “they would be as convinced as I was of the defendant’s guilt.”

Askey used the technique to convict a man named Russ Faria of murdering his wife in a high-profile case that has become the subject of documentaries, books, and podcasts. Faria was later found not guilty and released after years in prison. 

The Latest on the George Santos Scandal.

Andrew Kaczinski and Em Steck at CNN: More false claims from George Santos about his work, education and family history emerge.

Rep.-elect George Santos made additional false claims over the years about his family history, work history and education in campaign appearances over the years, a review of statements made in two of his campaigns for Congress found.

CNN’s KFile uncovered more falsehoods from Santos, including claims he was forced to leave a New York City private school when his family’s real estate assets took a downturn and stating he represented Goldman Sachs at a top financial conference where he berated the company for investing in renewables.

CNN also reviewed more instances of Santos providing additional false history of his family’s background. In one interview, Santos said his mother’s family’s historical Jewish name was “Zabrovsky,” and later appeared to operate a GoFundMe campaign for a pet charity (which he falsely claimed was a 501(c)(3) nonprofit) under that alias. Genealogists CNN previously spoke with found no evidence of Jewish or Ukrainian heritage in his family tree.

In another, he said his mother, whose family has lived in Brazil since the late 1800s, was a White immigrant from Belgium.

Since reports first surfaced about his false claims, Santos has made efforts to downplay his fabrications as mere “embellishments.” But the previously unreported claims from Santos illustrate a pattern of fabricating details about his life, often in service of presenting a more compelling or interesting personal narrative. The Nassau County district attorney’s office said Wednesday that it is looking into Santos’ fabrications, though it did not specify the falsehoods it would explore.

In interviews over the past few days, Santos admitted to lying about parts of his resume, including graduating from college, but he told the New York Post that the misrepresentation of his work history at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup was a “poor choice of words.” There is no record he worked at the top financial institutions in the country, as he had previously claimed.

Santos also denied that he falsely called himself Jewish, claiming he “never claimed to be Jewish” but jokingly said he was “Jew-ish” to the New York Post. He also falsely claimed that his grandparents “survived the Holocaust” and fled Europe to escape Jewish persecution. But CNN found that Santos called himself an “American Jew” and “Latino Jew” on multiple occasions. The Republican Jewish Coalition disinvited Santos from appearing at any of its events because he “misrepresented his heritage.”

Read more details on Santos’ lies at the CNN link.

When did Santos’ mother die? Is she even dead?

Roger Sollenberger and William Bredderman at The Daily Beast: George Santos’ Massive Campaign Loans May Not Be Legal.

Even as Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) embarks on his apology tour, admitting he lied to voters for years about some of the most fundamental facts of his life, there’s been one mystery that Santos has been less than clear about: where his purported millions came from.

The Daily Beast now has at least part of the answer—the identities of four Santos corporate clients. And while this new revelation might put Santos in even more hot water, what Santos did with his newfound riches could be even more damning.

Santos has already admitted using cash from his company, the Devolder Organization, to fund his campaign—a move campaign finance experts say could add up to an unlawful $700,000 corporate contribution.

That’s because, while candidates for federal office may give unlimited amounts of their own money to their campaign, they cannot expressly tap corporate accounts to do so.

Santos confirmed to The Daily Beast on Wednesday that he withdrew money from the firm to underwrite his campaign. He made the same claim in an interview on Monday, telling WABC radio host and Santos donor John Catsimatidis that the combined $700,000 in loans—scattered in varying increments across a period of more than a year—“was the money I paid myself through the Devolder Organization.” (Santos’ most recent financial disclosure shows a $750,000 salary from the Devolder Organization, along with dividends valued between $1 million and $5 million.)

Jordan Libowitz, communications director of government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told The Daily Beast that the government imposes strict rules on how candidates can support their campaigns.

“You can fund a campaign with your own money to whatever extent you’d like, but the deal is it has to be your money,” Libowitz said. “Two major problems here. One, if it’s the company’s money, it’s not his money. If it were Santos personally doing business as the company—that is, if it were his bank accounts—that’s okay. But this is an actual corporation, and you can’t make a corporation to run money through to your campaign.”

The reason, he explained, is that such a scheme hides the origin of the money.

Read more at the link.

The Washington Post: Nassau County district attorney opens investigation into Rep.-elect George Santos.

The Nassau County district attorney announced that she is opening an investigation into Rep.-elect George Santos (R-N.Y.), whose surprise victory in November was quickly followed by revelations that he lied about his business experience, educational background and family ancestry.

The district attorney, Anne T. Donnelly (R), said in a statement: “The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated” with Santos “are nothing short of stunning.” The residents in the congressional district “must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress” and “if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.” Donnelly’s spokesman, Brendan Brosh, said in a statement, “We are looking into the matter.”

Days after an explosive New York Times story on Dec. 19 detailed lies Santos told about his background, Santos gave a handful of interviews in which he acknowledged he was untruthful about having worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and graduating from college. He said he never claimed to be Jewish, despite previous public comments about his heritage.

Also unclear is the exact source of the $700,000 Santos claimed to have loaned his campaign in 2022, just two years after filing a financial disclosure report during an unsuccessful 2020 congressional run that stated he had no major assets or earned income….

News of the investigation came as another detail in Santos’s biography unraveled Wednesday.

During his 2020 congressional race, he told a dramatic story on a podcast about how a prestigious private school he attended refused to help his financially struggling family months before his graduation.

In the October 2020 interview, which resurfaced on social media Wednesday, Santos, referring to his parents, said: “They sent me to a good prep school — which was Horace Mann Prep in the Bronx. And in my senior year of prep school, unfortunately, my parents fell on hard times.” Santos went on to say that at the time his family couldn’t “afford a $2,500 tuition” and “I left school [with] four months till graduation.”

But a spokesman for the Horace Mann School told The Washington Post that the school has no record of Santos attending the institution.

The Feds are also investigating Santos. The New York Times: George Santos Faces Federal and Local Investigations, and Public Dismay.

Federal and local prosecutors are investigating whether Representative-elect George Santos committed any crimes involving his finances and lies about his background on the campaign trail.

The federal investigation, which is being run by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, is focused at least in part on his financial dealings, according to a person familiar with the matter. The investigation was said to be in its early stages.

In a separate inquiry, the Nassau County, N.Y., district attorney’s office said it was looking into the “numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-elect Santos” during his successful 2022 campaign to represent parts of Long Island and Queens….

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on Wednesday. The office’s interest in Mr. Santos was reported earlier by ABC News, and the Nassau County inquiry was first reported by Newsday.

Both investigations followed reporting in The New York Times that uncovered that Mr. Santos had made false claims about his educational and professional background, including whether he worked at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. The Times also found that Mr. Santos had omitted key details about his business on required financial disclosures.

Questions remain about how Mr. Santos has generated enough personal wealth to be able, as campaign finance filings show, to lend his campaign $700,000. Mr. Santos has said his money comes from his company, the Devolder Organization, but he has provided little information about its operations.

You can also check out this opinion piece by Jill Filipovic.

Also check out Peter Strzok on Santos’ Russian connections.

Read more at Strzok’s Substack page, Moscow Heat.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if more Santos revelations come out today. What do you think about all this? What other stories are you interested in?

Wednesday Cartoons: MMXXIII

Yup, a new year is upon us…good riddance to 2022!

Cartoons via Cagle website:

What in the ever loving fuckity fuck with this Santos asshole? And how was he able to get away with this shit?

This is an open thread…

Tuesday Reads

Kees van Dongen, Ice Skating

Kees van Dongen, Ice Skating

Good Morning!!

This will be a quickie post, because I’m still sick. I can testify that coughing all day and all night for 5 days in a row is exhausting and debilitating.

There’s not a lot of exciting news, which is to be expected during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. But there’s always something in politics to gossip about. Today’s juicy story is about George Santos, the newly elected New York representative who seems to have lied about his life and history in every way you can imagine. This story has been going on for awhile, and it just keeps getting worse.

CNN: Rep.-elect George Santos admits to lying about resume, says he’s ‘not a criminal.’

GOP Rep.-elect George Santos of New York admitted in two separate interviews on Monday to lying about parts of his resume but claimed that he hasn’t committed any crimes and intends to serve in Congress.

Santos has faced scrutiny over discrepancies in his employment and education history, as well as other public claims he has made about his biography. In interviews with WABC radio and the New York Post – the first times Santos has spoken publicly about the controversy – he acknowledged that he had fabricated some facts.

“I am not a criminal. Not here, not abroad, in any jurisdiction in the world have I ever committed any crimes,” Santos said in an interview with WABC radio host John Catsimatidis.

“To get down to the nit and gritty, I’m not a fraud. I’m not a criminal who defrauded the entire country and made up this fictional character and ran for Congress. I’ve been around a long time. I mean, a lot of people know me. They know who I am. They’ve done business dealings with me,” he added.

“I’m not going to make excuses for this, but a lot of people overstate in their resumes, or twist a little bit. … I’m not saying I’m not guilty of that,” he said.

Santos also admitted that he never worked directly for the financial firms Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, as he has previously suggested, but claimed that he did do work for them through his company, telling the New York Post it was a “poor choice of words” to say he worked for them.

He also told the Post that he didn’t graduate from any college or university, despite claiming he had degrees from Baruch College and New York University.

“I didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning. I’m embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my resume,” he told the Post, adding that he owns up to that and that “we do stupid things in life.”

Do we even know for sure his name is George Santos?

More from the New York Post article: Liar Rep.-elect George Santos admits fabricating key details of his bio.

Santos, elected to Congress on Nov. 8 to represent the Long Island- and Queens-based 3rd District, was also accused of lying about his family history, saying on his campaign website that his mother was Jewish and his grandparents escaped the Nazis during World War II.

Tower of London Ice Rink is a painting by Andrew Macara which was uploaded on June 7th, 2015.

Tower of London Ice Rink, by Andrew Macara .

Santos now says that he’s “clearly Catholic,” but claimed his grandmother told stories about being Jewish and later converting to Catholicism.

“I never claimed to be Jewish,” Santos said. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”

Santos, the first openly gay non-incumbent Republican elected to the House, also faced accusations that he lied about his sexual orientation, with the Daily Beast reporting last week that he was previously married to a woman until shortly before he launched his unsuccessful 2020 campaign against Democrat Tom Suozzi.

The soon-to-be lawmaker confirmed to The Post on Monday that he was indeed married to a woman for about five years, from 2012 until his divorce in 2017, but insisted that he is now a happily married gay man.

Santos admitted to financial problems:

Santos also acknowledged being a deadbeat tenant in Sunnyside, Queens, where the Times reported he was ordered by a judge to pay more than $12,000 to a former landlord who claimed non-payment of several months of rent — as well as that Santos had tried to pass a check that bounced.

On Monday, Santos claimed that at the time of the lawsuit, his family was deep in medical debt from his mother’s cancer battle.

“We were engulfed in debt,” he said. “We had issues paying rent at the time. It’s the vulnerability of being human. I am not embarrassed by it.”

Santos said his mother died of cancer on Dec. 23, 2016, after living with him at the Queens apartment and acknowledged the judgment against him.

Asked if he ever actually paid the arrears, Santos admitted: “We didn’t pay it off. I completely forgot about it.” 

Santos also admitted to lying when he claimed that he owned 13 different properties, saying he now resides at his sister’s place in Huntington but is looking to purchase his own place. 

There’s more on Santos’ lies at the link. It’s just endless.

B ut now Santos seems to have plenty of money. Where did it come from? The Washington Post: Rep.-elect George Santos acknowledges ‘résumé embellishment’ but answers little on finances.

George Santos, a Long Island Republican who won a pivotal U.S. House race in November, acknowledged Monday night that he embellished his biography, seeking to explain his actions by saying in a radio interview that “a lot of people overstate in their résumés.”

While Santos played down the harm done with his claims, first raised in a New York Times story last week, he did briefly address how his wealth has skyrocketed in the past several years to enable him to lend hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign.

Agnes Tait, Skating in Central Park, 1934He told City and State NY that after different jobs, he opened his own firm and “it just worked because I had the relationships and I started making a lot of money. And I fundamentally started building wealth.” With that, he added, “I decided I’d invest in my race for Congress. There’s nothing wrong with that.” [….]

This past week, after the New York Times report raised a host of questions about whether Santos had fabricated much of his biography, Santos’s lawyer said the congressman-elect had been defamed, but he did not address specifics. The Times noted that Santos claimed that he worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Spokesmen for both companies confirmed to The Post that they had no record of his employment.

Santos said during the 11-minute radio interview on Monday that “the way it’s stated on the résumé, doing work for — I have worked ‘for,’ not ‘on’ or ‘at’ or ‘in’.” He said that he learned a lesson but that it doesn’t mean “I’m some fictional character.”

When Santos in June 2021 announced his bid forNew York’s 3rd District, which largely represents an affluent section of the North Shore of Long Island, he made a promise that few other candidates could match. If elected, he said in a campaign video, “I pledge to never take a salary.”

He furthered the impression that he was independently wealthy by lending his campaign at least $580,000, and his political action committee at least $27,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The loans played a key role in his surprising victory and helped give Republicans a narrow majority in the House.

Read more about Santos’ finances at the WaPo link.

Noah Lanard and David Corn published this detailed article about Santos’ finances at Mother Jones on December 21. I’m too sick with this chest cold to read something this complicated, but maybe Dakninkat can make sense of it: Scandal-Struck George Santos Just Revived the Firm That Netted Him Mystery Millions.

The Washington Post reports today that: Democrats call for George Santos to resign seat over résumé ‘lies.’

Democratic lawmakers are calling for Rep.-elect George Santos to resign from the House seat he won in November, after the Long Island Republican admitted to “résumé embellishment” — dialing up the pressure on GOP leadership to respond.

“GOP Congressman-elect George Santos, who has now admitted his whopping lies, should resign,” tweeted Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), urging Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to call a vote to expel Santos if he does not quit.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) said that if Santos takes his new seat, it would set a precedent encouraging others to seek public office by falsifying their credentials, while Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) accused Santos of “defrauding the voters of Long Island about his ENTIRE resume.”

McCarthy (R-Calif.) has so far not responded to allegations that Santos misled voters about key details of his biography, which were first reported in a New York Times story last week.

Of course not. McCarthy needs this guy for his tiny House majority. Besides Santos fits in perfectly with the party of Trump. Maybe Santos can run for president next.

More stories to check out:

The New York Times: ‘Tragic Battle’: On the Front Lines of China’s Covid Crisis.

The Washington Post: Hitting back at Trump, Biden gears up for more clashes with GOP.

The Guardian: The untold story of how a US woman was sentenced to six years for voting.

The Daily Mail: Another Putin critic ‘falls out a window’ to his death: Sausage tycoon plummets from luxury hotel – two days after his male friend died of a ‘heart attack’ on their trip to India.

Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo: ‘Blizzard of the century’: Life safety remains focus as deaths reach 28 in Buffalo Niagara.

CNN: South Korea fires warning shots after North Korean drones enter its airspace.

The Daily Beast: The Woman Who Plans to Make Elon Musk Pay for His Twitter Sins.

I’m going back to bed for now. Take care, Sky Dancers!