Lazy Caturday Reads

It’s Caturday!!

Olga Sacharoff Young woman with cat

Olga Sacharoff, Young woman with cat

Last night the Memphis Police released video of the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols–a young man who weighed 140 pounds–by five police officers after a routine traffic stop. It is horrific and inexplicable. At one point one of the officers lifted Nichols’ limp body up so the others could more easily punch and kick him. Nichols never got any explanation of why he had been stopped. Toward the end of the beating he called out for his mother.

The New York Times provides a brief analysis the video in a series of live updates of the coverage: Video Captures Brutal Beating of Tyre Nichols.

America was shocked anew on Friday by a display of police violence caught on video, as Memphis released body camera and surveillance footage of police officers kicking and punching a 29-year-old Black man who later died. The man, Tyre Nichols, ran after being pepper sprayed by officers, but shows no signs of fighting back as the police beat him with a baton. “To me, that’s worse than Rodney King,” said Ed Obayashi, a police training expert and use-of-force expert, after watching the video.

Here are the details:

  • A New York Times analysis of the video footage found that police officers deployed an escalating spiral of physical force and gave conflicting orders, repeatedly demanding that Mr. Nichols show his hands, even as other officers held his arms behind his back while another punched him. After officers pepper sprayed and beat Mr. Nichols, they left him sitting on the ground unattended and handcuffed, and once the medics were on the scene, they stood by for more than 16 minutes without administering treatment.

  • Mr. Nichols, who was pulled out of his car by officers, can be heard saying, “I’m just trying to go home,” and at one point repeatedly screams, “Mom, Mom, Mom” as he is clubbed. Lawyers have said that his mother’s home was about 100 yards away from where he was beaten. Here is what we know about Mr. Nichols.
  • Five Memphis police officers accused of causing Mr. Nichols’s death — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired last week and charged on Thursday with murder and other crimes. The officers, who are all Black, posted bail on Friday and were released from jail. Here are the charges they face.

  • The sheriff of Shelby County, which includes Memphis, said that two of his deputies who were on the scene after the beating had been “relieved of duty” on Friday night, pending an investigation, after he watched the video. Earlier this week, the Memphis Fire Department said two of its employees had been relieved of duty pending an internal investigation.

The Times also created  A Timeline of Tyre Nichols’s Lethal Police Encounter. Read it at the link.

Also from The New York Times live update page, an analysis by experts on police violence: ‘The definition of excessive force’: Policing experts assess the beating of Tyre Nichols.

Experts in police training who reviewed videos released on Friday of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis said they believed there was no justification for the actions of the police officers involved, who have been charged with crimes including second-degree murder in his death….

“In my career, I’ve never seen — I mean, you see it in the movies — but I’ve never seen an individual deliberately being propped up to be beaten,” said Ed Obayashi, a police training expert and lawyer who conducts use-of-force investigations for state law enforcement across the country.

“To me, that’s worse than Rodney King,” added Mr. Obayashi, who is also a deputy sheriff and policy adviser in the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office in California.

In police training, it is emphasized repeatedly to officers that they need to be aware of their physical surroundings, Mr. Obayashi said, but the same stress should be placed on awareness of their own emotions. If officers’ tempers run high, he said, they are bound to make mistakes.

Young Woman with Cat - Wetlesen, Wilhelm 1908 Norwegian 1871-1925

Young Woman with Cat – Wetlesen, Wilhelm 1908 Norwegian 1871-1925

In the Nichols confrontation, it is possible the officers felt disrespected when their directions weren’t followed, he said.

“This appears to be a case of classic contempt of cop,” he said, “for them to catch up with him later and then exact their revenge on the poor individual.”

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization of current and former law enforcement officials that studies the improvement of policing, said the officers’ behavior also fell short in other ways….

The beating is “the definition of excessive force,” Mr. Wexler said. In his view, Mr. Nichols did not present a danger that matched the force the officers used, beyond appearing to not want to be arrested.

Even when Mr. Nichols was lying on the ground, none of the officers attempted to help him, which Mr. Wexler said was a violation of their duty to render aid.

“This person was not treated as a human being,” he said.

Who was Tyre Nichols? This is from the AP via ABC7 in Los Angeles: Tyre Nichols was NorCal native with ‘beautiful soul’ and creative eye. He was born in Sacramento and had a website dedicated to his photography.

On most weekends, Tyre Nichols would head to the city park, train his camera on the sky and wait for the sun to set.

“Photography helps me look at the world in a more creative way. It expresses me in ways I cannot write down for people,” he wrote on his website. He preferred landscapes and loved the glow of sunsets most, his family has said.

“My vision is to bring my viewers deep into what I am seeing through my eye and out through my lens,” Nichols wrote. “People have a story to tell, why not capture it.”

Nichols, a 29-year-old father, was on his way home from taking pictures of the sky on Jan. 7, when police pulled him over. He was just a few minutes from the home he shared with his mother and stepfather, when he was brutally attacked by five Memphis police officers…

He was the baby of their family, born 12 years after his closest siblings. He had a 4-year-old son and worked hard to better himself as a father, his family said. He was an avid skateboarder from Sacramento, California, and came to Memphis just before the coronavirus pandemic and got stuck. But he was fine with it because he was with his mother, and they were incredibly close, Wells said. He had her name tattooed on his arm.

Friends at a memorial service this week described him as joyful and lovable.

“This man walked into a room, and everyone loved him,” said Angelina Paxton, a friend who traveled to Memphis from California for the service.

There’s more at that link about Nichols’ life in Sacramento. Here is Nichols’ photography website. Read more about Nichols:

CNN: Tyre Nichols was a son and father who enjoyed skateboarding, photography and sunsets, his family says.

The New York Times: From Sacramento to Memphis, Tyre Nichols Cut His Own Path.

Cupboard Love - Walter Frederick Osborne Quimperie Irish Impressionism

Cupboard Love – Walter Frederick Osborne Quimperie, Irish Impressionism

In other news, we are getting more information about the case of former top FBI agent Charles McGonigle, who has been charged with secretly taking money to help Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska evade sanctions and from an Albanian intelligence operative and former FBI informant.

It appears that McGonigle was turned in by former girlfriend. Here’s a Daily Beast summary of a long Insider article about it. The Daily Beast: Enraged Ex-Lover Tipped Off FBI to Top Official Accused of Helping Russia.

The angry ex-lover of the FBI’s former New York counterintelligence chief claims she tipped the feds off to some of his misdeeds before his arrest last week. Charles McGonigal, who was part of the FBI probe of the Trump campaign’s Russia ties, has been charged with money laundering, lying to the FBI, and taking money to help a sanctioned Russian oligarch, among others. In an interview with Insider, Allison Guerriero said she dated McGonigal for a year, unaware he was married. He spent far more lavishly than an FBI salary would typically allow, she recalled, and she once found a bag of cash in his apartment. But after their fling ended, he revealed he was married and had no plans to leave his wife. She said she was so angry that, after a bout of drinking, she emailed his boss to disclose the affair as well as extensive dealings she’d noticed McGonigal had in Albania. It’s unclear what came of the email but the feds turned up on her doorstep three years later to ask her about McGonigal and some of her allegations regarding Albania appeared in last week’s indictment.

Here’s the story at The Insider: Exclusive: Inside the extramarital affair and cash-fueled double life of Charles McGonigal, the FBI spy hunter charged with taking Russian money. Here’s the introductory section:

One morning in October 2017, Allison Guerriero noticed something unusual on the floor of her boyfriend’s Park Slope, Brooklyn, apartment: a bag full of cash. There it was, lying next to his shoes, near the futon, the kind of bag that liquor stores give out. Inside were bundles of bills, big denominations bound up with rubber bands. It didn’t seem like something he should be carrying around. After all, her boyfriend, Charles F. McGonigal, held one of the most senior and sensitive positions in the FBI.

“Where the fuck is this from?” she asked.

“Oh, you remember that baseball game?” McGonigal replied, according to Guerriero’s recollection. “I made a bet and won.”

McGonigal had two high-school-age children and a wife — or “ex-wife” as he sometimes referred to her — back at home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He would return there once or twice a month. But McGonigal had led Guerriero to believe that he was either divorced or soon would be. She didn’t question his story, nor did she question the story about the bag full of cash.

A few days before, Guerriero had sat on the couch with McGonigal in the one-room garden sublet to watch McGonigal’s Cleveland Indians beat the Yankees. Much later — after Guerriero’s cancer diagnosis, their breakup, and McGonigal’s retirement from the FBI — McGonigal would be indicted on suspicion of, among other things, accepting $225,000 in cash from a former employee of Albania’s intelligence agency. That total includes one $80,000 chunk that was allegedly handed over in a parked car, outside a restaurant, on October 5, 2017. October 5 and 6 also happened to be the days when the Indians beat the Yankees in the first two games of the American League Division Series. Today, Guerriero no longer believes the bag of cash contained winnings from a sports bet.

Read the rest at the Insider link.

This is a scoop from Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo: Albanian Firm Ties Indicted Former FBI Official To Yet Another Disgraced Former Agent.

Indicted former top FBI official Charles McGonigal is a partner in an Albanian firm along with another disgraced former FBI agent, records obtained by TPM show.

An Albanian corporate filing ties McGonigal to Mark Rossini, a flamboyant figure who left the FBI amid scandalous 2008 charges and who currently faces separate bribery-related charges in an August 2022 federal indictment in Puerto Rico.

By Simon Davis

By Simon Davis

The previously unreported business connection links McGonigal to another former agent with a similar profile: a high-flier at the bureau with experience in counterterrorism and counterintelligence, and one who appears to have engaged in business with an eyebrow-raising array of foreign clients after leaving federal law enforcement.

The nature of the Albanian company — called Lawoffice & Investigation — remains unclear. Why and how McGonigal apparently got involved with the firm, and how he may have met Rossini, are also unknown.

Albanian journalists have published a series of articles since September 2022 highlighting McGonigal’s presence at the company, which they tie to the country’s oil industry.

Prosecutors accused McGonigal this week in separate federal indictments in D.C. and Manhattan of concealing cash he received from a former Albanian intelligence employee totaling $225,000, and of evading sanctions for work he performed for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a paymaster of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

But the Albanian corporate document connects McGonigal to the murky world that led Rossini to not just one, but two run-ins with federal law enforcement. Federal prosecutors charged Rossini in August 2022 over his alleged involvement in a bribery scheme involving the former governor of Puerto Rico. That came 14 years after Rossini’s first scandal, which involved actress Linda Fiorentino and notorious Hollywood fixer Anthony Pellicano, and quickly became tabloid fodder.

“It just violates the basic precepts of why you sign up to take these kinds of jobs, or your focus on the mission and serving the U.S. government and the American public,” Javed Ali, a retired FBI senior analyst and former senior counterterrorism director at the National Security Council, told TPM of the allegations. “These are the kind of things that, at a really idealistic level, should be motivating you to do the work. … But what we’re seeing is one of the worst case examples of someone abusing their position and trying to leverage it for a different purpose.”

More at the linnk.

And of course there is news about scam artist and Republican Congressman George Santos, if that is in fact his name. Here’s the latest:

Noah Lanard and David Corn at Mother Jones: We Tried to Call the Top Donors To George Santos’ 2020 Campaign. Many Don’t Seem To Exist.

In September 2020, George Santos’ congressional campaign reported that Victoria and Jonathan Regor had each contributed $2,800—the maximum amount—to his first bid for a House seat. Their listed address was 45 New Mexico Street in Jackson Township, New Jersey.

A search of various databases reveals no one in the United States named Victoria or Jonathan Regor. Moreover, there is nobody by any name living at 45 New Mexico Street in Jackson. That address doesn’t exist. There is a New Mexico Street in Jackson, but the numbers end in the 20s, according to Google Maps and a resident of the street.

Santos’ 2020 campaign finance reports also list a donor named Stephen Berger as a $2,500 donor and said he was a retiree who lived on Brandt Road in Brawley, California. But a spokesperson for William Brandt, a prominent rancher and Republican donor, tells Mother Jones that Brandt has lived at that address for at least 20 years and “neither he or his wife (the only other occupant [at the Brandt Road home]) have made any donations to George Santos. He does not know Stephen Berger nor has Stephen Berger ever lived at…Brandt Road.”

By Isabel Crooke

By Isabel Crooke

The Regor and Berger contributions are among more than a dozen major donations to the 2020 Santos campaign for which the name or the address of the donor cannot be confirmed, a Mother Jones investigation found. A separate $2,800 donation was attributed in Santos’ reports filed with the Federal Election Commission to a friend of Santos who says he did not give the money.

Under federal campaign finance law, it is illegal to donate money using a false name or the name of someone else. “It’s called a contribution in the name of another,” says Saurav Ghosh, the director for federal campaign finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “It’s something that is explicitly prohibited under federal law.”

These questionable donations, which account for more than $30,000 of the $338,000 the Santos campaign raised from individual donors in 2020, have not been previously cited in media reports. Mother Jones identified them by contacting (or trying to contact) dozens of the most generous donors to Santos’ 2020 campaign, which he ended up losing by 12 points.

There’s much more at the Mother Jones link.

It looks like Santos may be facing a criminal investigation by the DOJ. The Washington Post: Justice Department asks FEC to stand down as prosecutors probe Santos.

The Justice Department has asked the Federal Election Commission to hold off on any enforcement action against George Santos, the Republican congressman from New York who lied about key aspects of his biography, as prosecutors conduct a parallel criminal probe, according to two people familiar with the request.

The request, which came from the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, is the clearest sign to date that federal prosecutors are examining Santos’s campaign finances.

The request also asked that the FEC provide any relevant documents to the Justice Department, according to the knowledgeable people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. An FEC spokeswoman said the regulator “cannot comment on enforcement.” Neither Santos nor his attorney responded to requests for comment….

Separately, the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday interviewed two people about Santos’s role in Harbor City Capital, an investment firm that was forced to shut down in 2021 after the SEC accused it of operating a “classic Ponzi scheme.” SEC interest in those people came after they were quoted Wednesday in The Washington Post describing how Santos solicited an investment in Harbor City at an Italian restaurant in Queens in late 2020….

“Basically they don’t want two sets of investigators tripping over each other,” said David M. Mason, a former FEC commissioner. “And they don’t want anything that the FEC, which is a civil agency, does to potentially complicate their criminal case.”

The request “indicates there’s an active criminal investigation” examining issues that overlap with complaints against Santos before the FEC, said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer at D.C.-based Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg.

That’s it for me today. What are your thoughts on all this? What other stories have captured your interest?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Goddess, Hunter, Consort, Thief, by Peter Paul Rubens, 16th Century

Goddess, Hunter, Consort, Thief, by Peter Paul Rubens, 16th Century

Happy Caturday!!

The Supreme Court is in the news and not in a good way. You know about John Roberts’ failed “investigation” into the leak of the draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but did you know about the secret documentary on Brett Kavanaugh? Here’s the latest:

Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Supreme Court’s Inquiry Into Leak Included Interviews With Justices.

The Supreme Court’s internal investigation into who leaked a draft of the opinion last year overturning the landmark decision that had established a constitutional right to abortion included talking to all nine justices, the marshal of the court said on Friday.

But the justices — unlike dozens of law clerks and permanent employees of the court — were not made to sign sworn affidavits attesting that they had not been involved in the leak of the draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade and that they knew nothing about it.

The clarification by the marshal, Gail A. Curley, who oversaw the inquiry, followed widespread speculation over its scope and limitations. In a 20-page report on Thursday, Ms. Curley disclosed that the investigation had not turned up the source of the leak while leaving ambiguous whether it had extended to interviewing the justices themselves.

“During the course of the investigation, I spoke with each of the justices, several on multiple occasions,” Ms. Curley said on Friday. “The justices actively cooperated in this iterative process, asking questions and answering mine.”

She added: “I followed up on all credible leads, none of which implicated the justices or their spouses. On this basis, I did not believe that it was necessary to ask the justices to sign sworn affidavits.”

Ms. Curley did not indicate whether she searched the justices’ court-issued electronic devices and asked them to turn over personal devices and cellphone records, as she did with other personnel. She also did not address whether she had interviewed any of the justices’ spouses, another question that arose after her report was made public.

It wasn’t much of an investigation if even Gini Thomas was not questioned, and the most likely suspects–the right wing justices– weren’t required to sign affidavits. But no one really expected Roberts to do a serious investigation when he won’t even deal with the justices’ political activities and conflicts of interest. What a weakling he is.

On to the Kavanagh documentary. 

The Guardian: ‘I hope this triggers outrage’: surprise Brett Kavanaugh documentary premieres at Sundance.

A secretly made documentary expanding on allegations of sexual assault against supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh has premiered at this year’s Sundance film festival.

four-year-old girl with cat, by Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, 1647

Four year old girl with cat, by Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, 1647

Justice, a last-minute addition to the schedule, aims to shine a light not only on the women who have accused Kavanaugh, a Donald Trump nominee, but also the failed FBI investigation into the allegations.

“I do hope this triggers outrage,” said producer Amy Herdy in a Q&A after the premiere in Park City, Utah. “I do hope that this triggers action, I do hope that this triggers additional investigation with real subpoena powers.”

The film provides a timeline of the allegations, initially that Kavanaugh was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault when she was 15 and he 17. She alleged that he held her down on a bed and groped her, and tried to rip her clothes off before she got away. Kavanaugh was also accused of sexual misconduct by Deborah Ramirez, who alleged that he exposed himself and thrust his penis at her face without her consent at a college party.

About the film:

The first scene features Ford, half off-camera, interviewed by the film’s director Doug Liman, whose credits include Mr and Mrs Smith and The Bourne Identity. Justice features a number of interviews with journalists, lawyers, psychologists and those who knew Ford and Ramirez.

“This was the kind of movie where people are terrified,” Liman said. “The people that chose to participate in the movie are heroes.”

In the film, Ramirez, who previously told her story to Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker, also shares her story on-camera. Ramirez is referred to as someone “they worked hard for people not to know”, her story never given the space it deserved until long after Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court in October 2018….

The film then details how the circles around Ramirez and Kavanaugh responded, showing text messages of a discussion when Ramirez’s allegations were about to go public, of a mutual friend being asked by Kavanaugh to go on record to defend him. Another friend refers to it as “a cover-up”.

The New Yorker included a statement from a group of students at the time in support of Kavanaugh. A year later, the film shows that two of them emailed the New Yorker to remove their names from the statement.

Ramirez’s lawyers claim they contacted Republican senator Jeff Flake, who was involved in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, to explain what happened to her. The next day Flake called to delay the confirmation and insist on a week-long FBI investigation.

But the film details how the FBI failed to call on the many witnesses recommended by Ramirez’s lawyers. Footage is shown of the film-makers meeting with a confidential source who plays tape of Kavanaugh’s classmate Max Stier, now a prominent figure in Washington running a non-profit, who allegedly witnessed Kavanaugh involved in a similar act of alleged drunken exposure with a female student at a dorm party at Yale. The woman has chosen to remain anonymous and this is the first time this recording has been heard.

Read more details at the link. You can also check out this piece at The Hollywood Reporter: How Doug Liman Directed a Brett Kavanaugh FBI Investigation Doc in Secret.

Some January 6 investigation news:

Politico: The House’s legal lieutenant in its Trump wars speaks out — about Jan. 6 and more.

While Congress’ biggest Donald Trump antagonists are household names to political junkies — think Liz Cheney, Adam Schiff, Jamie Raskin — there’s a lesser-known Trump adversary who may have been more effective than the others: Doug Letter.

Hans_Asper_Portrait of Cleophea Krieg von Bellikon, 1499-1671

Portrait of Cleopea Krieg von Bellikon, 1499-1671, by Hans Asper

The former House general counsel was involved in every political brawl between House Democrats and Trump that has defined Washington politics for the past four years. Letter helped guide the work of the Jan. 6 select committee, played a critical role in both Trump impeachments and strategized the certification of Joe Biden’s win — before violent rioters upended those plans on Jan. 6, 2021….

In a wide-ranging interview with POLITICO, the House’s former top attorney described his tenure battling a former president who tested the limits of executive power at every turn, resisting efforts at accountability in ways that previous chief executives had not. But he has faith that his work helped to stem future presidential attempts to push constitutional boundaries, lending more power to lawmakers.

“I just feel like the Biden administration and future administrations are not going to act like the Trump administration,” Letter said. “They’re not going to show such ignorance of our system and think that the executive branch can ignore the legislative branch. That’s not the way it works.”

Doug Letter on January 6:

Letter was returning to the House floor from some basement vending machines when he ran into Speaker Nancy Pelosi being whisked from the Capitol under heavy guard. Don’t go back up there, one official told him. An angry mob had breached the building.

But Letter, in a panic, said he had to retrieve several giant binders that were full of sensitive strategy and scripts for the day’s proceedings. He opted to forgo evacuating with Pelosi and instead raced back to the chamber.

“I was the last person in before they locked the doors,” Letter recalled.

The attack on the Capitol led to the Jan. 6 select committee, where the House’s then-top attorney charted a legal strategy that Letter now describes as one of the hallmarks of his tenure.

Through his work on that panel, Letter secured at least two streams of information that became a core element of the committee’s voluminous findings: Trump’s confidential White House records and the Chapman University emails of attorney John Eastman, an architect of the then-president’s bid to subvert the 2020 election.

Letter also won court fights to obtain telephone records from Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward, who took part in Trump world’s plan to send false electors to Congress. And he helped direct the House’s strategy to hold certain Trump advisers in contempt of Congress, which resulted in prosecutions of Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon.

“We had a whole enormous number of people that, as we now know, were putting together this massive, not just a conspiracy, but a whole bunch of conspiracies, to attack our democracy,” Letter said.

Read the rest at Politico.

Joseph Goodhue Chandler, American folk art

Joseph Goodhue Chandler, American folk art

As you know, I went to a meeting in my over-60 apartment building awhile back. Most of the people there weren’t wearing masks. I came down with something a few days later, and it dragged on for weeks. I thought others here in the building were being careful too, but I was wrong. We haven’t talked much about Covid-19 on the blog lately, but yesterday I read this article that really angered me, and I want to share it with you. 

Slate: Billionaires at Davos Don’t Think COVID Is a Cold.

In photos of 2023’s World Economic Forum—or Davos as it is commonly called, after the Swiss resort town where it annually occurs—you might not notice the HEPA filters. They’re in the background, unobtrusive and unremarked upon, quietly cleansing the air of viruses and bacteria. You wouldn’t know—not unless you asked—that every attendee was PCR tested before entering the forum, or that in the case of a positive test, access was automatically, electronically, revoked. The folks on stage aren’t sporting masks (mostly), so unless you looked at the official Davos Health & Safety protocol, you wouldn’t be aware that their on-site drivers are required to wear them. You also might be surprised to learn that if, at any point, you start to feel ill at Davos, you can go collect a free rapid test, or even call their dedicated COVID hotline.

It’s hard to square this information with the public narrative about COVID, isn’t it? President Joe Biden has called the pandemic “over.” The New York Timesrecently claimed that “the risk of Covid is similar to that of the flu” in an article about “hold outs” that are annoyingly refusing to accept continual reinfection as their “new normal.” Yet, this week the richest people in the world are taking common sense, easy—but strict—precautions to ensure they don’t catch COVID-19 at Davos.

In addition to high-quality ventilation, masks, hotlines and PCR testing, some have noted the signature blue glow of Far-UVC lighting, demonstrated to kill pathogens in the air, although this is unconfirmed. We can be certain, however, that the testing, high-quality ventilation, and filtration protocol is effective at preventing the kind of super-spreader events most of us are now accustomed to attending.

t seems unlikely to me that a New York Times reporter will follow the super-rich around like David Attenborough on safari, the way one of their employees did when they profiled middle-class maskers last month. I doubt they will write “family members and friends can get a little exasperated by the hyper-concern” about the assembled prime ministers, presidents, and CEOs in Switzerland. After all, these are important people. The kind of people who merit high-quality ventilation. The kind of people who deserve accurate tests.

Why is the media so hellbent on portraying simple, scientifically proven measures like masking—in environments absent of high-quality ventilation, full of people who do not have easy and consistent access to tests—as ridiculous and unnecessary as hundreds of people continue to die daily here in the U.S.?

Why is the public accepting a “new normal” where we are expected to get infected over and over and over again, at work events with zero precautions, on airplanes with no masks, and at social dinners trying to approximate our 2019 normal?

Very good questions. I guess the rich are entitled to protection, but the rest of us can just get sick and die for all they care. I hope you’ll go read the whole article at Slate.

Finally, a couple of articles about the upcoming fight over the debt limit:

CNN: Yellen warns of ‘global financial crisis’ if US debt limit agreement isn’t reached.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday warned of the widespread global effects that could be felt if the federal government exhausts extraordinary measures and fails to raise the debt ceiling, telling CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about the ways everyday Americans could face stark consequences.

Yellen’s warning comes after the United States on Thursday hit its $31.4 trillion debt limit set by Congress, forcing the Treasury Department to start taking extraordinary measures to keep the government paying its bills.

Still Life with Fighting Cats, by Frans Snyders (1579-1657), Flemish painter

Still Life with Fighting Cats, by Frans Snyders (1579-1657), Flemish painter

While those newly deployed extraordinary measures are largely behind-the-scenes accounting maneuvers, Yellen told Amanpour that “the actual date at which we would no longer be able to use these measures is quite uncertain, but it could conceivably come as early as early June.”

Speaking exclusively to CNN from Senegal, Yellen said that after the measures are exhausted, the US could experience at a minimum downgrading of its debt as a result of Congress failing to raise the debt ceiling. The effects of the federal government failing to make payments, she argued, could be as broad as a “global financial crisis.”

“If that happened, our borrowing costs would increase and every American would see that their borrowing costs would increase as well,” Yellen said. “On top of that, a failure to make payments that are due, whether it’s the bondholders or to Social Security recipients or to our military, would undoubtedly cause a recession in the US economy and could cause a global financial crisis.”

“It would certainly undermine the role of the dollar as a reserve currency that is used in transactions all over the world. And Americans – many people would lose their jobs and certainly their borrowing costs would rise,” she continued.

Read more at CNN.

The Washington Post: Biden aides want to force GOP to abandon debt limit threats.

Shortly after last year’s midterm elections, a senior congressional Democrat called White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and asked how the administration planned to prevent the new Republican House majority from using the debt ceiling — and the threat of a default that could wreck the economy — to force spending cuts.

Klain said the White House’s plan was straightforward, according to the lawmaker: Refuse to entertain any concessions, and launch a barrage of attacks highlighting the GOP position that would force Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to fold.

“This debate is simple: We want to do the responsible thing, and they want to take the entire American economy hostage to cut Social Security and Medicare,” said the member of Congress, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations. Klain told the lawmaker that the fight could result in substantial political benefits for the Democratic Party. “The point he was making was clear: You can’t negotiate with people who take hostages.”

Felis Syriacus Ulisse Aldrovani (1522-1605), by Vintage Lavoie

Felis Syriacus Ulisse Aldrovani (1522-1605), by Vintage Lavoie

But the question remains what the administration will do if Republicans won’t raise the debt limit without negotiations.

House Republicans have increasingly signaled that they will force a showdown with the administration over the nation’s debt ceiling, which sets a statutory limit on how much the federal government can borrow….

Many GOP lawmakers have said that they will not approve a debt ceiling increase without cuts to spending programs that the Biden administration has vowed to protect, creating an impasse with no clear resolution.

…[A]dministration officials [have] conclude[d], at least for now, that the only viable path is to press Republicans to abandon their demands to extract policy concessions over the debt limit — a position they have publicly reaffirmed in recent weeks. The Biden administration is focused on pressing the GOP to unveil a debt limit plan that includes spending cuts, with the hope that such a proposal will prove so divisive among Republicans that they are forced to abandon brinkmanship. This strategy stems in part from the belief among White House officials that it would be enormously risky either to negotiate policy with the GOP on the debt limit or try to solve it via executive order — and they appear willing to put that premise to the test.

How about having Biden and surrogates travel around the country educating voters about the consequences of either letting Republican crash the economy or letting them destroy Social Security and Medicare? Just a thought.

What are your thoughts about all this? What other stories do you recommend?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Vladimir Rumyantzev

Illustration by ladimir Rumyantzev

Happy Caturday!!

After an insane week of Republican tantrums, Kevin McCarthy is finally Speaker of the House. But it doesn’t sound like he’ll have much control over his caucus. He seems to have given in to all of their demands in order to have a title with very little power. It was an embarrassing week for the Republican Party and for the country, capped by a scene in which Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama and Matt Gaetz of Florida nearly came to blows.

Benjy Sarlin, Kadia Goba, and Shelby Talcott at Semaphor: Kevin McCarthy finally became Speaker of the House after one last shocking meltdown. Here’s how it all happened.

McCarthy and his allies confidently predicted he would be elected Speaker of the House Friday night after a breakthrough in negotiations earlier in the day that saw 15 holdouts abandon their opposition.

The expectation was a critical mass of remaining holdouts would switch sides or vote present to seal his inevitable election as speaker.

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. earned wild applause when she voted “present” for the first time, helping lower the threshold for a McCarthy win — just as his team had hoped would happen.

Members did the same for Rep. Wesley Hunt, R-Texas, who had flown back from tending to his wife and newborn premature baby in order to attend the crucial vote, and Ken Buck, R-Colo., who had rushed back from Colorado after undergoing a medical procedure.

But four holdouts, including a freshman from Arizona, Eli Crane, voted for other candidates. Then, after deliberately skipping his initial vote, Gaetz waited to the end of the roll call to vote “present” — leaving McCarthy one vote short.

Pandemonium ensued. An enraged Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala. had to be physically restrained as he charged to confront Gaetz with the C-SPAN cameras rolling.

Back to the Semaphor article:

Afterwards, a stunned Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who had just nominated McCarthy and was seen animatedly working Gaetz over during the vote, took to the podium to ask that the House be allowed to adjourn until Monday.

As members tried to get their bearings, President Trump placed quick calls ahead of the 15th ballot — just before midnight — to Reps. Andy Biggs, who had voted for Rep. Jim Jordan, and Gaetz, a source familiar with the situation told Semafor.

Another photo from earlier showed Marjorie Taylor Greene trying to reach a holdout after the failed vote, Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Montana with a phone call from a “DT” as Rosendale appeared to rebuff her.

In the next ballot, more holdouts voted “present” and McCarthy was finally elected to thunderous applause and deep sighs of relief, completing his long rise through leadership across three presidential administrations.

Cat in the evening on the bench birds, Paul Kulsha2

Cat in the evening on the bench with birds, Paul Kulsha2

I stayed up until the bitter end, but I nodded off a few times and somehow I missed the fight scene. What I saw was Matt Gaetz approaching McCarthy, after which McCarthy rushed to the voting table to change his vote to no on adjournment. McCarthy looked thrilled after he finally won the 15th vote, but what did he actually win?

Sahil Kapur at NBC News: How Kevin McCarthy got the votes for speaker — and why it could haunt him.

After four days of deadlock and embarrassing defeats not seen in a century, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy finally carved out a path to placate a faction of rebels and secure the job early Saturday, with promises that could come back to haunt him.

McCarthy flipped 14 of his holdouts and convinced the rest to stand down, securing election as the 53rd speaker of the House on the 15th ballot after overcoming a last-minute wrench that scuttled his best-laid plans on the previous ballot. In doing so, he made a series of concessions that weaken the power of his office and expand the clout of far-right members of the House Republican conference, which critics say could complicate his job of governing under a wafer-thin majority.

McCarthy and his allies sensed they were on the verge of a breakthrough on Thursday night after Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., and others tapped by the now-speaker met with a group of right-wing holdouts — including Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Chip Roy of Texas and Byron Donalds of Florida. The mutiny was led by members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, which is known for wielding raw power and having a high tolerance for chaos to force House GOP leaders to bend to their wishes.

McCarthy’s team presented them with a “framework” of House rules changes and other promises that would appease the group — and that ultimately prompted six House members to vote “present,” a crucial move that lowered the threshold for a majority and paved the way for him to succeed….

Perry, the Freedom Caucus chairman, said Friday he decided to vote for McCarthy after that framework was put on the table. But he also made clear his support for McCarthy was conditional on the terms of the deal holding up.

The concessions were mostly about the Rules Committee.

The Republican rules package released Friday includes those concessions. It will allow any one member to force a “motion to vacate” the speaker’s chair and overthrow McCarthy. It makes it harder for the House to raise spending, taxes and the debt limit. And Perry said the agreement includes “conservative representation” across the House, including by adding members of the right flank to key committees.

Perry and Roy declined to divulge details, but two sources with knowledge told NBC News that the Freedom Caucus was demanding three seats on the powerful Rules Committee, which controls the bills that make it to the House floor…

Irina Zeniuk2

Illustration by Irina Zeniuk

The deal is poised to enhance the power of far-right Republicans, at the expense of moderates who want to advance legislation that can win the approval of a Democratic-controlled Senate and President Joe Biden. It could make McCarthy’s task of passing must-do bills like funding the government and lifting the debt ceiling much harder under a slim majority if a group of five Republicans can effectively force him out at any time.

Still, the more moderate or mainstream Republicans put up little resistance to the pact that party leaders agreed to, with some accepting it as the cost of doing business under narrow margins….

Democrats say the reported concessions will make the House ungovernable and cause crises.

“What we’re seeing is the incredibly shrinking speakership,” former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an interview Friday. “It is not a good thing for the House of Representatives. We are the people’s house. We have to negotiate with the Senate. We have to negotiate with the White House. And instead, we are diminishing the leadership role of the House.”

More details at the NBC link.

According to Kyle Cheney at Politico, McCarthy also has agreed to give unprecedented powers to Rep. Jim Jordan, who will be the chair of the Judiciary Committee: Proposed GOP select panel would be empowered to review ‘ongoing criminal investigations.’

A proposed subcommittee to investigate “weaponization” of the federal government — a key demand of House conservatives who delivered Speaker Kevin McCarthy the gavel — would be given sweeping investigatory powers that include explicit authority to review “ongoing criminal investigations.”

The language of the proposed “select subcommittee,” which would operate under the Judiciary Committee expected to be chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), also gives the panel power to access any information shared with the House Intelligence Committee. That panel typically receives the highest-level classified intelligence and briefings of any committee in Congress.

Both provisions appear to have been added during final negotiations between McCarthy and a band of hardline detractors that briefly denied him the speakership. An earlier version of the proposal made no mention of ongoing criminal investigations or the Intelligence Committee and limited the probe to the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.

Vladimir Rumyantzev2

Illustration by Vladimir Rumyantzev

The panel’s expected formation comes as the Justice Department continues to arrest and prosecute hundreds of rioters charged with breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and amid two ongoing criminal investigations connected to former President Donald Trump. Those include the probe of his effort to overturn the 2020 election and his decision to warehouse highly sensitive national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate after leaving office.

Both Trump-related probes are now overseen by special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in November to manage the sensitive grand jury investigations

The subcommittee proposal would permit McCarthy to name 13 members to the panel, including five after consultation with Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries — a structure similar to the Jan. 6 select committee. Pelosi opted to reject two of McCarthy’s picks to that panel, prompting him to withdraw from any participation.

Unlike the Jan. 6 committee, however, the GOP-led probe would be housed under Jordan’s committee. Subpoenas issued by the panel would be authorized by Jordan.

That is just plain terrifying. So Jordan wants to be able to horn in on the investigations of Trump and other insurrectionists–which include Jim Jordan!

Asawin Suebsaeng and Tessa Stuart of Rolling Stone have a scoop on Matt Gaetz’s motive for opposing McCarthy: Sex Trafficking Row Helped Fuel Gaetz’s Hatred for McCarthy.

KEVIN MCCARTHY WAS well aware he was going to lose his bid to become Speaker of the House of Representatives on the first ballot, three people with knowledge of the situation told Rolling Stone. What he was not privately predicting was that the beatings would continue for an entire week. “He knew he was going to get fucked — he just didn’t know they were going to fuck him this many times, or this hard,” explained one congressional aide.

Among the major factors in McCarthy losing more than a dozen speakership ballots, people familiar with the matter say, was the severity of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz’s enmity toward the Republican leader. Gaetz’s intense and personal distaste for McCarthy has been an open secret in Washington political circles for years, so much so that Gaetz and McCarthy’s colleagues would argue it isn’t even a “secret” at all.

Vladimir Rumyantzev3

Illustration by Vladimir Rumyantzev

But Gaetz’s hatred curdled into something even more powerful after it was revealed in early 2021 that the MAGA congressman was the target of a federal investigation into the sex trafficking of a minor. (No charges were filed against Gaetz, but his “wingman” Joel Greenberg was sentenced to 11 years in prison.) McCarthy, in Gaetz’s opinion, failed to mount a forceful enough defense on his behalf. According to two sources familiar with the matter, Gaetz has been furious at McCarthy for the perceived lack of support ever since — despite the fact that McCarthy did not strip him of any committee assignments during the probe.

The enmity between the two Republicans spilled into open view on the floor of the House during the 14th vote Friday night that McCarthy had bragged would finally put him over the top to secure the speaker’s gavel. Gaetz placed himself at the center of the drama. He skipped his turn in the alphabetical role call vote, setting himself up to vote at the end of the proceeding. With McCarthy needing one more yes vote, Gaetz instead voted “present” — leaving McCarthy with 50 percent of the vote, a hair short of victory. McCarthy strode up to Gaetz on the House floor, and a the foes had a heated exchange that did not change the total. McCarthy again was left hanging. (Gaetz again voted “present” along with the other Never Kevin rebels in the 15th vote that finally gave McCarthy the gavel.)

The original source of Rep. Gaetz’s acute loathing of McCarthy is less clear. Rolling Stone contacted members of Congress, sources on Capitol Hill, and activists in conservative organizations to ask what the root cause was. They all just knew Gaetz hated the House GOP leader. One Republican who knows both Gaetz and McCarthy says they even once asked the latter why Gaetz dislikes him so much. This source recalls McCarthy answering: “I don’t know.”

McCarthy has the Speaker’s gavel now, but there may be more disagreements coming on Monday when the House votes on the rules package that McCarthy agreed to. There are reportedly some McCarthy supporters who aren’t going to support it.

More stories to check out today:

Associated Press: Police: 6-year-old shoots teacher in Virginia classroom.

The New York Times: Shootings Reported at Homes and Offices of 5 New Mexico Democrats.

Associated Press: US appeals court blocks ban on rapid-fire ‘bump stocks.’

NBC News: On Musk’s Twitter, users looking to sell and trade child sex abuse material are still easily found.

Raw Story: Ashli Babbitt’s mother arrested for blocking DC street on Capitol riot anniversary.

NBC News: Conservative leader Matt Schlapp is accused of fondling a male campaign staffer in Georgia.

The Daily Beast: Herschel Walker Staffer: Matt Schlapp ‘Groped’ My Crotch.

Have a nice weekend, Sky Dancers!!


Lazy Caturday Reads

mother-cat-cornelis-raaphorst

Mother cat, by Cornelis Raaphorst

Happy Caturday!!

This is going to be kind of a lightweight post, because I’m burned out on serious news at the moment. 

There was a big social event in support of climate change research in Boston over the past few days. I wasn’t really paying attention, and neither was most of the national media; but it was for a good cause. Prince William and Princess Kate toured the Boston area for days, and handed out “Earthshot” awards at a ceremony featuring President Biden and some big name celebrities. This was the second Earthshot awards ceremony. 

From the Earthshot Awards Website: FIVE WINNERS OF THE SECOND EVER EARTHSHOT PRIZE AWARDS UNVEILED.

Tonight, Prince William and The Earthshot Prize revealed the 2022 Earthshot Prize winners – an accomplished group of entrepreneurs and innovators spearheading ground-breaking solutions to repair and regenerate the planet.

Each winner was awarded a £1 million prize at the second-annual Earthshot Prize awards ceremony, which will be broadcast Sunday, December 4 at 17:30pm GMT on BBC and will begin streaming on Monday, December 5 at 2:00pm EST on PBS.org and the PBS app.

Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s Moonshot challenge in the 1960s, which united millions of people around the goal of putting a person on the moon within a decade, The Earthshot Prize aims to discover and help scale innovative solutions that put the world firmly on a trajectory toward a stable climate by 2030 – a world in which communities, oceans and biodiversity can thrive in harmony.

Each year over the course of this critical decade for the planet, five winners will be chosen for their ground-breaking solutions to five of the greatest environmental challenges facing our planet. These five Earthshots are: Protect and Restore NatureClean our AirRevive our OceansBuild a Waste-free World; and Fix our Climate.

Following a rigorous selection process focused on identifying the most inspirational, impactful, and inclusive solutions, the five 2022 winners are:

Clean our AirMukuru Clean Stoves, Kenya – A start-up providing cleaner-burning stoves to women in Kenya to reduce unhealthy indoor pollution and provide a safer way to cook.

Protect and Restore NatureKheyti, India – A pioneering solution for local smallholder farmers to reduce costs, increase yields and protect livelihoods in a country on the frontlines of climate change.

Revive our OceansIndigenous Women of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia – An inspiring women led program that combines 60,000 years of indigenous knowledge with digital technologies to protect land and sea.

Build a Waste-free WorldNotpla, United Kingdom – A circular solution creating an alternative to plastic packaging from seaweed.

Fix our Climate44.01, Oman – Created by childhood friends who have developed an innovative technique to turn CO2 into rock, and permanently store it underground.

Carl Reichert, Cats and the Cockatoo, 1898Time: Prince William’s Earthshot Prize Winners Include a Seaweed-Based Plastic Startup and Cleaner Cookstoves.

There is no shortage of environmental problems that need to be solved. And today in Boston, Mass.—at a ceremony marked by celebrity appearances and calls to action from around the world—Prince William through his Earthshot Prize handed out over $6 million dollars to help accelerate five solutions to tackling issues on conservation, air quality, oceans, waste, and climate change.

The annual Earthshot Prize, an independent charity founded by Prince William and the Royal Foundation in 2020, awards $1.2 million each to winners in the five categories. The initiative aims to bring the same level of urgency and ambition to today’s environmental challenges as John F. Kennedy’s “moonshot” space-race challenge. (Marc and Lynne Benioff, TIME’s owners and co-chairs, have been among the philanthropic supporters of the effort.)

Among the panel of judges selecting this year’s high-profile awards are naturalist Sir David Attenborough, actress Cate Blanchett, musician Shakira, and Christiana Figueres, former head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The winners were selected from a group of 15 finalists from 10 different countries, and included, among others, grassroots organizations dedicated to forest protection and biodiversity conservation, along with start-ups exploring clean battery technology and alternative leather derived from waste.

It seems I’m not the only Bostonian who was unimpressed with the royals visit to our city.

The New York Times: Bostonians’ Take on the Royals’ Whirlwind Visit? Whatevah.

Crowds had gathered at rain-swept City Hall Plaza to welcome Prince William and Princess Catherine of Wales, the photogenic royals who touched down on Wednesday for a whirlwind three-day tour.

So were patrons abuzz about the visit two miles away at Santarpio’s, a bare-bones bar and pizza joint, and East Boston institution?

“Not yet,” a bartender said dryly as he hustled crispy pizzas and plates of steaming sausage to a row of diners Wednesday night, his expression suggesting the likelihood of any buzz was quite low.

As breathless online commentary tracked the royal couple’s every movement and designer wardrobe change for a global audience of devoted palace watchers, laconic swaths of their host city remained unimpressed, if not wholly unaware of their presence.

At a Dunkin’ in the diverse Dorchester neighborhood on Thursday, a woman waiting for her order in a puffy winter coat, hood up, declined to talk to a reporter, then asked what the story was about.

Informed of the topic, she curtly shook her head.

“Don’t care,” she said.

The city’s history helps explain its deep veins of indifference, said Brooke Barbier, a historian who also offers guided tours of Boston. Because its identity is so rooted in the American Revolution and its rejection of monarchy, and because its landscape is still littered with vivid reminders of that past, “it makes sense, even centuries later, that Boston can’t care about the monarchy,” she said. “Even if, secretly, they care.”

Commuters cross the site of the Boston Massacre on their way to the subway (the place where it happened, then King Street, was later renamed); at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, actors routinely re-enact the colonists’ famous 1773 protest against British taxation.

Fans of the first-place Boston Celtics seemed to channel vestiges of that feistiness on Wednesday night, when William and Kate attended a game at TD Garden alongside city officials, and were reportedly met with scattered chants of “USA! USA!” amid the louder cheering, when their faces were shown on a giant screen.

Harpers Bazaar: Boston Is Apparently Really Angry That the Royals Are Visiting.

While some in Somerville, Massachusetts, are appreciative of the fact that the British royals will bring some positive attention to Greentown Labs, an incubator for start-ups aiming to tackle the climate crisis with tech-fueled innovation, others are annoyed about the inconveniences the Wales’s visit will cause for the city—traffic, for example.

Arthur Wardle, The Green Pillow

Arthur Wardle, The Green Pillow

A main concern on the social channels is how difficult it will allegedly be for residents to get to grocery store Market Basket, located on Somerville Avenue. A block of the avenue, from Dane Street to School Street, will be blocked during William and Kate’s visit to the area today, according to an email city officials sent to residents on Wednesday, The Boston Globe reported.

Both directions of travel, the sidewalks, and parking will also be closed to the public, and the MBTA’s route 87 bus will be temporarily rerouted, the city reportedly said, adding that the move was made “to accommodate security measures for the British royal visit.”

A spokesperson for Market Basket said the store will remain open, with access from the Union Square side, per the Globe. But even the Somerville city councilor is outraged at the possibility of having one entrance to the local supermarket temporarily, partially blocked for the royals’ historic visit—their first to the U.S. since 2014.

“Hey, did you know that the royal family is visiting Ward 2 tomorrow? Yeah, me neither until I read it in the press,” City Councilor Jefferson Thomas Scott wrote on Twitter yesterday upon the royals’ arrival in Boston.

“I didn’t invite these people and was unaware of this visit until you found out too,” he added. “The City is not handling the Prince and Princess of Wales’ itinerary, so the times of these transits and closures ending is unknown.”

In other news, here’s the latest on Elon Musk’s ongoing destruction of Twitter.

Remember back in the days of the 2008 financial crisis when Matt Taibbi seemed like a serious journalist to some people even though his reporting style was a weak imitation of Hunter Thompson’s gonzo journalism? I wasn’t particularly impressed even then. For a time, Taibbi pretended to be a “progressive,” supporting Bernie Sanders for president. But these days Taibbi, like Glenn Greenwald, is a right-winger and apparent Russian asset. Now he has become an Elon Musk puppet. Yesterday he posted a Twitter thread on Hunter Biden’s laptop, at Musk’s request. I couldn’t quite make sense of the thread, but here are some articles about it.

Axios: Musk’s “Twitter Files” spotlights Hunter Biden story ban.

Elon Musk’s Twitter took aim at the firm’s previous management Friday evening with a “Twitter Files” presentation intended to demonstrate “free speech suppression.

Driving the news: Musk’s team apparently provided newsletter author Matt Taibbi with access to internal documents surrounding Twitter’s controversial decision, three weeks before the 2020 presidential election, to limit access to a New York Post article about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop.

At the time Twitter said that it was blocking the Post story under a policy against stolen and hacked materials. Conservatives said the company was censoring the news. Within two days CEO Jack Dorsey reversed the decision and apologized.

The Post story alleged that in 2015 Hunter Biden tried to arrange a meeting between his father and an executive at a Ukrainian company Hunter Biden worked for. Biden spokespeople denied the allegations at the time.

Details: Taibbi’s “Twitter Files” unrolled Friday on Twitter, stretched out across nearly two hours of posting.

  — The posts show debates inside Twitter over whether the decision to block the Post story was the right call.

 —  Conservative outrage at Twitter’s action was loud and public at the time, but Taibbi also reports messages from outside organizations and a Democratic politician over the move.

 —  A text apparently from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) to a Twitter executive reads, “Generating huge backlash on hill re speech.”

Between the lines: Musk’s following greeted “The Twitter Files” as evidence that Twitter had operated with bias, but there was no smoking-gun evidence of a partisan conspiracy to censor.

Cat Mother with Three Boys, by Julius Adam II, German, 1852-1913

Cat Mother with Three Boys, by Julius Adam II, German, 1852-1913

So that’s the gist of the story. It’s also evident that Musk still doesn’t grasp the meaning of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause. Its purpose was to protect speech from government control and interference. A private company like Twitter is not the government and thus has the right to moderate offensive speech on its platform

Zachary Petrizzo at The Daily Beast on the right wing response: Deeply Underwhelmed’: Right-Wingers on Musk’s Overhyped ‘Twitter Files.’

Elon Musk hyped the release of bombshell revelations Friday about Twitter’s controversial decision to restrict stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop on the platform, but the leak was a resounding flop with many right-wing pundits.

“So far, I’m deeply underwhelmed,” Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump administration official turned right-wing radio host, said. His comments came after journalist Matt Taibbi released a lengthy Twitter thread detailing Musk’s touted findings, namely that Twitter executives themselves were at odds over whether to restrict the Hunter Biden reporting and that Democrats (and Republicans) filed moderation requests with the social media giant….

But the right-wing host didn’t leave it to just a single post. He continued by doubling down when pressed by MAGA diehard followers who were convinced the “Twitter files” promoted by Musk were a smoking gun.

Responding to a Truth Social user claiming the Twitter company emails were “a clear violation of the 1st Amendment,” the radio host fired back: “Err no, it’s not the DNC asking a private company to censor has nothing to do with the First Amendment.”

The back and forth ended with Truth Social users accusing Gorka of being “deep state.” (The radio host failed to address questions on the matter sent to him by The Daily Beast on Friday night.)

Likewise, New York Post columnist Miranda Devine—one of the first right-wing reporters to begin writing about the laptop—told Fox News host Tucker Carlson it wasn’t the “smoking gun we’d hoped for.”

“I feel that Elon Musk has held back some material,” she then alleged, claiming sinister forces were perhaps controlling Musk after the Twitter chief took a meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier in the week. “In particular, there’s a tweet in which Matt Taibbi says he hasn’t seen any evidence that law enforcement specifically warned off Twitter from our story. But that’s just not correct.”

Tim Miller at The Bulwark: No, You Do Not Have a Constitutional Right to Post Hunter Biden’s Dick Pic on Twitter. Elon Musk and Matt Taibbi’s First Amendment follies.

While normal humans who denied Republicans their red wave were enjoying an epic sports weekend, an insular community of MAGA activists and online contrarians led by the world’s richest man (for now) were getting riled up about a cache of leaked emails revealing that the former actor James Woods and Chinese troll accounts were not allowed to post ill-gotten photos of Hunter Biden’s hog on a private company’s microblogging platform 25 months ago.

Jules-Gustave-Le-Roy-Brave-Bird, 1856-1921

Jules Gustave LeRoy, Brave Bird

Now if you are one of the normals—someone who would never think about posting another person’s penis on your social media account; has no desire to see politicians’ kids’ penises when scrolling social media; doesn’t understand why there are other people out there who care one way or another about the moderation policies surrounding stolen penis photos; or can’t even figure out what it is that I’m talking about—then this might seem like a gratuitous matter for an article. Sadly, it is not.

Because among Republican members of Congress, leading conservative media commentators, contrarian substackers, conservative tech bros, and friends of Donald Trump, the ability to post Hunter Biden’s cock shots on Twitter is the number-one issue in America this weekend. They believe that if they are not allowed to post porno, our constitutional republic may be in jeopardy.

I truly, truly wish I were joking.

Miller’s take on what it was all about:

Here’s a synopsis for the blessedly uninitiated:

On Friday, Elon Musk promised to reveal “what really happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression by Twitter.” It turns out that he had provided a trove of internal corporate documents to the Tulsi Gabbard of Substack, Matt Taibbi, who said they amounted to a “unique and explosive story”—revealing the juicy details inside Twitter’s decision to suppress the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story, which had previously been rejected by such liberal outlets as Fox News and the Wall Street Journal due to its suspicious provenance. Taibbi agreed to divulge these private emails on Twitter itself rather than via his Substack as part of a “few conditions,” which he does not detail, that were imposed on him, presumably by Musk or a Musk factotum.

The documents Taibbi tweeted on Friday were titillating in the way that reading private correspondence revealing what people were really saying around a controversial subject always is, but nothing new was learned about the contours of the story. The leak mostly relitigates two facts that have already received much ink across the media: 1) How Twitter throttled the New York Post’s initial story about Hunter’s laptop based on what we now know was an incorrect assessment of its source; and 2) How political campaigns and government agencies have worked with social media companies—in this case Twitter—to flag troubling content.

Read more at the Bulwark link if you’re interested.

I’ll wrap up this gossipy post with some HuffPost reporting by Matt Shuham on Trump’s dinner with Nazis: The Mysterious Fourth Man At The Trump-Ye Dinner Tells His Story.

Simerenya, Henriette Ronner Knip

Simerenya, Henriette Ronner Knip

When former President Donald Trump held a now-infamous dinner last month with Ye, the antisemitic rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and a prominent white nationalist, an unnamed additional guest sat alongside the powerful men.

NBC News reported only that the other person in Ye’s group was the parent of a student at Donda Academy, the rapper’s private school in California. But while speaking about the dinner this week, Ye briefly referred to a man named Jamar Montgomery during a livestream with far-right influencer Tim Pool. Ye identified him as a “Boeing engineer.”

HuffPost tracked Montgomery down and spoke with him Thursday night. He is indeed a Boeing employee, though he did not confirm any connection with Donda Academy. Montgomery told a wild tale about how an invitation from Ye, whom he says he barely knew, quickly led to a dinner with the former leader of the free world. Montgomery shared some details from the evening, including some insight into why a mysterious phone call suddenly darkened Trump’s mood, after which he began treating Ye with open hostility.

Montgomery says he didn’t know about Ye’s anti-Semitism and positive views of Hitler when he accepted the invitation.

Montgomery said Ye initially reached out to him about two weeks ago to talk about education, given Montgomery’s experience as an educator and tutor.

Montgomery confirmed he worked for Boeing, but said, “the work that’s most important to me is the work that I do for the people.” He cited his efforts to teach his community about financial literacy, cryptocurrency and political science. A Boeing spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost that someone of the same name works for the company. The spokesperson declined to describe Montgomery’s work, citing privacy reasons, and said “we did not have an employee there representing Boeing in any official capacity.”

Montgomery ran for U.S. Senate in Louisiana in 2020 as a no-party-affiliation candidate, ultimately earning 5,804 votes, and he currently goes by the moniker “The Crypto Politician.”

And as for the dinner? “I was there as a spectator. I was just along for the ride.”

Those are my offerings for Caturday. Feel free to discuss serious issues in the comment thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Twin Narcissistic Sociopaths

Eileen Rosemary Mayo (1906-94)

Painting by Eileen Rosemary Mayo (1906-94)

Happy Caturday!!

The long holiday weekend continues. I’m still having trouble sleeping at night, so once again this post is embarrassingly late. What news there is is still pretty ugly, with twin narcissistic sociopaths Donald Trump and Elon Musk dominating the headlines.

Trump News

People are still talking about Trump’s dinner with anti-Semite Kanye West and holocaust denying Nazi Nick Fuentes. Dakinikat wrote quite a bit about this yesterday. Here’s the latest:

Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer at The New York Times: Trump’s Latest Dinner Guest: Nick Fuentes, White Supremacist.

Former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday night had dinner with Nicewk Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and racist who is one of the country’s most prominent young white supremacists, at Mr. Trump’s private club in Florida, advisers to Mr. Trump conceded on Friday.

Also at the dinner was the performer Kanye West, who has also been denounced for making antisemitic statements. Mr. West traveled to meet with Mr. Trump at the club, Mar-a-Lago, and brought Mr. Fuentes along, the advisers said.

The fourth attendee at the four-person dinner, Karen Giorno — a veteran political operative who worked on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign as his state director in Florida — also confirmed that Mr. Fuentes was there….

In recent years, Mr. Fuentes, 24, has developed a high profile on the far right and forged ties with such Republican lawmakers as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, largely through his leadership of an annual white-supremacist event called the America First Political Action Conference.

A Holocaust denier and unabashed racist, Mr. Fuentes openly uses hateful language on his podcast, in recent weeks calling for the military to be sent into Black neighborhoods and demanding that Jews leave the country….

During the dinner, according to a person briefed on what took place, Mr. Fuentes described himself as part of Mr. Trump’s base of supporters. Mr. Trump remarked that his advisers urge him to read speeches using a teleprompter and don’t like when he ad-libs remarks.

Mr. Fuentes said Mr. Trump’s supporters preferred the ad-libs, at which Mr. Trump turned to the others, the person said, and declared that he liked Mr. Fuentes, adding: “He gets me.”

Aleksandra Aleks

Painting by Aleksandra Aleks

I’d have to agree. Trump is clearly an anti-Semite and fascist would love to turn the U.S. into a dictatorship. He’s also a needy narcissist who will listen to anyone who shamelessly flatters and sucks up to him. And it sounds like Fuentes did that.

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Trump said: “Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago. Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about.” The statement said nothing about Mr. Fuentes’s views.

In a post later Friday on his social media website, Truth Social, Mr. Trump said that Mr. West “unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about.” He said the dinner took place “with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. Then they left for the airport.”

Early Friday evening, Mr. Trump made a third attempt at defending himself, saying that Mr. West had sought business advice from him, “expressed no anti-Semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson.’ Why wouldn’t I agree to meet? I also, I didn’t know Nick Fuentes.”

Well Trump has to know who and what Fuentes is now, and he’s still not willing to say anything against him. I’m reminded of the time in 2016 when Trump refused to reject the endorsement of David Duke and claimed to know nothing about him or the KKK. But The Washington Post documented statements by Trump about Duke in 1991 and 2000, in which he “condemned Duke and his views.”

Even taking at face value Mr. Trump’s protestation that he knew nothing of Mr. Fuentes, the apparent ease with which Mr. Fuentes arrived at the home of a former president who is under multiple investigations — including one related to keeping classified documents at Mar-a-Lago long after he left office — underscores the undisciplined, uncontrolled nature of Mr. Trump’s post-presidency just 10 days into his third campaign for the White House.

Marc Caputo at NBC News: ‘F—ing nightmare’: Trump team does damage control after he dines with Ye and white supremacist Nick Fuentes.

…[D]espite Trump suggesting that the event was “uneventful,” the fallout over his dinner with Fuentes appears to have thrown Trump’s campaign into damage control mode. The former president took hours to respond publicly after multiple media outlets reported that Fuentes was present at the dinner.

Cat on the Counter, Joanelle Summerfield

Cat on the Counter, Joanelle Summerfield

Even the two Trump advisers winced at how a Holocaust denier like Fuentes was able to wind up with Trump at dinner — even if it was by mistake — along with the rapper, who had just had his Twitter account restored but lost major endorsement deals for making antisemitic remarks.

“This is a f—ing nightmare,” said one longtime Trump adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of stoking the former president’s ire at “disloyal” people who criticize him. “If people are looking at [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis to run against Trump, here’s another reason why.”

All three sources familiar with the dinner told NBC News there was one glaring inaccuracy in Trump’s statement: Trump knew one of the three “friends” brought by the rapper, Karen Giorno. She was the Trump campaign’s Florida director in 2016 and the former president knows her by name and sight, the sources said. In addition to Giorno and Fuentes, Ye also brought along another man who was an associate, according to the sources.

The source familiar with the dinner conversation said the dinner grew heated after Ye — who announced another run for president in 2024 on Thursday — asked Trump to be his running mate. Trump then began insulting Ye’s ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, according to the source and a video that Ye posted to Twitter on Thanksgiving Day recounting the dinner.

The source also said Fuentes is helping to advise Ye in his second presidential campaign. The rapper has said the campaign would be managed by Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right provocateur and former Breitbart editor who was banned from Twitter in 2016 for inciting a racist campaign against comedian Leslie Jones.

How anyone could possibly vote for someone like Trump is a mystery to me.

John Bolton told the Guardian’s David Smith that: Trump’s act is ‘old and tired’, says his own former national security adviser.

John Bolton, former national security adviser to Donald Trump, has described the former US president’s act as “old and tired” and said the Republican party is ready to move on to a “fresh face”.

Bolton is the latest ex-White House official to condemn Trump after Republicans underperformed in this month’s midterm elections, which added to a losing streak that convinced some he is now hurting rather than helping the party.

“There are a lot of reasons to be against Trump being the nominee but the one I’m hearing now as I call around the country, talking to my supporters and others about what happened on 8 November, is the number of people who have just switched Trump off in their brain,” Bolton told the Guardian.

“Even if they loved his style, loved his approach, loved his policies, loved everything about him, they don’t want to lose and the fear is, given the results on 8 November, that if he got the nomination, not only would he lose the general election, but he would take an awful lot of Republican candidates down with him.”

Musk/Twitter News

NPR: Twitter has lost 50 of its top 100 advertisers since Elon Musk took over, report says.

Half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers appear to no longer be advertising on the website. A report from Media Matters for America states that these 50 advertisers have spent almost $2 billion on Twitter ads since 2020 and more than $750 million just in 2022.

Oh Boy, by Barbara Hranilovich

Oh Boy, by Barbara Hranilovich

Seven additional advertisers have slowed their advertising to almost nothing, according to the report, which was published on Tuesday. These companies have paid Twitter more than $255 million since 2020.

Chevrolet, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Ford, Jeep, Kyndryl, Merck & Co. and Novartis AG all issued statements about halting Twitter ads or were reported and confirmed as doing so. The others ceased advertising on the platform for a “significant period of time following direct outreach, controversies, and warnings from media buyers.”

The report wrote that even with these hits to advertising revenue, Twitter CEO Elon Musk has “continued his rash of brand unsafe actions — including amplifying conspiracy theories, unilaterally reinstating banned accounts such as that of former President Donald Trump, courting and engaging with far-right accounts, and instituting a haphazard verification scheme that allowed extremists and scammers to purchase a blue check.” [….]

Eli Lilly and Co. stopped showing ads on Twitter the day after an account impersonating the pharmaceutical company — complete with a purchased blue check mark — posted, “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.”

Eli Lilly asked Twitter to take it down, but the tweet remained up for hours, because the platform’s staff was stretched thin due to recent layoffs and resignations. The tweet garnered hundreds of retweets and thousands of likes, and Eli Lilly’s stock soon took a dive.

Endpoints News reported that 12 pharmaceutical giants soon stopped buying Twitter ads, citing Pathmatics, which collects data on corporate advertising and digital marketing trends.

Inc: The ‘Myth Of Elon Musk’ Was His Most Valuable Asset. The Twitter Debacle Means It’s Over.

For Elon Musk, the idea that he is a once-in-a-generation super genius is central to the success of everything he does. It’s one of the most important narratives in business–that he is capable of rallying companies to do what seems to be impossible for everyone else.

Leona Kashigin, Early December Morning

Leona Kashigin, Early December Morning

That myth has taken Musk far in life, including making him the most wealthy man in the world. It’s tempting to think that it must be at least partially true.

If you [are] a Tesla shareholder, for example, you want to believe that Musk is uniquely qualified to bring into existence things like mass-scale electric vehicles (EVs), or autonomous cars that can navigate city streets more safely than human drivers. You also want to believe that when Musk promises to do things like get humans to Mars, that he has a plan and isn’t just throwing things against the wall to see what doesn’t blow up. You have a financial interest in the myth. 

To be fair, the companies Musk leads are–by all of the ways you might measure such a thing–incredibly successful. Tesla has almost single-handedly made EVs a thing normal people will buy. SpaceX is easily the most important private space exploration company ever. It has been able to do in a decade what the full resources of the United States Space program hasn’t been able to do–mostly build a rocket that you can land and use more than once.

Those successes are almost always attributed to the genius of Elon. I’m sure there’s some credit due to him, but I can’t help but think it’s equally as possible that those companies have been wildly successful not because of Elon Musk, but in spite of him. Over the past few weeks, it has become more apparent that the genius of Musk is a myth.

If nothing else, the past month of Twitter under Musk’s ownership–and, more importantly, his leadership–has broken through the myth and revealed that he doesn’t always have a well-thought out plan for success. Sometimes he’s just winging it and gets lucky. Sometimes he’s able to impose his will by the sheer force of his personality. Other times, he pushes too far and things break.

At Tesla and SpaceX, everyone knows who is in charge. The culture is completely built around the myth. Your job, if you work for one of those companies, is to figure out how to turn the myth (or the promises, no matter how detached from reality) into truth. That’s it. That’s what you do. Musk makes a bold claim and you work “extremely hardcore” until it’s accomplished.

None of that is true at Twitter. What is true is that the company is a mess and Musk has no real plan to fix it beyond imposing his personality and hope that the people still there will jump at his latest whim.

Click the link to read the rest.

Ruby Cramer at The Washington Post: Elon Musk says he would support Ron DeSantis in 2024.

Billionaire Twitter owner Elon Musk said he would back Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) if he runs for president in 2024. Tweeting into the night on Friday, Musk described DeSantis as a “sensible and centrist” choice.

Roxanne Driedger

By Roxanne Driedger

He said he had been a “significant supporter” of the Obama administration and “reluctantly” supported President Biden over Donald Trump in 2020, but had been disappointed with the results of the last two years. On the eve of the midterm elections this month, Musk urged his more than 115 million followers to support Republicans.

“Would you support Ron DeSantis in 2024, Elon?” a Twitter user named @ProudElephantUS asked on Friday. “Yes,” Musk replied.

Musk acquired Twitter for $44 billion late last month. He has made his partisan preferences known on the platform, replying to questions from users about his political worldview and his decision to allow Trump back on the site, breaking with major technology executives who try to maintain a neutral posture in the public eye.

Advertisers are very likely turned off by Musk’s choice to express his partisan views. Either he really believes that people will pay to use what’s left of Twitter, or he is actively choosing to destroy his $44 billion investment.

I’ll add a few more stories in the comment thread and I hope you will too. I hope you are enjoying the long weekend.