Monday Reads: America’s Gun Fetish

American Farm Hand, Sandor Klein, 1937

Good Day Sky Dancers!

I’m watching the crazy Republicans in the Lousyana Lege start pushing a no permit necessary carry law for guns while I am still reeling from reading about all the gun violence over the weekend and this month. There were three mass shoot outs here this weekend including one in Shreveport.

It also included a shoot out at a 12 year old’s birthday party in the garage of the family home in an extremely comfortable, quiet, suburban La Place in St. John the Baptist Parish between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It’s your typical bedroom commuter exurb so wipipo cannot talk about urban violence without owning the weekend’s shoot outs!

No one was killed but 6 children were shot. Let that sink in. And, of course, no one saw a damned thing because it’s possible that one shooter was a kid.

An exasperated St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre said his detectives were working hard to make arrests after a Saturday night shooting at a 12-year-old child’s birthday party in LaPlace left six people injured, but so far they’ve struggled to secure cooperation.

“We have not one witness, not one person that saw anything yet. So we’re trying to solve it on our own right now,” Tregre said in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon. “I’m going to be polite — it’s more than frustrating.”

The shooting happened about 8:30 p.m. Saturday as a large crowd gathered for the child’s birthday party at a house in the 600 block of Golfview Drive, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Detectives believe that two groups of young men with an ongoing feud met up at the house, began arguing and gunfire broke out, according to Tregre. He said crime scene evidence shows that more than one firearm was fired.

The Sheriff’s Office hasn’t released a full list of victims and their injuries, but Tregre said one victim was 12 years old. Several of the victims had what Tregre described as “superficial” injuries, but three required surgery for more serious wounds.

John Stuart Curry, Self Portrait, 1939

Today’s artwork is from The Smithsonian and mostly from this piece written in its magazine. “How Portraiture Gave Rise to the Glamour of Guns. American portraiture with its visual allure and pictorial storytelling made gun ownership desirable” I know we have a gun fetish in this country, I know some how the whole Wild West thing played into it but I hestitate to think of any of this as glamourous.

A suspect has been arrested in the deadly Austin shooting that left 3 people dead. There was an intense manhunt for him and it turned out he’s a former Sheriff’s Deputy.

Officers found Broderick, 41, along a rural road around shortly after sunrise in Manor, an Austin suburb, after receiving reports of a suspicious person matching the description of the suspect in Sunday’s shooting, Manor Police Chief Ryan Phipps said. He said Broderick had a loaded pistol in his waistband.

“I’m truly heartbroken that a former Travis County Sheriff’s Office Deputy is the suspect in such a horrific incident,” Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez said in a statement.

The shooting in Austin was not the the sole mass shooting of Sunday.

This is an epidemic. This is a public safety issue. The politicians captured by the fetish and the NRA need to be held to account. This level of violence and murder is only seen in countries with active wars or intense drug cartel activity. This is not the way a civilized country should look.

It’s America’s heritage and it’s time to change it. From the Smithsonian article:

Early portraits of African-Americans have been rendered similarly pacifist. An 1868 wood engraving of Harriet Tubman by John Darby shows Tubman dressed as a scout for the Union Army holding a large rifle with her hands curiously placed over the barrel of the gun. A similar hand-over-the-gun-barrel stance resurfaces in a portrait of cowboy Nat Love around a decade later; as if to indicate that if the weapon was to fire, it would harm him first. Similarly, in an 1872 advertisement for Red Cloud chewing tobacco, the figure’s hand is also placed over the gun barrel.

At the same time, guns are used to illustrate the idea of defense of land, hunting literature begins to describe a more intimate relationship with being “armed.” Loving descriptions of guns as “well-oiled,” “sleek” and “gleaming;” and being “cradled,” “caressed” and “hugged” by their owners proliferates. In The American Farm Hand of 1937 by Sandor Klein, a farmer seated in a cane chair looks directly at the viewer and clutches a shotgun halfway down the barrel. The rifle is closest to the viewer and the polished wood handle and steel barrel sensuously echo the sinewy arms and bare torso of its owner.

AL.com sums it up well: “America’s gun violence epidemic rages on”. The cartoon is from J.D. Crowe.

This is an opinion cartoon.

Another day, another mass shooting superspreader event.

Police: Indianapolis FedEx shooter legally bought guns despite red flags

US has been wracked with several mass shootings in 2021

Atlanta massage business shootings

Man charged with 4 counts of murder in California shooting

10 people killed in Colorado supermarket shooting

Kenosha, Wisconsin tavern shooting: 3 dead, suspect apprehended

NPR discusses the recent weekend violence and the tremendous level of gun deaths we’re experiencing.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, a total of at least 19,394 people lost their lives due to gun violence in 2020. Including suicides, that number jumps to 43,550 people.

As of Sunday, the group tallied at least 5,517 non-suicide deaths in 2021, on track for a similar total to 2020.

The country as a whole saw about a 25% increase in non-suicide gun deaths in 2020 over 2019, though some places such as New York saw a much more pronounced increase.

Dr. Sonali Rajan of the Columbia Scientific Union for the Reduction of Gun Violence told NPR in January that one of the things that could have played a role in the increase was a diversion of public health resources due to the pandemic. She said that led to “violence interrupters, social programs and support services not being as readily available.”

Another possible cause: the uptick in gun sales. 2020 marked the best year for gun sales ever.

The rush for firearms began with the first coronavirus lockdowns and continued through the summer’s racial justice protests. At least 20 million guns were sold legally, up from about 12.4 million in 2019.

Experts, though, say that it can be a challenge to isolate any single cause, particularly during the pandemic with mass unemployment and closed schools.

Washington’s capacity for a legislative response to gun violence remains limited. Though Democrats control both chambers of Congress and are broadly in favor of more stringent gun control legislation, their ability to get legislation through the Senate would require cooperation of at least 10 Republican senators to overcome an inevitable filibuster — something that has essentially no chance of happening on a gun bill.

Ronald Reagan, Personality Posters, Inc., 1967

President Biden has taken some executive action as well as appointing a Gun Safety Advocate to lead ATF. This is also from NPR.

President Biden on Thursday will announce initial steps his administration plans to take on firearm safety, along with the nomination of a prominent gun safety advocate to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The moves, which were previewed Wednesday evening by a senior administration official, come after recent high-profile mass shootings put added pressure on Biden to act on gun violence.

Biden will announce that the Justice Department will pursue two new regulations: one to curb the proliferation of so-called ghost guns, weapons that lack serial numbers and, in some cases, can be constructed at home; and a second that would regulate stabilizing braces, accessories that can be used to make pistols more like rifles.

Additionally, Biden plans to nominate David Chipman as ATF director. Chipman, who was a special agent at ATF for 25 years, is a senior policy adviser at Giffords, a gun safety group led by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who became an advocate after she was seriously injured in a 2011 mass shooting.

The White House has issued a fact sheet on their policy priorities in the Gun Safety area. This was on April 7, 2021: “FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Initial Actions to Address the Gun Violence Public Health Epidemic.”

You may remember Parkland Parents continuing to fight for Gun Safety. Fred Guttenberg notes this about the FedEx Gunman who easily got his Rifles after Police had already seized a gun from him.

Guns in America, Roy Lichtenstein, 1968

Dr.Fauci, unleashed from the censorship and bullying of the previous guy, has spoken out Sunday. This is from The Hill: “Fauci calls surge in gun violence a public health crisis. “When you see people getting killed, I mean, in this last month, it’s just been horrifying what’s happened. How can you say that’s not a public health issue?” President Biden had this to say.

President Biden released a statement in the wake of the shooting at an Indiana FedEx facility last week, saying he is urging Congress to “hear the call of the American people” and to “enact commonsense gun violence prevention legislation.”

“Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence,” Biden said. “It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation. We can, and must, do more to act and to save lives.”

Megan Ranney, an emergency physician, and Associate Dean of Strategy and Innovation at the School of Public Health at Brown University, wrote in a piece for Time in March that deaths resulting from gun-violence are preventable and should be treated as a matter of public health rather than a political issue.

“It’s time to flip the narrative. These mass shootings, and the 1000s of daily tragedies behind them, are not inevitable,” Ranney wrote. “We can reduce gun deaths, just like we did for cars, by acknowledging that firearm injury is, at its root, a health problem—and that solutions are within reach.”

We see Republicans balk at any sensible gun safety regulation every time we see what we think is the absolute worst mass shooting in the country and expect some legal action. School shootings are not enough. Workplace shooting are not enough. Clinic, spas, beauty salons and all violence aimed at women are not enough.

And sooner or later, we’ll hear from Joe Manchin and it will not be at all helpful.

Enough is enough!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: Yet Again! It was Collusion!

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

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

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

Kazimir Malevich TWO PEASANT WOMEN, 1928–1930

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch Rachel Maddow explain it all here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wassily Kandinsky, Painting with white lines, 1913.

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

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

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

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

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

Valentin Serov, Portrait of Maria Zetlin, 1910

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natalia Goncharova, Espagnole, circa 1916.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Untitled, Lyubov Sergeyevna Popova circa 1915

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s enough for me! For sure!!

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


Monday Reads: Domestic Terrorism and White Nationalism

Elaine de Kooning, Portrait of Fairfield Porter, 1954

Good Day Sky Dancers!

I hope you have the same kind of sunny spring weather there that we have here in New Orleans!  I actually made a trip to Walmart yesterday!  I can’t even remember the last time I’ve been there and it use to be at least a 2  or 3 trip a month destination for me being the poor old semiretired prof that I am.

I could tell that every one has spring fever around here by the number of obvious hipster transplants parading all over the neutral ground yesterday.  I was rather hoping the herons would bomb them away but I just went to my room and took a nap hoping it would be over by the time I had to work on line. The demographics of my neighborhood these days disturbs me.  Where did all this young white people come from and why do they keep bringing this burbie breeder vibe to my hood?  

The Walmart in Chalmette is amazingly diverse because of the number of immigrant diasporas that have landed there.  It’s still rather rural even though it feels more like an exurb in many ways .  However, it’s more working to middle class that bougie rich.  There are Somalians and folks from South America.   There is still a Vietnamese presence although a good deal of that community lives in the east and on the Westbank. And, of course there are many Black Americans there that are descendants of the slaves of the now way gone Plantations as well as transplants from around the Caribbean.

So, it was great just watching the elderly, young families, and others pour into to do their weekly shopping like there was no pandemic.  However, there were still adjustments.  The benches by the front door are gone.  The Walmart greeters are busy sanitizing the carts and pointing you to the hand sanitizers before you grab a cart.  Then, you get a pretty good view of what a wide assortment of masks there are available these days.  If you forget to bring one, Walmart gives you a disposable one.

Elaine de Kooning: Harold Rosenberg, Art Critic (1956)

So, I went with a friend and she was stuck in the checkout line.  I got to stand for quite awhile where the benches used to be and watch the comings and goings.  It was a pretty smooth operation until 3 white guys loaded themselves out of a big red pick up truck with this poor black dog on what could barely be called a leash. The two with the dog had masks on. The one with the weird razor cut and hitler moustache didn’t. I was like okay, here it comes.

At that point, white male boundary pushing and  dominance achievement techniques began.  The dog was just an emotional support dog so of course he should be allowed in to wander the grocery aisles.  Said dog had no usual orange vest of either of a service or emotional support dog let alone the credential card. Guys started screaming at the poor woman saying no to the dog.  Then the guy without the mask just started moving pass her to the station with the masks and a few more women who all eventually called for security back up.  Fortunately, these women were not playing and were obviously experienced.  Dog got sent to some one’s girlfriend for a walk in the parking lot and the mask guy eventually complied.  I guess the beer run was more important than facing down all these middle aged women of various sizes, deportment, and race.

Meanwhile, every one else just tried to go about their day. All I could think was welcome to America where most of us are a community of folks just trying to live. Then, there are those guys come in and do their performance art of white male rage/fragility.

So, today’s artwork actually has something to say along these lines.  This is the work of “Elaine de Kooning, Portraiture, and the Politics of Sexuality.”  It comes from the University of Colorado, Boulder.  It’s part of the gender archive and the portraits are of highly sexualized men.

De Kooning’s portraits of men are fascinating because she reverses the standard male artist/female model dynamic and in many of her portraits she captures the sexual power of her subjects, challenging the male privilege of looking and female role of object to be looked at.  She was not, however, attempting to reverse the power dynamic by placing men in the western tradition of the passive reclining female pose, nor was she dismantling the anonymous male body by employing an Abstract Expressionist style.  Rather she records her clothed male friends and lovers in an upright position with their legs spread apart, acknowledging and relishing her active role in depicting this socially accepted pose that asserts male sexual power, a pose that would not have been deemed appropriate for a “feminine” woman in the 1950s to highlight. 

Robert de Niro by Elaine de Kooning (1973) (c)Elaine de Kooning Trust

There’s a lot of ‘those guys’ in the news today. So, here I go …
Adam Jentleson –Author of “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate”–wrote this at The Atlantic today: “How to Stop the Minority-Rule Doom Loop. The next two years might be the country’s last chance to protect the basic democratic principle of majority rule.”  I think we can safely say that the Republican Party is the epicenter of White Male Dominance.

The doom loop consists of four interlocking components. Candidates who represent white conservatives—Republicans, in our ideologically sorted era—begin every election cycle buoyed by a sluice of voter suppression and gerrymandering (what I call electoral welfare), which makes it easier for them to win. Then antidemocratic features of the American system that have always existed but never benefited one party over the other in any systematic way help those same candidates take control of institutions such as the White House and the Senate, despite winning fewer votes and representing fewer people than their opponents. Once in control of these institutions, these newly elected officials use them to entrench their power beyond the reach of voters. If they are eventually voted out of power, they retain a veto over the agenda of the majority, which they use to block change and feed the conservative case that the government is “broken.” This hastens their return to power—along the very path they greased with voter suppression.

The loop starts at the ballot box, where Republicans are making it harder than at any time in recent history for those who are unlikely to vote for them to vote at all. According to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida and one of the nation’s foremost experts on voting laws, “We are witnessing the greatest rollback of voting rights in this country since the Jim Crow era.” The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder unleashed a new wave of voter suppression targeted at reliably Democratic constituencies such as nonwhite voters and young people. The pace of suppression has only increased since the November election. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voter-suppression efforts across the country, 47 states have seen 361 bills aimed at restricting voting rights since the beginning of the year.

Republicans don’t just have an easier time winning elections; they have an easier time piecing together individual election wins to gain control of the institutions that govern American life. Here, too, the doom loop gives a big boost to candidates who represent predominantly white conservatives. Over the past half century, demographic shifts have rendered the antidemocratic features of American government newly vulnerable to exploitation, but especially by candidates who represent white conservatives.

Elaine de Kooning
Portrait of a Young Man

They’ve been on this path a very long time. At the very least, it started with the policies of Ronald Reagan with its racist signaling campaign opener of “welfare queens”.  Here’s a 2013 NPR article “The Truth Behind The Lies Of The Original ‘Welfare Queen'”  exploring Reagan’s earliest attempts at dog whistling following the Nixon era “Southern Strategy” to pull Dixiecrats into to the Republican fold.  I watched it spread through the state parties in the midwest like wildfire mostly by the ground work of those weirdish white evangelical christian churches with no real affiliation, southern baptists churches, and some catholic parishes.  They started showing up with marching orders to take over the party structure and just basically kept at it until coming full circle in the Trumpist regime.

This all goes hand in hand with the gun fetishists and the groups of armed militias sprinkled around the country.  This is from today’s Washington Post: “The rise of domestic extremism in America Data shows a surge in homegrown attacks not seen in a quarter-century.

Domestic terrorism incidents have soared to new highs in the United States, driven chiefly by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far right, according to a Washington Post analysis of data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The surge reflects a growing threat from homegrown terrorism not seen in a quarter-century, with right-wing extremist attacks and plots greatly eclipsing those from the far left and causing more deaths, the analysis shows.

The number of all domestic terrorism incidents in the data peaked in 2020.

“What is most concerning is that the number of domestic terror plots and attacks are at the highest they have been in decades,” said Seth Jones, director of the database project at CSIS, a nonpartisan Washington-based nonprofit that specializes in national security issues. “It’s so important for Americans to understand the gravity of the threat before it gets worse.”

More than a quarter of right-wing incidents and just under half of the deaths in those incidents were caused by people who showed support for white supremacy or claimed to belong to groups espousing that ideology, the analysis shows.

Victims of all incidents in recent years represent a broad cross-section of American society, including Blacks, Jews, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, Asians and other people of color who have been attacked by right-wing extremists wielding vehicles, guns, knives and fists.

Let’s also not forget the victims of domestic violence for they also are part of this increase in violence and search for control over others.

An absolutely horrifying police shooting of a young black man in Minneapolis happened showing just how out of hand the use of power and suppression is in the nation’s police force also.  There was also an incident of pepper spraying a young black Army Lt. and his dog in Virginia.  Both were responses to simple traffic stops. Both officers have been fired but this only brings into more focus the unequal treatment of the largely white male police force around the country and its inability to police without responding differently to people of color.

Pele No. 1,
Elaine de Kooning, 1982

Another blow was dealt to the likes of the “Hillbilly Elegy” narrative as we see in this Washington Post article written by Eugene Scott on “Data about the Capitol rioters serves another blow to the White, working-class Trump-supporter narrative” for The Fix.

After a Donald Trump campaign event in Mobile, Ala., in 2015 attracted about 20,000 attendees, a narrative emerged that his popularity centered on White working-class voters in small towns in red states. Books such as “Hillbilly Elegy” rose to the top of bestseller lists as a way to help more Americans understand this group of voters that got behind the wealthy reality star from Manhattan. And cable news networks regularly featured panels of journalists asking these voters why they continued to back such a widely unpopular leader.

But new data supports something that some critics of the former president were confident of from the earliest days of Trump’s presidential campaign: The Ivy League graduate from New York City got to the White House with the support of more college-educated professionals than is often acknowledged.

Robert A. Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, worked with court records to analyze the demographics and home county characteristics of the 377 Americans arrested or charged in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington aimed at overturning the 2020 election.

“What we know 90 days later is that the insurrection was the result of a large, diffuse and new kind of protest movement congealing in the United States,” the political science professor wrote in The Washington Post. “Those involved are, by and large, older and more professional than right-wing protesters we have surveyed in the past. They typically have no ties to existing right-wing groups. But like earlier protesters, they are 95 percent White and 85 percent male, and many live near and among Biden supporters in blue and purple counties.”

While Trump often spoke about jobs and factories being shipped overseas to manufacture American products — it wasn’t solely economic anxiety that drew many of his supporters to the wealthy real estate developer who allegedly avoided paying taxes that could benefit low-income Americans. It was cultural anxiety — regardless of their economic status — that was a consistent factor in support for Trump. While concerns about changing views on faith, gender and sexuality were often expressed by many of the former president’s most die-hard supporters, fear about America becoming less White — and less “great” — was at the root of at least some of the loyalty to him.

I don’t want to spend too much time on these two but both Tucker Carlson and Matt Gaetz are in the news again basically still trying to play their white male privilege cards as entitled little trustfund babies.

From CNN: Embattled Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is denied a meeting with Trump. Ah, poor little boy denied daddy time!  I guess Trumperz thinks he’s damaged goods now and not an asset to the Family Crime Syndicate.

Elaine De Kooning-Portrait of Scott ,Chaskey,number-3, 1983

From Tom Porter at Insider: “Tucker Carlson is repeatedly using his platform to downplay white supremacy and violence, critics say

In comments on his show last week Carlson appeared to endorse the white nationalist Great Replacement conspiracy theory, prompting outraged responses including a call from the Anti-Defamation League for him to be fired.

Before this Carlson had for weeks argued that the Capitol riot had been overblown by liberals as part of a plot to persecute conservatives, and he has said there is “no evidence that white supremacists were responsible for what happened on January 6.”

The facts say otherwise, with law-enforcement agencies having charged close to 60 members of far-right organizations, including the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and Proud Boys, with involvement. Rioters were pictured in the Capitol bearing Confederate banners, wearing far-right insignia, and chanting far-right slogans.

At the heart of Carlson’s persona is a challenge to those he portrays as smug liberal elites, who he claims have sought to disenfranchise ordinary Americans for decades. It’s a stance that made him one of the defining conservative voices during the Trump years.

But when applied to downplaying the threat of white nationalist violence, it’s a view that has imperiled lucrative advertisement deals on his show.

And as BB wrote yesterday, this is all from the Heir of Swanson Foods.  That should be a boycott-worthy situation. We’re learning Georgia is sure getting it over voting rights as 100s of CEOs figure out what Voter Suppression Laws will do to their bottom line and the attitudes of their customers and workforce this week.

The Biden/Harris administration continues to churn out appointments and policies that seem quite normal while still facing total Republican opposition.  Some of the usual sources are asking the same damn questions that shouldn’t be asked during this first 100 days.  For example: “Can Biden Be Our F.D.R.? The president wants to change the trajectory of the country. He’s off to a good start b

Anyway, I have to work today and grade today and do stuff around the house and I still can’t adjust to fake time so I’m running late again.  Y’all take care!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: Flowers Everywhere!

Mary Cassatt Lilacs in a Window

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I’m off to a late start today.  Doctor Daughter called and we talked forever!  She delivered over 50 babies in March so there’s evidently a Pandemic Baby Boomlet happening!  It’s kinda like the pattern that happens 9 months after blizzards or having to stay at home all summer because everything is basically shut down!

I was talking to BB yesterday about the the expert medical testimony from the pulmonary doctor yesterday and thinking Derick Chauvin might as well get used to the idea of prison. I brought up the other two officers who were as seemingly helpless as the bystanders at stopping Chauvin.  I keep wondering what’s in store for them.  There’s an Op Ed by Rosa Brooks at Politico today that addresses just that question.   “What About the Cops Who Watched George Floyd Die?”  The author says the two officers were a perfect example of “Bystander Effect.” 

They were paralyzed by the powerful social forces that too often operate to prevent even decent people from taking action to halt abuses.

Edouard Manet
Peonies In A Vase

I really didn’t know much about their individual backgrounds until I read this piece.  Officer Thao was the one who ‘controlled’ the bystanders.  BB has written about the Kitty Genovese case which is one of the most famous crimes where the bystander effect could be documented.

Although Officer Thao was a nine-year police department veteran with several prior misconduct complaints of his own, Lane and Kueng were unjaded rookies, each less than a week out of field training, and they were perceived by their peers as caring, idealistic young officers. Kueng, one of just 80 Black officers in a department of 900, had joined the Minneapolis police because he hoped an increasingly diverse force would reduce police racism and aggression toward people of color. Lane, who tutored Somali children in his spare time, was known for his calmness and his ability to defuse tense situations. Both had received instruction at the police academy about the dangers of using bodyweight to keep a suspect in a prone position for an extended period.

So why did neither man intervene when it became clear that Floyd was struggling to breathe? For that matter, why didn’t any of the half-dozen New York City police who watched Officer Daniel Pantaleo place Eric Garner in a chokehold in 2014 step in to aide Garner? Why did none of the six Baltimore officers involved in Freddie Gray’s 2015 arrest point out the need to secure Gray’s seat belt after loading him into a police van? In far too many police abuse cases, other officers could have intervened to prevent harm, but instead remained passive.

The bystander effect, which social psychologists have puzzled over for decades, is hardly limited to police officers. Think of the millions of ordinary Germans who watched Nazi abuses with dismay but didn’t speak out as their Jewish neighbors were rounded up. Or Kitty Genovese’s neighbors, who neither intervened nor called 911 as she was stabbed to death on a Queens street in 1964. On a more mundane level, think of all the people who look away and pretend not to notice when a school or workplace bully taunts some unlucky victim.

Scores of studies have documented the bystander effect, and we now have a fairly clear understanding of the factors that can lead ordinary people to do nothing even when morality seems to demand intervention. People are less likely to intervene when faced with ambiguous rather than clear situations, for instance. They’re less likely to intervene when surrounded by peers who are also doing nothing, or when intervention would require challenging those they perceive as having authority. They’re also less likely to intervene when they believe someone else will, or should, take action, or to help those whom they view as culturally different from themselves.

All of these factors appear to have been at play in the moments leading to Floyd’s death. Chauvin was the most experienced officer on the scene, and the less experienced officers deferred to his judgment; Chauvin was insistent about keeping Floyd on the ground and indicated that he was taking steps to keep Floyd alive, creating, for the other officers, a degree of ambiguity about whether Chauvin’s actions were inappropriate. Each of the three officers could see that none of his colleagues was intervening to stop Chauvin, thus diffusing responsibility for any bad outcomes. Finally, differences of class, race and culture might have allowed the officers to view Floyd as “other,” rather than as someone they felt obligated to help

.

Vase with Lychnis, Vincent Van Gogh

Brooks goes on to explain that police training needs to address a police culture of  “bystandership”.  The article is quite an interesting read and I highly recommend it. There’s a link here to CNN about all four officers and the charges the three could face eventually after the Chauvin Trial.  Basically, the three are  ” now charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.” This is from June 2020 and was posted the day before Floyd’s memorial.

President Biden announced the creation of a commission to study the idea of expanding the Supreme Court today.  This is from the New York Times:Biden Creating Commission to Study Expanding the Supreme Court.  The commission will also examine other potential changes such as term limits for justices. Progressives are pushing President Biden to add seats to balance the court’s conservative majority.”

President Biden on Friday will order a 180-day study of adding seats to the Supreme Court, making good on a campaign-year promise to establish a bipartisan commission to examine the potentially explosive subjects of expanding the court or setting term limits for justices, White House officials said.

The president acted under pressure from activists pushing for more seats to alter the ideological balance of the court after President Donald J. Trump appointed three justices, including one to a seat that Republicans had blocked his predecessor, Barack Obama, from filling for almost a year.

The result is a court with a stronger conservative tilt, now 6 to 3, after the addition of Mr. Trump’s choices, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just days before last year’s presidential election.

But while Mr. Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asserted that the system of judicial nominations is “getting out of whack,” he has declined to say whether he supports altering the size of the court or making other changes — like imposing term limits — to the current system of lifetime appointments.

It is not clear that the commission established by Mr. Biden will by itself clarify his position. Under the White House order establishing it, the commission is not set to issue specific recommendations at the end of its study — an outcome that is likely to disappoint activists.

Roses in a vase, Auguste Renoir

Biden’s budget priorities were also in the headlines today.  This is from The Washington Post: “Biden seeks huge funding increases for education, health care and environmental protection in first budget request to Congress. Defense spending would remain mostly flat under the president’s proposal.”

President Biden on Friday asked Congress to authorize a massive $1.5 trillion federal spending plan in 2022, seeking to invest heavily in a number of government agencies to boost education, expand public housing, combat the coronavirus and confront climate change.

The request marks Biden’s first discretionary spending proposal, a precursor to the full annual budget he aims to release later in the spring that will address programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The president’s early blueprint calls for a nearly 16 percent increase in funding across nondefense domestic agencies, reflecting the White House’s guiding belief that a bigger, better resourced government in Washington can help close the country’s persistent economic gaps.

Many of the programs Biden seeks to fund at higher levels starting in 2022 are initiatives that President Donald Trump had unsuccessfully sought to slash while in the White House. In a further break with Trump, who sought to spend sizable sums on defense during his term, Biden’s new plan calls for a less-than 2 percent increase for the military in the upcoming fiscal year.

But the administration’s approach quickly divided lawmakers from both parties. Senior Senate Republicans accused the president of trying to shortchange the Pentagon, which they alleged would put the country at a disadvantage against China. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other progressives demanded cuts to the Pentagon’s budget, though they endorsed the domestic investments Biden put forward in his plan.

Fleur rose dans un vase
Jean Metzinger

And it’s getting Trumpier in GOP La La Land.  This is from Vanity Fair‘s Bess Levin:  “Nothing says unhinged cult like labeling people “defectors” and threatening to rat them out. “

Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that over the course of the 2020 election, the Trump campaign ripped off unwitting supporters for tens of millions of dollars. It did so through an extremely simple yet wildly deceitful scheme in which the default option for donations authorized the campaign to transfer the pledged amount from people’s bank accounts not once but every single week. Later, the campaign introduced a second prechecked box that doubled a person’s contribution and was known internally as a “money bomb.” In order for people to have picked up on this before it was too late, they would have had to wade through “lines of text in bold and capital letters that overwhelmed the opt-out language.” Few people did, hence why the two and half months leading up the the election, the Trump campaign, the RNC, and their shared accounts were forced to issue a whopping 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors, compared to the 37,000 online refunds of $5.6 million that Joe Biden‘s campaign and his equivalent Democratic committees refunded. “Bandits!” Victor Amelino, a 78-year-old Californian whose $990 donation turned into nearly $8,000, told the Times of the scheme, and you can probably understand why!

Yet apparently, Republicans associated with Donald Trump have not changed their tactics in light of the very bad press; they’ve upped the ante. By which we mean that in addition to continuing to use prechecked boxes to bilk supporters, they’re threatening to rat out anyone who doesn’t agree to recurring donations to the ex-president.

Isn’t that sweet of them?

Anyway, I need to grade–still–so that’s enough from me.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Thursday Reads: Matt Gaetz’s Wild and Crazy Scandal

Saad Yagan, 2017

Saad Yagan, 2017

Good Afternoon!!

What on Earth is going on with Matt Gaetz? The story just keeps growing stranger by the day. It all began with this New York Times story published on Tuesday: Matt Gaetz Is Said to Face Justice Dept. Inquiry Over Sex With an Underage Girl.

Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Investigators are examining whether Mr. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people said. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences.

It was not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing, according to two of the people.

The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr, the two people said. Given Mr. Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Mr. Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said.

Then Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox and made everything worse for himself.

Aaron Rupar at Vox: Matt Gaetz’s disastrous Tucker Carlson interview, explained.

Hours after the New York Times broke the news that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking, he was given a platform by Fox News host Tucker Carlson to tell his side of the story. But Gaetz ended up botching the softball interview so thoroughly that Carlson ended up telling his millions of viewers it was “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”

Pablo Picasso, 1939

Pablo Picasso, 1939

At various points during the interview, Gaetz — who denies the allegations — volunteered the existence of criminal allegations against him that aren’t yet part of the public record, brought up sexual misconduct allegations against Carlson that most of his viewers probably weren’t aware of, and went out of his way to involve Carlson in stories about his personal life.

“I can say that actually you and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine — you’ll remember her — and she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme, that could face trouble,” Gaetz said. “So I do believe there are people at the Department of Justice that are trying to smear me. Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”

It sounds like he’s admitting he paid for travel and hotel rooms for a person he was dating, doesn’t it?

…more importantly than the bizarreness of the interview is the fact that Gaetz didn’t do a very convincing job trying to refute the very serious criminal allegations underpinning the federal investigation. His defense basically amounts to claims that he’s the victim of a vast conspiracy….

During the interview with Carlson, Gaetz denied improper conduct, but he did so in a very limited and specific way, using language that raised more questions than it answered.

Butterflies and Poppies, Vincent Van Gogh

Butterflies and Poppies, Vincent Van Gogh

“The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman, and that is verifiably false; people can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case,” Gaetz said — even though a 17-year-old is not a “woman,” the allegations go beyond mere “traveling,” and it’s unclear how “travel records” could disprove any of them.

Gaetz went on to allege that word of the investigation was leaked as part of an extortion plot, saying “what is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official” who demanded $25 million in exchange for making the sex trafficking allegations go away.

But during an MSNBC interview a short time later, one of the Times reporters bylined on the Gaetz story, Katie Benner, debunked one of Gaetz’s central claims, saying unequivocally that the former official Gaetz accused by name of being part of an extortion plot isn’t even involved in the investigation.

I’m still very confused.

Washington Post fact checker Salvador Rizzo explains why travel records could not prove the allegations against Gaetz are false. Basically, these records aren’t available to the public.

Here’s the bottom line: House members’ personal travel and expenses are not subject to disclosure, so there would be no public records to check regarding Gaetz’s private life.“If this was just personal travel, and he wasn’t using campaign or official funds, there’s no disclosure,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Airline flight manifests and personal credit card or bank statements would chart who went where with whom at what times and at whose expense, but those sensitive records are not public. Only law enforcement investigators could look through them by getting subpoenas.

Philip Bump at The Washington Post: The Matt Gaetz allegation, explained.

“The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz — a Florida Republican considered a close political ally of former president Donald Trump — over an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl,” The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett explain. That relationship allegedly included paying for the girl to travel, potentially across state lines, adding the complexity of potential federal charges related to sex trafficking, according to the Times. Both the Post and Times stories are constrained for fairly obvious reasons, including the limits of available information and the need to accurately convey the potential risk Gaetz faces.

landscape with butterflies, 1956, Salvidor Dali

Landscape with Butterflies, 1956, by Salvador Dali

The investigation apparently spun out of another sex-trafficking probe in Florida. That one focused on a former county official named Joel Greenberg, who was charged in the summer with a number of federal offenses, including sex trafficking of a minor.

“According to an indictment in the case, Greenberg abused his access to a statewide database, using it to look up the personal information of people with whom he was in ‘sugar daddy’ relationships, including the minor, and to help produce fake identification documents to ‘facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts,’ ” Zapotosky and Barrett report. “He was also accused of seeking to undermine a political opponent by surfacing fabricated evidence of racism and misconduct.”

It’s worth noting that questions about Gaetz’s relationships have emerged in the past. A Mother Jones article from 2019 documents concerns raised by a former member of Gaetz’s staff about a 21-year-old he was then dating and who was apparently posting photos of the two of them on Instagram alongside other photos showing not-conservative-politician-friendly activities.

There’s more explanation and confusion at the link. What is clear is that there are two different investigations that Gaetz is trying to combine in his defense. Other than that, I’m still confused.

Gaetz’s father chimed in at Politico yesterday: Matt Gaetz’s dad says he wore a wire for FBI probe into DOJ extortion claims.

Rep. Matt Gaetz’s father, Don, a former Florida Senate president, said he is working with the FBI, including wearing a wire on more than one occasion as part of an investigation into an alleged extortion plot that the pair said was organized by former federal prosecutor David McGee.

Herons and Lilies, 1862 by Frank W. Benson

Herons and Lilies, 1934, by Frank W. Benson

“The FBI asked me to try and get that information for Matt and an indication we would transfer money to Mr. David McGee,” Don Gaetz said in an interview late Tuesday, without specifying what information he was referring to.

McGee, who is now in private practice with a Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm, did not respond to a POLITICO request seeking comment, but told other media outlets there is no truth to the alleged extortion plot.

Don Gaetz said in the interview he wore a wire during a meeting earlier this month with McGee and said he was set to meet Wednesday with Stephen Alford, a local developer who he said is also part of the alleged extortion scheme. During that meeting, Don Gaetz said, he was again set to wear a wire and try to get Alford to talk about payments he allegedly was to make to McGee, but the meeting fell apart when news broke that his son was being investigated by the Justice Department. Alford did not respond to text messages seeking comment.

In separate interviews, Don and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) acknowledged a Justice Department probe involving the younger Gaetz, 38, into whether he had improper involvement with a 17-year-old girl. The Gaetzes say they are the target of an extortion plot seeking money to keep the DOJ investigation quiet.

Today The Washington Post reported that the scandal involves Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran and is believed to be dead. Here’s a summary at The Week: The Matt Gaetz case now involves a missing FBI agent last seen in Iran.

When Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Fla.) father received a message that referred to a Justice Department investigation into his son and asked for help funding the search for Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran 14 years ago, he thought the request was suspicious and went to the FBI, people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, The New York Times reported that in the waning months of the Trump administration, the DOJ launched an investigation into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him out of state. Gaetz, who denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes, released a statement saying his family had been targeted by extortionists, and his father wore a wire at the insistence of the FBI.

Boy with butterfly net Henri Mattisse, 1907

Boy with butterfly net, by Henri Mattisse, 1907

People familiar with the matter told the Post that Gaetz’s wealthy father, Don Gaetz, received a text message and document from two men who said if he gave them money to help with the search for Levinson, Matt Gaetz would be seen as a hero and his legal troubles would likely go away. Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island in 2007 while trying to get information on the country’s nuclear program, and was last seen alive in a 2010 hostage video. His family has said the U.S. government told them they believe Levinson is dead.

When Don Gaetz received these messages, the DOJ investigation into his son was not known publicly. It isn’t clear how the men learned about the investigation, and they do not appear to have any direct connection with the investigation. People with knowledge of the matter told the Post it will be hard to prove this was an extortion attempt because the men did not threaten to expose Gaetz’s DOJ investigation if the family did not give them money.

Matt Gaetz appeared on Fox News Tuesday night and accused a lawyer named David McGee of being involved in this effort. McGee has represented the Levinson family for years, and on Tuesday night he said Don Gaetz called him and they had a “pleasant conversation” about “the trouble his son was in.” McGee denied being involved in any extortion attempt, and his law firm on Wednesday called the allegation “false and defamatory.” Catherine Garcia

One more Gaetz story from ABC News: In investigation of Rep. Gaetz’s alleged sexual relationship with minor, feds looking beyond Florida, sources say.

Sources told ABC News the investigation has been going on for months and began during the Trump administration. Former Attorney General Bill Barr was briefed on the investigation’s progress several times, the sources said.

One source told ABC News that federal authorities have already interviewed multiple witnesses as part of their probe.

Morning Bird Dance, Edvard Munch

Morning Bird Dance, Edvard Munch

Gaetz has reportedly told confidants he is considering retiring from Congress and possibly joining the right-wing media outlet Newsmax, according to an Axios report earlier Tuesday.

Yet within the last several weeks Gaetz started reaching out to prominent attorneys, according to one source. The source said that one of the attorneys Gaetz asked to represent him was Washington attorney Bill Burck, who represented Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Don McGahn during the Mueller probe. Burck turned down the case, according to a person familiar with the decision.

So this story keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. One interesting point is that apparently Gaetz is very unpopular with Republicans and they are rooting for him to go down in flames. A few more links to check out:

Jeff Stein at Spy Talk: Gaetz ‘Extortion’ Figure’s Levinson Obsession.

The Daily Beast: The Creepy, Disturbing Case That Ensnared Matt Gaetz.

Ben Jacobs at New York Magazine: Matt Gaetz Gets a Scandal As Wild As Him.

Raw Story: Here are 7 new bombshell details from the complex and unraveling Matt Gaetz investigation story.

The Daily Beast: Republicans Have Been Waiting for a Matt Gaetz Scandal to Break.

The Hill: Fox has no interest in hiring Matt Gaetz.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this story, because it’s still so confusing to me. I guess we’ll be learning more soon. So what’s on your mind today? As always, this is an open thread.