Monday Reads: Dystopian Paradise

This was the favorite of all the little girls around me. The Krewe of Wonder Woman ensures they all get lassos, tiaras, and wristbands, just like this comic book and movie favorite.

Good Morning!

I spent Saturday night with my neighbors watching the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus for my first Carnivale parade since the one that spread Covid-19 to the city at its onset. It’s entirely based on whatever fantasy, SF movie, or book tickles your fancy. It kicks off with the Dancing Leias and the psychedelic statue of Chewbacca!  The actor that played the Star Wars character– Peter Mayhew–was the king of the Parade the last time I saw this parade coming down my street.  It’s huge and quite diverse now!  I guess everyone wants to be in an alternative reality these days!

Once I looked at this morning’s news, I realized the Congressional Republicans are dragging us into a dystopian nightmare of political beefs and conspiracy theories. It’s hard to know where to start but let’s try this as the first read of the week.

I saw a tweet last week from Matt Schlap that the CPAC shitshow would feature Steven Bannon. I keep wondering if either of them will stay out of jail long enough to be there. Today there was this analysis from Bryan Metzger at Insider. “Republicans are mostly ignoring a $9.4 million sexual assault lawsuit against the Trump-aligned head of CPAC.” This begs the question, whose grooming who?

In just over one month, the Conservative Political Action Coalition is set to hold a large gathering of influential Republicans at its annual conference near Washington, DC.

Dozens of GOP members of Congress are likely to attend, if previous years offer any indication, and the conference’s chief organizer — American Conservative Union Chair Matt Schlapp — has already begun to roll out scheduled speakers.

That’s despite Schlapp being the subject of a $9.4 million lawsuit: a man who worked as a mid-level staffer on Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign has accused Schlapp of sexually assaulting him after a night of drinking in October, as first reported by The Daily Beast.

“I will never forget the look on Matt’s face as he did what he did,” the staffer told Insider in a recent interview, describing Schlapp’s “smug look of satisfaction” as he allegedly groped and fondled the man’s genital area at length. “That’s something that will be burned into my mind for the rest of my days.”

As with other media outlets, Insider is maintaining the anonymity of the accuser, who’s worked in Republican politics for over 10 years, in order to protect his livelihood.

The staffer’s complaint filing, a copy of which was obtained by Insider, also includes defamation and conspiracy charges that implicate Schlapp’s wife and fellow CPAC employee, Mercedes Schlapp. And it threatens to cast a shadow over what is typically a marquee event in conservative politics.

Sexual assault is a pastime of the super-religious. We’re still waiting to hear about the many complaints filed against Southern Baptists around the country, including these two from the Duck Dicks part of Louisiana. 

A nearly 300-page report detailing years of sexual abuse and its cover-up within the Southern Baptist Convention from ministers was released in May.

The report, a result of a seven-month investigation by Guidepost Solutions, detailed a credible allegation of sexual assault against former SBC President Johnny Hunt one month after his term ended in 2010 and how high-ranking staff maintained a list with the names of ministers accused of sexual misconduct but did nothing about it.

SBC published a list of accused abusive ministers on May 26. The listed included Jason Cooper, former pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Rayville and Victor Mitchell, former pastor of Old Mount Olive Baptist Church in Oak Ridge. Both were convicted in August 2009 of indecent behavior with a juvenile and oral sexual battery.

Michael Wood, lead pastor of the First West Church, referred to the report as “heartbreaking” and “infuriating” in a prepared statement.

First West Church is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. The church has campuses in West Monroe, Fairbanks and Calhoun, and was not named in the report.

“Seeing former senior leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention place the protection of an institution over the protection of children and the care for survivors is maddening,” Wood said in the statement. “Our hope and expectation is with heartfelt repentance, new senior leadership, and the strong resolve of the people of the SBC who are willing to do what’s right regardless of the cost, the SBC will adopt the provided recommendations for necessary change.”

The Krewe of Dystopian Paradise had a thing for insects.

The Catholic church is still dealing with the fallout of its scandal, uncovered decades ago. Wherever there is an uneven balance of power, there is sexual battery.

Then, there are the scandals we’re still dealing with from the past few years of Trump.  The state of Georgia may be the first to bring him to reckoning. Some in the Republican party are hoping that it happens. This is from The Atlantic. This analysis is from McKay Coppins.  It’s about how badly many Republicans want to be rid of him. “Republicans’ 2024 Magical Thinking. Lots of Republicans want Donald Trump to disappear from politics. Their main strategy is hope.”  The weird thing is, why is it that all they appear to be concerned with is the “three abysmal election cycles” and not the insurrection, the major grifting, the international embarrassment, and the Russian connections?

Press them hard enough, and most Republican officials—even the ones with MAGA hats in their closets and Mar-a-Lago selfies in their Twitter avatar—will privately admit that Donald Trump has become a problem. He’s presided over three abysmal election cycles since he took office, he is more unstable than ever, and yet he returned to the campaign trail this past weekend, declaring that he is “angry” and determined to win the  GOP presidential nomination again in 2024. Aside from his most blinkered loyalists, virtually everyone in the party agrees: It’s time to move on from Trump.

But ask them how they plan to do that, and the discussion quickly veers into the realm of hopeful hypotheticals. Maybe he’ll get indicted and his legal problems will overwhelm him. Maybe he’ll flame out early in the primaries, or just get bored with politics and wander away. Maybe the situation will resolve itself naturally: He’s old, after all—how many years can he have left?

This magical thinking pervaded my recent conversations with more than a dozen current and former elected GOP officials and party strategists. Faced with the prospect of another election cycle dominated by Trump and uncertain that he can actually be beaten in the primaries, many Republicans are quietly rooting for something to happen that will make him go away. And they would strongly prefer not to make it happen themselves.

“There is a desire for deus ex machina,” said one GOP consultant, who, like others I interviewed, requested anonymity to characterize private conversations taking place inside the party. “It’s like 2016 all over again, only more fatalistic.”

The scenarios Republicans find themselves fantasizing about range from the far-fetched to the morbid. In his recent book Thank You for Your Servitude, my colleague Mark Leibovich quoted a former Republican representative who bluntly summarized his party’s plan for dealing with Trump: “We’re just waiting for him to die.” As it turns out, this is not an uncommon sentiment. In my conversations with Republicans, I heard repeatedly that the least disruptive path to getting rid of Trump, grim as it sounds, might be to wait for his expiration.

Who wouldn’t want to be a Space Viking?

Aren’t we all just waiting for him to die?   The AP has an update on the possible upcoming indictments coming from Georgia.

Former President Donald Trump and his allies have been put on notice by a prosecutor, but the warning didn’t come from anyone at the Justice Department.

It was from a Georgia prosecutor who indicated she was likely to seek criminal charges soon in a two-year election subversion probe. In trying to block the release of a special grand jury’s report, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis argued in court last week that decisions in the case were “imminent” and that the report’s publication could jeopardize the rights of “future defendants.”

Though Willis, a Democrat, didn’t mention Trump by name, her comments marked the first time a prosecutor in any of several current investigations tied to the Republican former president has hinted that charges could be forthcoming. The remarks ratcheted anticipation that an investigation focused, in part, on Trump’s call with Georgia’s secretary of state could conclude before ongoing federal probes.

“I expect to see indictments in Fulton County before I see any federal indictments,” said Clark Cunningham, a Georgia State University law professor.

Maybe being a Space Cowboy would be better?

I want to see a photo of Trump in an orange jumpsuit that isn’t photoshopped and wishful.  The Feds are taking a long time to time dissect the Insurrection.  Here’s an interesting OpEd read from the New York Times. Donald Trump Isn’t the Only One to Blame for the Capitol Riot. I’d Know.”  This is written by served as senior investigative counsel for the Jan. 6 committee and worked on drafting its final report.”

As an investigative counsel for the Jan. 6 Committee’s “Red” Team, which investigated the people who planned and attended the riot, as well as the domestic extremist groups responsible for much of the violence, I tracked more than 900 individuals charged by the Department of Justice with everything from parading in the Capitol to seditious conspiracy. We interviewed roughly 30 of those defendants about their motives. What my team and I learned, and what we did not have the capacity to detail with specificity in the report, is how distrust of the political establishment led many of the rioters to believe that only revolution could save America.

It wasn’t just that they wanted to contest a supposedly stolen election as Mr. Trump called them to do, they wanted to punish the judges, members of Congress, and law enforcement agencies — the so-called political elites — who had discredited Mr. Trump’s claims. One rioter wondered why he should trust anything the F.B.I., D.O.J., or any other federal entity said about the results. The federal government had worked against everyday Americans for years, the rioters told us, favoring entrenched elites with its policies. For many defendants — both those awash in conspiracy theories, as well as some of the more reasonable Trump supporters at the Capitol that day — a stolen election was simply the logical conclusion of years of federal malfeasance.

With the legitimacy of democracy so degraded, revolution appeared logical. As Russell James Peterson, a rioter who pleaded guilty to “parading, demonstrating, or picketing” in the Capitol, said on Dec. 4, 2020, “the only way to restore balance and peace is through war. Too much trust has been lost in our great nation.” Guy Reffitt, who earned seven years in prison for leading the charge up the Capitol steps while carrying a firearm, made a similar case later that month: “The government has spent decades committing treason.” The following week, he drove 20 hours to “do what needs to be done” because there were “bad people,” “disgusting people,” in the Capitol. Oath Keepers convicted of seditious conspiracy and other crimes, like their leader Stewart Rhodes, had long believed that a corrupt group of left-wing elites were preparing to upend American freedoms and that only militias like themselves could save the Constitution. Their loss of faith in the federal government had led them to the delusion that their seditious behavior to keep Mr. Trump in power was patriotic.

Strikingly, these comments came not only from domestic violent extremists; some came from people who appeared to be ordinary Americans. Dona Sue Bissey, a grandmother and hair salon owner from Indiana, said shortly after the attack that she was “very glad” to have been a part of the insurrection; Anthony Robert Williams, a painter from Michigan, called Jan. 6 the “proudest day of my life.”

Sharks!!!!!!!

Frankly, I cross the street to avoid anyone remotely appearing to be a MAGA sort. They scare the shit out of me.

And, of course, we’re still following the Great Classified Documents heist!  This is from The Daily Beast.  “How the Trump Document Scandal Became a Congressional Pissing Match. “Lawmakers wanted a briefing assessing the damage of former President Donald Trump mishandling classified documents. Then politics happened.”

When classified documents were found at former President Donald Trump’s mansion in September, the chairmen of Congress’s Intelligence Committees wanted a “damage assessment” about how Trump hoarding those documents may have hindered national security. The assessment never happened. And according to two sources familiar with internal conversations, party politics is to blame.

For a variety of reasons, congressional leaders delayed what one source called a “hot potato” just long enough to turn it into a messy, partisan debacle. And in recent weeks, when improperly stored classified documents were found at the homes of President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence, what was supposed to be a secret and sober exercise in oversight quickly became a fountain of false equivalencies, according to former intelligence officials.

“Let’s do it individually, because there’s a difference,” said retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden. “Trump was lying for more than a year… but he didn’t go and talk to the archives. Biden immediately [did], and so did the vice president.”

Hayden, who led the NSA and CIA for a decade, stressed that top legislators should have been quickly looped into any potential fallout from Trump’s decision to hoard some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets.

“It’s important to know the truth. Sooner or later, they’ve got to do that,” he told The Daily Beast.

David Dayen has this to say at American Prospect. “Presidential Document Scandals Should Take Down America’s Secrecy Industry. We classify way too many documents. Unfortunately, that will probably not be the takeaway from recent events.”

Somewhere in Plains, Georgia, an aide or 98-year-old Jimmy Carter himself is rifling through old boxes, searching for any document from the late 1970s marked “classified.” I’m not sure what threats there are to the Republic from high-level information about Rhodesia or the Warsaw Pact slowly decomposing in a filing cabinet, but the National Archives is on the case, directing former presidents and vice presidents to scour their properties for any official secrets. (Carter has found classified documents “on at least one occasion” and returned them quietly to the Archives, according to the Associated Press.)

America has a problem with classified information. But this problem isn’t the one you’ve been hearing about for the past few weeks, with the revelations of President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence turning up documents improperly stored in their homes and offices. It’s also different from the problem of Donald Trump hoarding classified information at Mar-a-Lago—though the circumstances of Trump asserting the right to take the documents and obstructing the efforts of the Archives to take them back make what he did qualitatively different, and far worse.

No, the problem with classified information is that there’s so much of it, so much useless, meritless, groundless classified information. Tens of millions of pieces of paper are so labeled, millions of people can see them, and yet the vast majority of such material would not remotely endanger the nation if it entered the wrong hands. In fact, much of it is just plain embarrassing to the government, or worse, a cover-up of illegal acts.

Wakanda forever!

I’ll end with this from the Washington Post.  A serious discussion of Critical Race theory is basically on the front page.  Good for the country!  ” Black Memphis police spark dialogue on systemic racism in the U.S.”

For the mother of Tyre Nichols, the fact that five Memphis police officers charged with beating her son are also Black has compounded her sorrow as she tries to cope with his violent death at age 29.

“It makes it even harder to swallow,” RowVaughn Wells said in an interview last week, “because they are Black and they know what we have to go through.”

The race of the five officers charged in the Nichols killing has prompted a complex grappling among Black activists and advocates for police reform about the pervasiveness of institutional racism in policing. Nichols died three days after he was pulled out of his car Jan. 7, kicked, punched and struck with a baton on a quiet neighborhood street by Black officers, whose aggressive assault was captured on body-camera videos released Friday.

The widely viewed videos of the Nichols beating provided fodder for right-wing media ecosystems that routinely blame Black America’s maladies on Black America, and spawned nuanced conversations among Black activists about how systemic racism can manifest in the actions of non-White people.

The Memphis Police Department, which has nearly 2,000 officers, is 58 percent Black, the result of a decades-long effort to field a police force that resembles the city’s 64 percent Black population. Unlike in several recent high-profile police brutality cases, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, who is Black, and other officials acted swiftly in firing, arresting and charging the Memphis officers in advance of the release of video footage.

Though some studies have shown that police officers of color use force less frequently against Black civilians than their White counterparts, analysts say the improvement is marginal.

“Diversifying law enforcement is certainly not going to solve this problem,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, president of Mapping Police Violence.

He pointed to many factors in the policing system that lead to a disproportionate response against people of color: directives to work in neighborhoods where more people of color live and a system that relies on the discretion of the officer to enforce things like traffic stops, opening the door for internal biases to play a role.

Watching that video was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. In some ways, watching a parade of my neighbors dressed up, playing make-believe, enjoying the entire experience with their kids, and seeing smiles everywhere seemed more real than the dystopian headlines of today’s Monday Reads.  Don’t even get me started on the Republican-imposed Debt Crisis.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today? 


Finally Friday Reads: Fishy business and a Big Rotting Fish

Vladimir KushDeep Sea Project, 1996

Good Day Sky Dancers!

There’s one thing to say about the current Republican party that has so identified with Trump’s mash-up of severe personality disorders.  It’s this.  If they’re investigating something, it’s bound to be a projection of what they’ve been up to.  House Republicans are gearing up a House Select Panel targeting “DOJ and FBI and their ‘ongoing criminal ‘investigations.’  One of the most disgusting things about this panel is that consideration is being given to Republican Representative Scott Perry, who is currently a target of a criminal investigation. This committee will be rife with the craziest of the crazy Freedom Party members and was probably one of the concessions Kevin McCarthy gave to get his very limp and floppy Speaker’s Gavel.

This comes precisely as we learn more about the Barr Department of Justice and the Russian Inquiry and the role of the FBI Agent that was a Russian Asset in the investigation into Trump’s Russian ties. We’ve already heard all the fishy business surrounding the Secret Service and the destruction of evidence during the Trump self-coup. All that stink you smell are fishes rotting at the head.

The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As a Table (1934)

This astounding piece at the New York Times was covered extensively on the news last night. “How Barr’s Quest to Find Flaws in the Russia Inquiry Unraveled.” The review by John Durham at one point veered into a criminal investigation related to Donald Trump himself, even as it failed to find wrongdoing in the origins of the Russia inquiry.”  The byline is shared by Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, and Katie Benner.  It’s a story of how John Durham fell down the Trump Rabbit hole only to find the rabbit was Barr, who took him on a visit to an Italian Wonderland where the only whiff of a crime was a financial one committed by Trump himself.  It has become the giant nothing burger prepared since the Benghazi Committee and the Clinton Email debacle.  This was another one of those projections of Trump’s bad-faith dealings onto Hillary Clinton and the people around her.

You may remember it led to the indictment and trial of two people at the bottom of the ladder that was quickly dismissed. The once esteemed Durham’s career is now one of those dead things killed by Trump.

But after almost four years — far longer than the Russia investigation itself — Mr. Durham’s work is coming to an end without uncovering anything like the deep state plot alleged by Mr. Trump and suspected by Mr. Barr.

Moreover, a monthslong review by The New York Times found that the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation.

The Times investigation uncovered these things about the Barr-Durham collaboration to appease Trump on the charges he colluded with Russia.  Which, of course, he did. There was also a leak of the criminal investigation, which set the Fox News propaganda channel on fire.  No mention was made that it was Trump who was the target of the investigation.

Interviews by The Times with more than a dozen current and former officials have revealed an array of previously unreported episodes that show how the Durham inquiry became roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes as it went unsuccessfully down one path after another even as Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr promoted a misleading narrative of its progress.

  • Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Mr. Durham brought no charges over it.

  • Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

  • There were deeper internal fractures on the Durham team than previously known. The publicly unexplained resignation in 2020 of his No. 2 and longtime aide, Nora R. Dannehy, was the culmination of a series of disputes between them over prosecutorial ethics. A year later, two more prosecutors strongly objected to plans to indict a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign based on evidence they warned was too flimsy, and one left the team in protest of Mr. Durham’s decision to proceed anyway. (A jury swiftly acquitted the lawyer.)

Now, as Mr. Durham works on a final report, the interviews by The Times provide new details of how he and Mr. Barr sought to recast the scrutiny of the 2016 Trump campaign’s myriad if murky links to Russia as unjustified and itself a crime.

 The Barbarians, 1937, Max Ernst

Steve Benen of MSNBC writes, “Details expose Barr’s Durham probe as a law enforcement scandal. John Durham’s probe set out to uncover a scandal. New details help prove that Bill Barr’s partisan investigation actually became a scandal.”

The original investigation into Trump’s Russia scandal, led by then-special counsel Robert Mueller, led to a series of striking findings: The former president’s political operation in 2016 sought, embraced, capitalized on, and lied about Russian assistance — and then took steps to obstruct the investigation into the foreign interference.

The Trump White House wasn’t pleased with the conclusions, but the Justice Department’s inspector general conducted a lengthy probe of the Mueller investigation, and not surprisingly, the IG’s office found nothing improper.

This, of course, only outraged Trump further, so Barr directed Durham, a federal prosecutor to conduct his own investigation into the investigation. That was more than three years ago.

At this point, Durham’s investigation into the Russia scandal investigation has lasted longer than Mueller’s original probe of the Russia scandal. Indeed, as of this morning, is still ongoing.

On the surface, what matters most is the conclusion: Barr told Durham to prove that the investigation into the Russia scandal was an outrageous abuse. We now know that this aspect of the endeavor was a spectacular failure: Durham apparently found no such evidence, and his prosecutorial efforts were an embarrassing debacle.

Around the Fish, Paul Klee, 1944

In other words, Trump is still the source of each “Crime of the Century”, not Hillary Clinton.  Details from the Times investigation continue to stun.

But just below the surface, the details uncovered by the Times paint an even uglier portrait. Instead of allowing the U.S. attorney to conduct an independent probe, Barr effectively oversaw the details of Durham’s probe, as the two met in the attorney general’s office “for at times weekly updates and consultations about his day-to-day work.”

The same article uncovered a series of related and dramatic revelations — too many to reference here — including Durham pressuring the Justice Department’s inspector general, Barr pressuring Durham to release an anti-Clinton memo ahead of Election Day, and internal dissent among members of Durham’s team about the integrity of the investigation, including the resignation of the prosecutor’s top aide.

There was also this amazing tidbit of information:

Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

The Times also noted that Durham was ultimately forced to investigate suspected criminal wrongdoing from Trump — a detail that was hidden from the public — which we’ll explore in more detail a little later this morning.

But reading this amazing reporting, I found myself thinking, not of Main Justice, but of Capitol Hill. Among the first priorities of the new House Republican majority was the creation of a special committee that would investigate the political “weaponization” of the federal government.

The wonders of nature, 1953 by Rene Magritte

I’m sure the Republican clown show will continue with their crazy conspiracy theories and not the real thing.  Then, there’s the FBI agent that took money from Oleg Deripaska.  This is the same Russian oligarch connected with Paul Manafort.  This is from Insider.  “Exclusive: Inside the extramarital affair and cash-fueled double life of Charles McGonigal, the FBI spy hunter charged with taking Russian money”. Mattathias Schwartz has the byline.

Federal prosecutors charged McGonigal with money laundering and making false statements in his mandatory employee disclosures to the FBI. He was also charged with taking money from a representative of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who McGonigal had once himself investigated, in violation of US economic sanctions against Russia; the indictment alleges that Deripaska paid him to investigate a rival oligarch. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

McGonigal was not an ordinary FBI agent. He led the WikiLeaks investigation into Chelsea Manning as well as a search for a Chinese mole inside the CIA. While working at FBI headquarters in Washington, he played a role in opening the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts that was later dubbed Operation Crossfire Hurricane.

But it was McGonigal’s final FBI job, special agent in charge of the counterintelligence division at the FBI’s New York field office, that was his most important assignment at the bureau. It was his job to find enemy spies and recruit his own.

“New York City is a global center for espionage and counterespionage,” says one senior law-enforcement insider who was closely familiar with the specifics of McGonigal’s role. “You have visits from foreign business elites and politicians. You have the United Nations. You have ethnic populations. Who runs the pitches to recruit spies from all those other countries? The FBI. So the access you get in that job is extraordinary. It’s almost bottomless. So if you’re running FBI counterintelligence in New York, you can get your hands on almost anything you want, and you don’t always have to make excuses for why you’re asking for it.”

The impact of the McGonigal indictments is still rippling out through the law-enforcement world. The charges accuse an official at the heart of the Trump-Russia investigation of secretly selling his own access, accepting bundles of cash in surreptitious meetings with someone who had ties to Albanian intelligence. McGonigal, a top-tier member of the city’s law-enforcement community, a man who had fully integrated himself into a powerful circle of trust where favors get swapped and sensitive intelligence gets circulated, is accused of himself being on the take. If the indictments are correct, McGonigal was leading a dangerous double life, right under the noses of some of the sharpest cops in America.

But what might be most striking about the case against McGonigal is how cheaply he is alleged to have rented out his law-enforcement powers. One indictment suggests that for $225,000, McGonigal’s associates got him to lobby the Albanian prime minister about the awarding of oil-field drilling licenses and then open an FBI investigation connected to a US citizen who had lobbied for one of the prime minister’s political opponents. Arranging a meeting for an executive from a Bosnian pharmaceutical company with a US official at the United Nations was said to be a pricier item — $500,000, one indictment claims. It is unclear whether that money ever materialized.

Sparky’s Dream,Vicky Knowles, 2008

You can read more at the link. And of course, the fall out from the Secret Service and the Trump Supporters in their ranks continues to gather headlines. This is from a month ago.  “Joe Biden Reportedly Struggled to ‘Trust’ Some of His Secret Service Detail Who Were Donald Trump Supporters.”

A new book, The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House by Chris Whipple, is alleging that Joe Biden has “trust” issues with several members of his security detail. “A bigger problem was Biden’s discomfort with his Secret Service detail; some of them were MAGA sympathizers. He didn’t trust them,” Whipple wrote in an excerpt obtained by The Hill.

Joe Biden was used to a smaller group of Secret Service agents when he was vice president under Barack Obama’s administration and suddenly felt like he was surrounded by people on the Trump train, according to Whipple. The feeling was that “the Secret Service is full of white ex-cops from the South who tend to be deeply conservative.” The author wrote, “Surrounded by a new phalanx of strangers, Biden couldn’t help but wonder, Do these people really want me here?

I can only imagine what the next few years will be like.  This is especially true now that Trump has been let back on to major Social Media Sites.  I’ll be really surprised if CSPAN doesn’t have trouble getting the righ access to these hearings too.  Welcome to Surreal Dystopia Story Time.  I’ll take Drag queens any time over Fish Tales.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads: Death has a sense of Irony

Under the Orange Tree, Berthe Morisotsot, 1889

Good Day Sky Dancers!

Folks may think they’re done with Covid-19, but Covid-19 is not done with us.  I’m thinking of JJ and her daughter Bebe who struggled with the virus and lost dear friends.  Covid deniers in the US and other places have made hell on earth for the rest of us with their blatant acts to ensure its spread.  Not only do they cough on you, but they seem hell-bent on proving themselves right. Well, another one bites the dust. Death may take a vacation, but it also has a deep sense of Irony. That’s my literary take, but the deal is you can’t fight scientific findings with Iron Age folk tales. You do not want to see people dying of anything, but most of all, from stupidity. This is from The Daily Beast. “Conservative Activist Dies of COVID Complications After Attending Anti-Vax ‘Symposium’.”

“I am truly heartbroken to learn that my dear friend Kelly Canon has passed away from complications from Covid pneumonia. Just yesterday around 4pm she told a group of friends that she definitely felt better and that the docs had told her she had ‘turned the corner’ with improved blood test results. She was talking about wanting to come home. Later last night she developed an acute abdominal issue, was given pain meds and put on the ventilator,” wrote Maggie Clopton Wright“

See more

More recently, Canon had been an outspoken critic of COVID-19 vaccine mandates and pandemic-related restrictions. In one of her final Facebook posts, Canon shared several links to speeches she attended at a “COVID symposium” in Burleson in early December devoted to dissuading people from getting the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available. The event was organized by God Save Our Children, which bills itself as “a conservative group that is fighting against the use of experimental vaccines on our children.”

Canon had shared similar content on Twitter, where her most recent post was a YouTube video featuring claims that the coronavirus pandemic was “planned” in advance and part of a global conspiracy.

As news of her death spread Tuesday, pro-vaccine commentators flooded her Facebook page with cruel comments and mocking memes, while her supporters unironically praised her for being a “warrior for liberty” to the very end.

I’m not sure she deserves to be mocked, but her example is not one to follow. That may not be the case in this Congress.

Berthe Morisot,
Julie Manet picking cherries, 1891

Since I’m already on this topic, I might dive in fully. This is from Common Dreams.  “Christian Nationalism vs. the Separation of Church and State. The Founding Fathers wisely recognized what religion would become in the hands of charlatans: a theatrical performance and political tool to hypocritically showboat their “piety” as a way to manipulate voters for political gain.”

What a sorry little God he would be if he weren’t more open-minded than his closed-minded children who insult him by their demeaning image of him and use that caricature as their puppet who “reveals” to them alone what he wants for their country or political party!

Whether such proselytizing zeal is disguised aggression, megalomania, or repressed self-doubt that feels both threatened and driven to convert others to dispel that doubt, these are very dangerous people and should never be part of government or have their theological views of the Second Coming guide an administration’s foreign policy toward Israel and that tinderbox of the Middle East.

And yet, unbeknownst to themselves, these individuals render the nation an inestimable service by being a constant reminder of the very reason for upholding this Separation of Church and State. The Founding Fathers believed that religion was, and must always remain, a private affair because bringing the volatility of “religious enthusiasm” into the public arena would only trivialize religion and destabilize a nation. They feared the political effects of interdenominational feuding, the polarization caused by doctrinal differences, the demonization of dissenters, and the eruption of religious intolerance and hatred.

There was also a second reason why the Founders feared religion in politics — the rise of religious opportunists who would inflame political passions to promote themselves. Religion would become in the hands of these charlatans a theatrical performance and political tool to hypocritically showboat their “piety” to manipulate voters for political gain.

An unscrupulous politician could disguise his lack of convictions by holding his finger to the wind to determine which way the wind was blowing and telling his audience whatever he thought it wanted to hear. This individual well understood the art of inciting “enthusiasm” or hysteria toward some plan of action and call it “the Will of God.”

The Founders would have blanch­ed at politicians returning to their constituents and pandering to their sincerely held religious convictions to gain a following or court popularity — not that they couldn’t take part in religious services as private citizens, but not as representatives of their government lest people think they were lending the prestige of their office to their particular church or religion.

These Founders also knew their Bible, as it played such a pivotal role in their 18th-century world. They knew of Christ’s admonition in Mat­thew 6 about not playing the hypocrite by standing on the street corner and making a public display of one’s piety, for one would have already received one’s reward. Instead, one should withdraw to one’s room, close the door, and in privacy pray to God as grandstanding didn’t count as prayer with the Lord! As experienced men of the world, they knew only too well how politicians might cynically abuse religion to seek power and votes.

They were also highly educated, even erudite, men, especially Thomas Jefferson, whose library contained a Who’s Who of “great authors,” one of whom was the celebrated French playwright Moliere, author of “Tartuffe,” the embodiment of religious hypocrisy. It is both an uproarious romp into the glacial regions of inner emptiness, as well as a manual for observing the bobbings and weavings of unctuous sanctimony raised to high art.

In that great patrician school of Parisian sophistication, it was thought that the only way to effect moral change was never by sermons but by ridicule. Many don’t mind being considered a scoundrel, but never a fool! Castigat ridendo mores (“Comedy corrects manners”) was the essence of Moliere’s art that skewered human folly by laughter alone.

This caustic mockery of his characters and the gales of laughter that broke forth from the audience were much more effective in pillorying vice than sermons delivered from Notre Dame’s pulpit. Moliere, the French Aristophanes, was and always has been a moral institution for the French, who can laugh at themselves in his characters with no loss of face.

Jefferson and his colleagues well understood that some members of government might be tempted to play Tartuffe on the political stage. One Tartuffe, or a group of them, could do untold harm to a nation by using religion for political ends. To the educated, the 18th century was an age of taste and decorum, moderation and dignity, and everything had its proper place. Religion especially could never be allowed to be vulgarized or cheapened by demagogues toying with people’s religious emotions.

There would be no limit to their unbridled ambition and religious hypocrisy in saying whatever would ingratiate themselves to the favor and trust of an audience. So profound was their cynical abuse of religion for being elected that they would wax rhapsodic on the metaphysical subtleties of Hottentot theology if they thought it would secure them a “leg-up” over their political rivals at election time.

I must admit that I’ve never understood the religious right, the moral majority, or the radicalism of Emp-ty G.  One line of my father’s family–Huguenote French Protestants and Jewish folks–fled Alsace Lorraine after the region after the Catholic Church was handed all their belongings and began the persecution of both groups when Napolean handed them the region. Both sides of my family had signers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, so I had a firm grounding in staying out of another’s religion.  I was horrified by Pat Robertson’s minions when they moved on Iowa and captured the Reagan version of the Republican Party.

Renoir, Girls Picking Flowers in a Meadow, about 1890

This depressing article was in the New York Times today. “How Kevin McCarthy Forged an Ironclad Bond With Marjorie Taylor Greene. The close alliance that has developed between the speaker and the hard-right Georgia Republican explains his rise, how he might govern, and the heavy influence of the extremes on the new House G.O.P. majority.” I had difficulty understanding Phyliss Schafly’s actions and speech back in the day, but this new group of right-wing women is beyond explanation.  It just seems this entire group just will do anything for attention.

Days after he won his gavel in a protracted fight with hard-right Republicans, Speaker Kevin McCarthy gushed to a friend about the ironclad bond he had developed with an unlikely ally in his battle for political survival, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

“I will never leave that woman,” Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, told the friend, who described the private conversation on the condition of anonymity. “I will always take care of her.”

Such a declaration from Mr. McCarthy would have been unthinkable in 2021, when Ms. Greene first arrived on Capitol Hill in a swirl of controversy and provocation. A former QAnon follower who had routinely trafficked in conspiratorial, violent and bigoted statements, Ms. Greene was then widely seen as a dangerous liability to the party and a threat to the man who aspired to lead Republicans back to the majority — a person to be controlled and kept in check, not embraced.

But in the time since, a powerful alliance developed between Ms. Greene, the far-right rabble-rouser and acolyte of former President Donald J. Trump, and Mr. McCarthy, the affable fixture of the Washington establishment, according to interviews with 20 people with firsthand knowledge of the relationship, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it.

Their political union — a closer and more complex one than has previously been known — helps explain how Mr. McCarthy rose to power atop a party increasingly defined by its extremes, the lengths to which he will go to accommodate those forces, and how much influence Ms. Greene and the faction she represents have in defining the agenda of the new House Republican majority.

“If you’re going to be in a fight, you want Marjorie in your foxhole,” Mr. McCarthy said. Both he and Ms. Greene agreed to brief interviews for this article. “When she picks a fight, she’s going to fight until the fight’s over. She reminds me of my friends from high school, that we’re going to stick together all the way through.”

It is a relationship born of political expediency but fueled by genuine camaraderie, and nurtured by one-on-one meetings as often as once a week, usually at a coffee table in Mr. McCarthy’s Capitol office, as well as a constant stream of text messages back and forth.

Mr. McCarthy has gone to unusual lengths to defend Ms. Greene, even dispatching his general counsel to spend hours on the phone trying to cajole senior executives at Twitter to reactivate her personal account after she was banned last year for violating the platform’s coronavirus misinformation policy.

Ms. Greene, in turn, has taken on an outsize role as a policy adviser to Mr. McCarthy, who has little in the way of a fixed ideology of his own and has come to regard the Georgia congresswoman as a vital proxy for the desires and demands of the right-wing base that increasingly drives his party. He has adopted her stances on opposing vaccine mandates and questioning funding for the war in Ukraine, and even her call to reinvestigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol to show what she has called “the other side of the story.”

Young Girl Holding a Basket, 1891, Berthe Morisot

This does not bode well.

Yesterday was supposed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Roe v Wade. Instead, the same group is not happy with its’ overturn. They’ve moved on to more extremism under their limited view of Christianity. Vice President Kamal Harris gave a rousing speech on the need to protect women’s abortion rights.  This is from NPR. “On 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Kamala Harris urges federal abortion protections.”

Vice President Kamala Harris commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by imploring Americans to work to enshrine abortion rights into law.

“For nearly 50 years, Americans relied on the rights that Roe protected,” Harris said at a speech delivered in Tallahassee, Fla., on Sunday. “Today, however, on what would have been its 50th anniversary, we speak of the Roe decision in the past tense.”

The landmark Supreme Court decision on Jan. 22, 1973, guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion for nearly half a century. The U.S. Supreme Court officially reversed Roe v. Wade in June, which immediately rolled back abortion rights in almost half of the states, and led to many more restrictions. In speaking in Florida, Harris, the nation’s first female vice president, delivered a speech in a state which passed a 15-week abortion ban into law.

In her speech, Harris spoke directly to the anti-abortion rights policies implemented by Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, and state officials.

After the Food and Drug Administration changed a rule to allow retail pharmacies to fill prescriptions for abortion pills, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration reportedly sent a letter out to pharmacists telling them that dispensing the abortion pill could lead to criminal charges.

“Here, in Florida, health care providers face prison — prison! — for up to five years for simply doing their job,” Harris said. “And now the state has also targeted medication abortion, and even threatened Florida pharmacists with criminal charges if they provide medication prescribed by medical professionals.”

President Biden moved to support legal access to chemical abortions.

Fillette portant un panier, Young Girl Holding a Basket, 1888, Berthe Morisot

This is from The Guardian. “In a more just world, this would be the 50th anniversary of Roe v Wade, written by Moira Donegan.  Until last year, Roe made it more possible for women’s lives to be determined by their choices, not merely by their bodies”

If the supreme court hadn’t overturned it last June, undoing a longstanding precedent and inflicting untold harm to women’s well-being and dignity, Sunday 22 January would have been the fiftieth anniversary of Roe v Wade.

Over those 50 years, Roe changed American life dramatically. Abortion became a routine part of life, a resource people planned their lives around having. In contrast to its political controversy, abortion in the Roe era was – as it is now – aggressively common. Approximately one in four American women will have an abortion at some point in the course of their reproductive lives.

The figure lends credence to the pro-choice assertion that everyone loves someone who had an abortion – and the accompanying quip that if you think you don’t know a woman who has had an abortion, you really just don’t know any women who trust you enough to tell you. But part of the legacy of Roe is not just that these women you know and love have been able to have freer, healthier, more volitional lives, but also that their abortions, for many of them, are not worth confessing. For most, abortions were not tragedies to be whispered about, or life-altering moments of shame, but banalities, choices to which they were unquestionably entitled, and from which they could move unconflictedly on. But Roe is gone. Now, for many women, these choices are crimes.

It’s worth reflecting on what we had during those 49 years. While it stood, Roe offered a promise: that women’s lives need not be circumscribed by so-called “biological destiny”; that gender – its relations, performances, and obligations – might not be something that is imposed on women, but something that they take up and discard on their own terms. In the Roe era, this frank entitlement by women to determine the courses of their own lives was the decision’s greatest legacy. Individual women’s distinction and determination, or their conflictedness and confusion, or their ambivalence and exploration: once, before Roe, these parts of a woman’s personality almost didn’t matter; they were incidental eccentricities along the inevitable road to motherhood. Roe made it more possible for women’s lives to be determined by their characters, not merely by their bodies.

It is easy to speak of Roe’s impact in material terms – the way it enabled women’s long march into paid work and into better paid work, how it was a precondition for their soaring achievements in education and the professions, their ascents into positions of power and influence. So little of the vast and varied lives of twentieth-century American women could have been achieved in the absence of abortion or birth control – these women, their minds and careers, are gifts the nation could never have received if they’d been made to be pregnant against their wills, or made to care for unplanned, unlonged-for babies.

But it is less easy to discuss the sense of dignity that Roe gave to American women, the way that the freedom to control when and whether they would have children endowed American women, for the first time, with something like the gravitas of adults. Roe opened a door for women into dignity, into self-determination, into the still wild and incendiary idea that they, like men, might be endowed with the prerogatives of citizenship, and entitled to chart the course of their own lives.

Mid-Century, Roger Etienne, Man In a Flower Hat

This is from the ACLU.” Roe’s 50th Year Undid Its Promise”.

On this anniversary episode, we are going to look at the reality that people are facing in a post-Roe America, both those seeking care and those providing it. Without Roe, a key component of reproductive care has become illegal or restricted for more than 20 million people, throwing many into painful and life-threatening situations. We are joined by Community Organizer, Kaitlyn Joshua, who experienced firsthand how new restrictions on abortion endanger the lives and well-being of pregnant people, and Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an OB-GYN, reproductive health educator, author, and Executive Director of Mayday Health, an organization focused on providing information on abortion access and options for people, regardless of where they live.

You may listen to the podcast at the link.

I think we have enough today to discuss and think about.  By the way, you reap what you sow.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Finally Friday Reads: A Woman’s Day

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1915, Women on a Street

Good Day Sky Dancers!

Misogyny is the word for the day. Two of the headlines deal with the egregious actions of Trump. Then, hold his beer because New Zealand lost an outstanding prime minister because she got tired of the same treatment the woman-hating press and right-wingers give women leaders here.  There is some really good news today from a U.S. court.

This is from the New York Times. “Judge Orders Trump and Lawyer to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Bogus Suit. In a scathing ruling, the judge said the suit against Hillary Clinton and dozens of the former president’s perceived political enemies was “brought in bad faith for an improper purpose.”  It’s not a large sum of money, but it paints him as a loser and bringer of frivolous lawsuits. I do have to mention the bylines as Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman.

In a scathing ruling, a federal judge in Florida on Thursday ordered Donald J. Trump and one of his lawyers together to pay nearly a million dollars in sanctions for filing a frivolous lawsuit against nearly three dozen of Mr. Trump’s perceived political enemies, including Hillary Clinton and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey.

The ruling was a significant rebuke of Mr. Trump, who has rarely faced such consequences in his long history of using the courts as a weapon against business rivals and partners, as well as former employees and reporters.

And it was the latest setback for Mr. Trump as he faces a broad range of legal problems and criminal investigations. His lawyers are increasingly under scrutiny themselves for their actions in those cases, as well as divided in the advice they are offering him.

“This case should never have been brought,” U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks wrote in a 46-page ruling. “Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”

While Mr. Trump has often blamed his lawyers for his problems, the judge, in his ruling on Thursday, addressed Mr. Trump’s history of using the courts as a cudgel, going back decades in his business career.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Tightrope Walk (1908-10)

Dan Mangan of CNBC also reports the story.  This is the first news day in some time where I honestly say it put a smile on my face.

Trump’s suit, which sought $70 million in damages, accused Clinton and 30 other defendants of conspiring to “weave a false narrative” during the 2016 election that Trump and his campaign were colluding with Russia in their efforts to win the race.

Middlebrooks in his order Thursday noted that “Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries.”

“He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer,” Middlebrooks wrote.

“He knew full well the impact of his actions … As such, I find that sanctions should be imposed upon Mr. Trump and his lead counsel, Ms. Habba.”

Under the order, the Republican Trump and Habba, are jointly and severally liable for the total amount of sanctions the judge imposed to cover the defendants’ legal fees and costs : $937,989.39. That amount is about $120,000 less than what the defendants jointly requested for sanctions.
Clinton was awarded $171,631 in sanctions to be paid by Trump and Habba, with most of that money earmarked for Clinton’s attorneys’ fee.

That was the second largest amount awarded in Middlebrooks’ order, which gave the Democratic National Committee, its former chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, and a related corporation $179,685.

“The amount of fees awarded in this case, while reasonable, is substantial,” Middlebrooks noted.

The judge in November had sanctioned Habba and other Trump lawyers $50,000 in favor of another defendant in the lawsuit, Charles Dolan.

He called the legal pleadings filed in the case by Habba “abusive litigation tactics,” and said the original lawsuit and a later, 186-page amended complaint “were drafted to advance political narrative; not to address legal harm caused by any Defendant.”

“The Amended Complaint is a hodgepodge of disconnected, often immaterial events, followed by an implausible conclusion,” Middlebrooks wrote.

“This is a deliberate attempt to harass; to tell a story without regard to facts.”

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Five Women on the Street, 1913

If you want to know how Trump’s mental acuity is doing these days, read this transcript of his Deposition in the E. Jean Carroll case released by Judge Kaplan. The weirdest moment was when Trump mistook a picture of Carroll for his former wife, Marla Maples. This is from MSNBC and Steve Benen. “Deposition transcript adds to Trump’s troubles in Carroll case. Why does it matter that Donald Trump confused a woman who has accused him of rape with one of his ex-wives? Because it might undermine his defense.”

It was about a week ago when the public first saw a partial transcript of Donald Trump’s deposition in E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case. As we discussed soon after, it was not good news for the Republican: The former president not only lashed out at his accuser as a “nut job” and someone who’s “mentally sick,” he also falsely suggested that Carroll was on record enjoying sexual assault.

“She actually indicated that she loved it. OK?” Trump said in the deposition, mischaracterizing comments Carroll made on CNN four years ago. “In fact, I think she said it was sexy, didn’t she? She said it was very sexy to be raped.”

The plaintiff’s attorney asked, “So, sir, I just want to confirm: It’s your testimony that E. Jean Carroll said that she loved being sexually assaulted by you?” Trump responded, “Well, based on her interview with Anderson Cooper, I believe that’s what took place.”

As NBC News reported, the rest of the deposition is now also coming into focus in striking ways.

Former President Donald Trump confused E. Jean Carroll, the writer who has accused him of rape, with ex-wife Marla Maples in a photo he was shown during a deposition, newly unsealed court documents show. An excerpt of the October deposition released by U.S. District Court for Southern New York on Wednesday includes an exchange in which Trump was asked by Carroll’s lawyer about a black-and-white photograph that showed a small group of people, including Trump and Carroll.

Describing the image showing him and his accuser, Trump said, “That’s Marla, yeah. That’s my wife,” referring to the second of his three spouses. At that point, the Republican’s lawyer intervened, correcting her client’s mistake.

“No, that’s Carroll,” lawyer Alina Habba said, according to the newly released transcript. 

At face value, this might seem like an embarrassing blunder in which the former president confused one of his former wives with a woman who accused him of attacking her. But there’s more to it than that: As NBC News’ report added, “Trump’s comments under oath threaten to undercut his repeated denials of Carroll’s allegations, claiming she’s ‘not my type.’”

Portrait of Emy, 1919. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced her plans to step down yesterday.  She was widely hailed as an effective and empathetic leader. Among her accomplishments was the impressive handling of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country, which was considered one of the most effective in the world.  This is from NPR. 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday announced her intent to step down in a shock move that rocked the country’s political landscape.

Speaking to her party’s annual caucus in the seaside town of Napier, 42-year-old Ardern said “it’s time” for her to move on and that she “no longer had enough in the tank” for her premiership. She also called for a general election on Oct. 14.

“I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility,” Ardern told her audience. “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”

Ardern became the world’s youngest female leader in 2017 at the age of 37. Her last day in the office will be Feb. 7.

“This is not something we were expecting today,” said Geoffrey Miller, a geopolitical analyst with the Wellington-based nonprofit Democracy Project. “It was something that commentators had thought of and have been asking since the end of last year … and she quite convincingly said she was going to stay, and that she wasn’t going anywhere.”

The last six years have been busy for Ardern, managing disasters and tragedies that propelled her to global superstardom, Miller said. From the COVID-19 pandemic and a volcanic eruption to the terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, he said Ardern has become much more well known than any New Zealand prime minister in the past.

“In many ways, she was the anti-Trump figure,” Miller said. “They both came into office in 2017 … but she went off to the United Nations and she decried isolationism, brandishing an image of being an internationalist or being a globalist.”

New Zealand’s relationship with China was probably her biggest foreign policy sticking point, Miller said, with Ardern always having to walk a line between souring relations with China and the fact that Beijing is Wellington’s largest trading partner.

“But she had to try and find a way forward,” Miller said. “And I think her consensus approach helped with this, but at the same time, she wasn’t immune to these bigger geopolitical trends.”

Four Ages in Life, 1920, Edvard Munch

This is from Monica Hesse, writing for the Washington Post. “Jacinda Ardern didn’t make working motherhood look easy. She made it look real. Five years ago, she became the second world leader to give birth while in office. Now the New Zealand prime minister plans to step down.”

A few weeks ago, while I watched Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) win admiration for caring for his infant on the House floor, I started to think about the last time I’d seen an elected official engage in such a public display of parenting. It was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, scraping herself together after a six-week maternity leave to simultaneously raise a human and run a country.

I don’t remember Ardern winning universal admiration for this balancing act. What I remember mostly was the debate that raged over her breastfeeding choices. Since baby Neve was still nursing when Ardern was expected at a Pacific islands summit, the prime minister had arranged to take a separate flight from other government officials, shortening her trip to avoid a prolonged absence from her newborn. The extra travel arrangements cost thousands of dollars in fuel. Was this a good use of taxpayer money? Should Ardern have taken a longer maternity leave or avoided pregnancy altogether?

“If I didn’t go, I imagine there would have been equal criticism,” she told the New Zealand Herald at the time, explaining the careful analysis that had gone into her decision. “Damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.”

So one lesson from Jacinda Ardern’s term was that mothers can’t win and that even in the highest levels of governing, a father who rearranges his work schedule for his kids is seen as dedicated and a mother who does the same is seen as disorganized. But if you prefer the optimistic take, the other lesson was that if citizens are willing to accept flexibility in how their leaders get the job done then they can have a leader like Jacinda Ardern.

They can have a leader who, after stepping into her role at the age of 37, went on to create one of the most diverse cabinets in the world: 40 percent women, 25 percent Maori, 15 percent LGBTQ — a group that, Arden said proudly, reflected “the New Zealand that elected them.”

They can have a leader who, less than a week after 50 New Zealanders were shot to death in a Christchurch mosque, helmed a nationwide ban of assault-style weapons without fuss or consternation: “Our history changed forever,” she said simply. “Now, our laws will too.”

The Mother leading two Children, 1901, Pablo Piccaso

Ardern cited burnout as her primary reason for resignation.  There was a surging right-wing movement in the nation and among the press that some of my friends felt was hell-bent on doing her in.  This is from the BBC.  “Why Jacinda Ardern’s star waned in New Zealand.”

She has been the subject of often-vile abuse by the anti-vax movement and other populist-inspired right-wing protest groups in New Zealand.

It was evident in her resignation remarks on Thursday that the pressure had had an impact and caused her to doubt whether she could lead her party into the election scheduled for October.

“This summer, I had hoped to find a way to prepare not just for another year but another term because that is what this year requires; I have not been able to do that,” she said.

Now, for yet another insult to American Women. This is from Bloomberg. It’s written by Nancy Cook.  “GOP Quietly Plots What’s Next on Abortion in Nod to 2022 Failures. ”

  • Anti-abortion rally in DC highlights scattershot approach
  • Abortion rights energized women, young voters in midterms “

Republicans still haven’t solved the quandary of how to talk to voters about abortion, still stinging from their midterm losses and with the White House at stake in less than two years.

Conversations with a dozen GOP candidates, former White House aides, activists and lobbyists show the issue continues to bedevil the party even after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Conservatives who celebrated that ruling are weighing what is politically possible to restrict access to abortion without repelling key voters like suburban women, independents and young people.

The GOP ceded this ground in the 2022 midterms to Democrats, whose own furious base was galvanized following the Supreme Court’s decision last summer to end 50 years of constitutionally protected abortion rights.

On the campaign trail, some Republicans avoided the topic entirely while some endorsed total bans, with no exceptions. The reality that hit them was that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

So with the 2024 race already on, Republicans’ strategy is to paint Democrats as the true extremists, try to put them on the defensive and avoid their own schisms from spilling out in public.

The GOP ceded this ground in the 2022 midterms to Democrats, whose own furious base was galvanized following the Supreme Court’s decision last summer to end 50 years of constitutionally protected abortion rights.

On the campaign trail, some Republicans avoided the topic entirely while some endorsed total bans, with no exceptions. The reality that hit them was that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

So with the 2024 race already on, Republicans’ strategy is to paint Democrats as the true extremists, try to put them on the defensive and avoid their own schisms from spilling out in public.

“When you run from abortion and don’t talk about it, you forfeit the issue to the other side,” Marc Short, chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence, said in an interview. “We have a responsibility, as a party, to explain our position and do it in a winsome way that is not judgmental.”

Winsome?  WTAF?

Well, that’s it for me today!  I hope you have a great weekend!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads: Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

Good Day, Sky Dancers!

There are some interesting articles and analyses today so let’s get started!

Jessica Levinson at MSNBC has this to say about the classified documents and the media’s false equivalencies between the last two presidents. ” Investigations into classified docs should leave Trump more worried than Biden. Don’t focus on the headlines in the investigations into classified documents held by Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Focus on the details.”

There’s a line in an old song that goes, “Lawyers dwell on small details.” It’s true. The law is all about details. From one perspective, two cases may appear similar, but depending on the details, they can be very different.”

Classified documents were found at the offices and homes of former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden from the time he was vice president. In November Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to lead the investigation into the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. Thursday, after reports that classified documents from his vice presidency had been found at Biden’s home and office, Garland appointed Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate that matter.

So far, the stories look similar. Neither Biden nor Trump should have been in possession of classified documents after they left office. These are the people’s documents, not theirs.

But because the law concerns itself with details, not headlines, the similarities mostly stop there.

As a former president, Trump might be indicted, but perhaps the most important reason Biden is unlikely to face indictment or criminal prosecution is he’s currently president. As we know all too well from the four years of the Trump administration, the Justice Department has a policy against indicting sitting presidents. An opinion issued by the Office of Legal Counsel, a division of the Justice Department, provides that charging the president with a crime would “unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”

The GOP now controls the House of Representatives, and we know members of that party have been raring to go to investigate and possibly impeach Biden. But impeaching Biden for possessing classified documents would be improper for two reasons. First, there is a good argument to be made that people can only be impeached for misconduct committed while in office. Biden’s retention of classified documents occurred after he left the vice presidency and before he assumed the presidency. Second, impeachment is only available when the subject of the impeachment has engaged in “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

After a Trump attorney’s false assertion to the Justice Department that all the requested documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence had been returned, the Justice Department was ultimately forced to obtain and execute a search warrant.

For reasons discussed below, Biden’s conduct is unlikely to be characterized as criminal, even if he weren’t the sitting president. There is also plenty of reason to believe that Trump will or at least ought to be. Consider what each did after being alerted that he might be in possession of classified documents.

Trump reportedly ignored multiple requests from the National Archives for those documents, and after a Trump attorney’s false assertion to the Justice Department that all the requested documents at Trump’s  Mar-a-Lago residence had been returned, the Justice Department was ultimately forced to obtain and execute a search warrant. Prosecutors have also argued that Trump’s team tried to hide the documents found at Mar-a-Lago before and after the subpoena was issued.

Reportedly, in Biden’s case, the White House counsel alerted the National Archives as soon as classified documents were found at Biden’s former office in November. The National Archives didn’t ask; Biden’s team offered.

Then that team searched for any additional documents that belonged to the government. It found additional files at Biden’s residence in December and more last week, before the White House announced Saturday that additional documents had been found Thursday. The Biden story is one of cooperation, not obstruction.

The contrast was muddied this weekend in the Sunday Shows.  There’s an outline of what various Congressional Representatives said at Politico written by Eugene Daniels. “POLITICO Playbook: Three storylines to watch in Biden’s document drama.”  Evidently, some Republicans still believe that someone that obviously obstructed the return of stolen documents deserves the same treatment as one that immediately notified the Archives of their existence and fully cooperated.

GOP investigations are inevitable, and they will be ferocious. Rep. JAMES COMER (R-Ky.), the newly minted chair of the House Oversight Committee, released a statement yesterday hammering Biden and promising an investigation.

“Many questions need to be answered but one thing is certain: oversight is coming,” Comer said. “The Biden White House’s secrecy in this matter is alarming. Equally alarming is the fact that Biden aides were combing through documents knowing there would be a Special Counsel appointed.”

Comer is now requesting additional documents and communications “related to the searches of President Joe Biden’s homes and other locations by Biden aides for classified documents, as well as the visitor log of the president’s Wilmington, Delaware, home from January 20, 2021 to present,” per CNN’s Daniella Diaz.

The exchange of the morning came as Comer appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper, which offered a preview of how Republicans will approach the issue, especially vis-a-vis Trump.

Tapper: “Do you only care about classified documents being mishandled when Democrats do the mishandling?”

Comer: “Absolutely not. … At the end of the day, my biggest concern isn’t the classified documents, to be honest with you. My concern is there’s such a discrepancy between how President Trump was treated … versus Joe Biden.” Watch the video

The Washington Post has an exclusive today.  “New details link George Santos to cousin of sanctioned Russian oligarch. The New York congressman once claimed Andrew Intrater’s company was his “client,” while another Intrater company allegedly made a deposit with a firm where Santos worked.  Isaac Stanley-Becker and Rosalind S. Helderman share the byline.

George Santos, the freshman Republican congressman from New York who lied about his biography, has deeper ties than previously known to a businessman who cultivated close links with a onetime Trump confidant and who is the cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch, according to video footage and court documents.

Andrew Intrater and his wife each gave the maximum $5,800 to Santos’ main campaign committee and tens of thousands more since 2020 to committees linked to him, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Intrater’s cousin is Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for his role in the Russian energy industry.

The relationship between Santos and Intrater goes beyond campaign contributions, according to a statement made privately by Santos in 2020 and a court filing the following year in a lawsuit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission against a Florida-based investment firm, Harbor City Capital, where Santos worked for more than a year.

Taken together, the evidence suggests Santos may have had a business relationship with Intrater as Santos was first entering politics in 2020. It also shows, according to the SEC filing, that Intrater put hundreds of thousands of dollars into Santos’ onetime employer, Harbor City, which was accused by regulators of running a Ponzi scheme. Neither Santos nor Intrater responded to requests for comment. Attorneys who have represented Intrater also did not respond.

And speaking of “business dealings,” this is from DAWN. “U.S.: Investigate New Evidence of President Trump’s Business Dealings with MBS . Multimillion-dollar payments from LIV Golf, Reportedly 93% owned by MBS-Controlled Fund, to Trump Golf Resorts Raise Serious Questions about Conflict of Interest, Threats to National Security.”

The U.S. Department of Justice and Congress should investigate the disturbing facts and circumstances surrounding payments by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF), via its wholly-owned LIV Golf company, to businesses owned by former President Donald Trump, said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

On January 13, 2023, Elliot Peters, a name partner at Keker, a prominent San Francisco law firm, who is lead counsel to the PGA in the players’ lawsuit, inadvertently revealed in a court proceeding that PIF owns 93% of LIV Golf, pays for all of its events, and holds all of the entity’s financial risk. PIF’s chairman is Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS), who has absolute and final decision-making control over the fund. LIV Golf is a newly established golf tournament franchise that has emerged as a rival to PGA Golf. It has paid Trump-owned golf resorts unknown millions of dollars to hold its events there, and former President Trump has publicly championed the new league, made prominent appearances at its events, and urged PGA players to sign on with LIV Golf.

“The revelation that a fund controlled by Crown Prince MBS actually owns almost all of LIV Golf means that MBS has been paying Donald Trump unknown millions for the past two years, via their mutual corporate covers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN. “The national security implications of payments from a grotesquely abusive foreign dictator to a president of the United States who provided extraordinary favors to him are as dangerous as they are shocking.”

The information about LIV Golf was otherwise kept sealed in the secret shareholder agreement between PIF and LIV Golf, although LIV Golf had previously disclosed that the PIF was its majority shareholder. There has been no independent verification of the ownership percentages reportedly revealed in court. It is not known who owns the other seven percent of LIV Golf. LIV Golf Players and LIV Golf have sued PGA for suspending PGA players who have signed contracts with LIV Golf, and PGA has sued LIV Golf and the PIF for interfering with its players’ contracts. MBS is the chairman of PIF and has absolute decision-making power over its investments.

There is little doubt that MBS controls the PIF with as much absolute power as he controls the rest of the country, with final decision-making on all of PIF’s investments. When PIF’s advisory panel objected to PIF’s $2 billion investment in Trump’s son-in-law’s newly established fund, Affinity Partners, MBS reportedly vetoed the objections to proceed with the controversial investment as the only investor in a start-up fund that had no track record. Following DAWN’s demand for Congress to investigate this investment, as well as the $1 billion PIF investment in Trump’s former Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin’s newly established fund, Senator Warren announced she would commence an investigation into conflict of interest breaches and ethics law violations that bar solicitation of foreign government officials while in office.

“Former President Trump made no secret of the endless favors he granted MBS and Saudi Arabia during his term in office, from his first state visit to the country, to vetoing legislation that would have banned arms sales to the country, to protecting MBS by hiding the CIA’s report concluding MBS ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s murder,” said Whitson. “It now appears that like his son-in-law and treasury secretary, Trump is cashing in his chits with MBS for all these favors.”

DAWN stands for Democracy for the Arab World Now.  It’s an advocacy group founded by Jamal Khashoggi, an American Journalist brutally murdered at the request of MBS in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.

Further down the Republican food chain, we have this headline by Caleb Newton writing for  Bipartisan Report:. “Legal Action Against Ron DeSantis For Migrant Trafficking Upheld By Judge.”

Florida Judge John C. Cooper has upheld a lawsuit filed in his personal capacity by a Democratic state Senator from the south of the state challenging the legal framework GOP Governor Ron DeSantis used for transports last year of migrants from Texas to a community in Massachusetts.

The trip, which was evidently facilitated without any prior notice to local leaders or members of the community where the migrants arrived, although residents quickly mobilized to help those involved, mirrored high-profile efforts by other Republican governors. That list includes Greg Abbott of Texas, whose administration was responsible for a trip that saw migrants arrive in temperatures below freezing outside the D.C. residence of the vice president on Christmas Eve. With the trip for which DeSantis was responsible and other ventures, concerns have also circulated about potential deception targeting those the organizers were trying to cajole into joining the voluntary trips, including about basic facts like the eventual destination.

In Florida, the case from Democrat Jason Pizzo challenges the process by which the state set aside $12 million for the transport of migrants. Also at issue in general has been that the transports designated for support by those funds originate in Florida, but the migrants the DeSantis team ferried to Massachusetts started their trek in Texas, although the venture made a brief stop of under an hour in Florida itself. Pizzo argues a new initiative of the substance seen in something like the funds for transports for migrants requires a separate legislative effort rather than mere inclusion in routine budgeting.

The Miami Herald noted the state team argued the budgetary provisions were actually just expanding on a law imposing restrictions on state partnerships with individuals transporting certain migrants into Florida unless detaining or removing those individuals from Florida or the United States. The thing is — that other law was signed after the budget, so no argument about the two building off each other would inherently solve the fact that such isn’t how time works.

Cooper scheduled the trial in Pizzo’s case to start at the end of this month, on January 30. The DeSantis team specifically — and unsuccessfully — sought the case’s dismissal. Separately, the Florida governor has already faced a raft of other scrutiny over the endeavor, including confirmation from the oversight official known as an inspector general at the federal Treasury Department that they would be looking at DeSantis’s usage of interest derived from federal relief funds connected to COVID-19 for the flights. That official spoke to the situation after an inquiry from members of the Congressional delegation from Massachusetts.

Nothing like a bit of sunshine on a cloudy day.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?