Friday Reads: Headlines I never thought I’d read in this country

Barbara Stevenson, Apple Vendor, 1933-1934

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

It’s a sunny,crisp, cold morning here in New Orleans. I start this day like most others. Temple has had her morning walk. I have been blessed by the gifts bestowed by the morning’s first cup of coffee. Now I do what my parents and grandparents did before me.  I reach for the morning news before starting my work of grading student homework. I think about the the headlines that have greeted the last four or five generations of my family. I still marvel thinking about waking up to the Dust Bowl like my father’s family did or waking up to the start and end of two world wars like both sets of grandparents.

I was already settled into this family pattern in high school when all the Watergate goings on and the Vietnam war news filled the pages. It has been a couple of bombastic modern centuries but some of the worst of it was never quite in everyone’s backyard here. This is when we always would find the gumption–eventually–to be neighborly and come to the support of a neighbor in need. We frequently stumbled on the path to right our country’s wrongs. But,we eventually muster the righteousness to move–eventually and frequently with Judicial encouragement–in that direction.

Today’s art is “Public Art” that was commissioned during The New Deal.  It is something with no future in Trump’s America.   I don’t mean the angst of the artists living through the Great Depression but the relief they must’ve felt when they were paid to produce these great works in public spaces.  Reading through today’s headlines I feel the chill of the season and of the times. Ours is a country that no longer helps its neighbors at all. We’re a country that turns its backs on every one but the extremely wealthy who pass laws to take and keep what they want. The topmost government political officials are nothing more than grifters.

This makes me profoundly sad.

Mutiny on the Amistad,Hale Woodruff.,1938

Here’s a WAPO headline for you to think about. “Now on Craigslist, Facebook: Household items from furloughed workers trying to make ends meet.”  These are members of the US coast Guard tasked with protecting our shores and water. They are officials that look for contraband and bad people at ports like the TSO and the customs folks. They are our park rangers who protect everything in the borders of our national parks.  We are failing them as they do our work.

A federal worker in Morgantown, W.Va., took to Facebook this week to sell welding tools, left behind by his deceased father-in-law. Another, a die-hard Star Wars fan in Woodbridge, Va., did the same with a life-size replica of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber. A single father in Indiana hosted a sale on eBay with five pages of things found around the house, including Bibles, Nintendo bedsheets and Dr. Seuss neckties.

“Sells for $93.88 at Walmart. Asking $10,” a government worker wrote on a Craigslist ad for a Lulu Ladybug rocking chair. “We need money to pay bills.”

As hundreds of thousands of federal workers brace for their first missed paychecks of the government shutdown this week, some have become immersed in the frantic financial calculus of choosing what they can live without.

In the United States, living paycheck to paycheck is disturbingly common, regardless of profession or location. A recent report from the Federal Reserve revealed how little cushion most Americans have in their budgets: Four in 10 adults say they couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency without sliding into debt or selling something, according to the figures that surveyed households in 2017, a relatively prosperous year for the American economy.

But the shutdown, which began just before Christmas, took many federal workers by surprise and is lasting longer than most expected. That has left furloughed employees stuck at home, sifting through garages and closets, basements and bookshelves to find possessions and personal treasures to sell.

“You have to take a kind of coldhearted look at things around you and decide what would be marketable to someone else,” said Jay Elhard, on furlough from his job as a media specialist at Acadia National Park in Maine.

Baseball at Night by Morris Kantor, 1934

This is behavior deemed appropriate and necessary by a President of the United States so he can get his way on something that all evidence says is a complete waste of treasure. Today, millions of Federal Workers have missed a paycheck. Many are working. A lawsuit has been filed by a Federal Worker’s union.  There was a protest this week by workers. The Senate passed a law to guarantee backpay but for many that could be too little and too late. I’ve watched my pay erode and my work load increase over the last 7 years at this teaching job. I’m beyond pay check to pay check because I never know when the terms of my pay will change and they definitely have and so have benefits and it’s never been for the  better.

These  workers will return to a pay freeze this year when they do get starting getting paid.  However, the accumulating interest and late fees on loans and other payments will not freeze and I’ve yet to go a year when life’s little essentials like electricity, water, and access to the internet or tv hasn’t gone up way more than any one’s salary. I’m not sure how much longer these things can continue before a recession really takes hold.  Main Street does not depend on the Trump family’s buying whims.  It depends on every day people.  (Via VOX)

As an official for the American Federation of Government Employees union recently laid out, it takes at least two to three days for the government to process payroll, so workers would likely receive their back pay after at least that much time elapsed.

While Trump has refused to sign a package of seven appropriations bills, forcing about a quarter of the federalgovernment into a lengthy shutdown over this fight, he’s already agreed to sign this back pay legislation, according to a spokesperson for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). Kaine, who was one of more than 20 sponsors for the unanimously passed bill, is optimistic the House will take it up soon, the spokesperson added.

The bill aims to address one of the chief pain points of the shutdown, which has left federal workers scrambling to cover day-to-day costs like rent, utilities, and medication while they wait for their next paycheck to come in. Its benefits, however, won’t be felt for some time since workers won’t receive the back pay until the shutdown has been resolved.

In the interim,Democrats have also proposed other measures to protect workers from the fallout of what will soon be the longest shutdown in US history. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) have introduced legislation, according to HuffPost, that would “prohibit landlords and creditors from taking action against federal workers or contractors who are hurt by the shutdown and cannot pay rent or repay loans.” And Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) is drafting a bill that would cover back pay for federal contractors as well.

The shutdown is now in its 20th day and there still isn’t a clear end in sight. At the very least, the Senate’s latest action helps ensure that hundreds of thousands of federal workers will get the pay they missed once it’s over.

WPA Mural “New Deal”, Charles Wells,1935

Now, Trump is threatening to take Federal Disaster Relief funds for his misadventure along the Southern Border. How many lives and livelihoods will this mean?  (Via NBC)

President Donald Trump has been briefed on a plan that would use the Army Corps of Engineers and a portion of $13.9 billion of Army Corps funding to build 315 miles of barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the briefing.

The money was set aside to fund projects all over the country including storm-damaged areas of Puerto Rico through fiscal year 2020, but the checks have not been written yet and, under an emergency declaration, the president could take the money from these civil works projects and use it to build the border wall, said officials familiar with the briefing and two congressional sources.

The plan could be implemented if Trump declares a national emergency in order to build the wall and would use more money and build more miles than the administration has requested from Congress. The president had requested $5.7 billion for a wall stretching 234 miles.

Under the proposal, the officials said, Trump could dip into the $2.4 billion allocated to projects in California, including flood prevention and protection projects along the Yuba River Basin and the Folsom Dam, as well as the $2.5 billion set aside for reconstruction projects in Pueto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria.

There are other headlines I find deeply disturbing today.  Here are a few.

New York Times:  Prosecutors Examining Ukrainians Who Flocked to Trump Inaugural

Associated PressUS official says troop withdrawal from Syria has started

 Colleen Long / Associated PressAPNewsBreak: US approved thousands of child bride requests

Laura Rozen / Al-MonitorPompeo’s Cairo speech panned as ‘tone-deaf,’ ‘hyper-partisan,’ ‘offensive’

Bob Bauer / The Atlantic

Matt Lewis / The Daily Beast:

Frank Bruni / New York Times:

The Pompeo Speech at American University in Cairo is particularly offensive and disturbing.  I don’t think it does much use to place a xenophobic religious nutter as the face of American outreach to the world.

Subway, Lily Furedi, 1934

It’s really difficult not to be embarrassed by the realization that your country’s chief diplomat is a shining example of the “ugly American”.

Pompeo’s speech “was a regurgitation of what they have been saying for two years. There was nothing new, and it was offensive,” former career US diplomat and ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Al-Monitor. “That they think that anyone still wants to hear about Barack Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech — get over it.”

“You own the issue now, you own the policy,” Feierstein continued. “People want to know what you are going to do, not what you think Barack Obama did wrong. And on that score, there was nothing there, Just a lot of empty rhetoric of all things they are going to do and how wonderful the United States is and it never occupied anybody. So what.”

Pompeo’s speech is unlikely to reassure American allies and partners frustrated by constantly shifting Donald Trump administration positions on the region that they are not properly consulted about, said former FBI and Treasury Department official Matthew Levitt.

“I do not think they [the Trump administration] fully appreciate the level of anxiety among our allies and potential allies in the region and beyond in Europe in terms of how reliable we are as a partner,” Levitt, now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al-Monitor.

“It is not just the decision to withdraw US forces in Syria,” Levitt continued. “Much more than that, it is the way the decision was arrived at and announced. [US Syria envoy Jim] Jeffrey said one thing one day, Trump says the opposite the next day. … People can’t keep up with the pace of the back and forth, ping pong. The lack of clarity, the lack of procedure in the policy making process — the allies see that.”

“While it is great to go to the region in a time of anxiety to reassure people you mean to have a reinvigorated role in the Middle East, it is not enough to say it,” Levitt said.

The extensive swipes in the speech at the previous administration were also discomfiting, Levitt said.

Whether it is done by Republicans or Democrats, “I always felt uncomfortable when Americans travel abroad and hang out dirty laundry,” he said.

“Embarrassing and shameful speech by the small, hyper-partisan Trump suck-up Pompeo,” Ellen Tauscher, a former undersecretary of state for arms control in the Obama administration and a former member of Congress, wrote on Twitter. “There’s not a ‘non-partisan statesman’ pore in his body.”

While I don’t think our country has to send our soldiers to every corner of the globe, I don’t think our country has ever been so small and headed towards insignificance.   If the goal was to get us off the international stage, that’s been done.  But how is ruining day to day life for ordinary Americans making us ‘great again’? The regime of Tariffs is killing many US businesses.  The combination of tariffs and shutdowns is probably hitting US farmers worse than any industry. I’m pretty sure they aren’t getting what they voted for.

In Georgia, a pecan farmer lost out on his chance to buy his first orchard. The local Farm Service Agency office that would have processed his loan application was shut down.

In Wisconsin’s dairy country, a 55-year-old woman sat inside her new dream home, worried she would not be able to pay her mortgage. Her loan had come from an Agriculture Department program for low-income residents in rural areas, but all of the account information she needed to make her first payment was locked away in an empty government office.

And in upstate New York, Pam Moore was feeding hay to her black-and-white cows at a small dairy that tottered on the brink of ruin. She and her husband had run up $350,000 in debt to keep the dairy running after 31 of their cows died of pneumonia, and their last lifeline was an emergency federal farm loan. But the money had been derailed by the government shutdown.

“It has just been one thing after another, after another, after another,” Ms. Moore, 57, said.

Farm country has stood by President Trump, even as farmers have strained under two years of slumping incomes and billions in losses from his trade wars. But as the government shutdown now drags into a third week, some farmers say the loss of crucial loans, payments and other services has pushed them — and their support — to a breaking point.

They thing Trump country never really understood is they’re the ones that need their neighboring states and their beneficence more than any one.  I assume they’re learning that painful lesson with the rest of us whose livelihood is running the stuff of the country instead of selling it stuff it really doesn’t need.

What’s on you reading and blogging list today?

 

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Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Having a childish, incompetent madman in charge of the government is so exhausting. How much more of this can we take? Today, Donnie is headed for the Texas border with Mexico to do something or other. Who knows what insane gibberish will spew from his deformed lips. All I know for sure is that it won’t make sense.

Donnie has been touting his “steel slat” fence for the past week, but guess what? Those slats can be cut through with a common household saw.

NBC News: Test of steel prototype for border wall showed it could be sawed through.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as “absolutely critical to border security” in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS.

A photo exclusively obtained by NBC News shows the results of the test after military and Border Patrol personnel were instructed to attempt to destroy the barriers with common tools.

The Trump administration directed the construction of eight steel and concrete prototype walls that were built in Otay Mesa, California, just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. Trump inspected the prototypes in March 2018. He has now settled on a steel slat, or steel bollard, design for the proposed border barrier additions. Steel bollard fencing has been used under previous administrations.

However, testing by DHS in late 2017 showed all eight prototypes, including the steel slats, were vulnerable to breaching, according to an internal February 2018 U.S. Customs and Border Protection report.

Photos of the breaches were not included in a redacted version of the CBP report, which was first obtained in a Freedom of Information Act Request by San Diego public broadcaster KPBS.

Gail Collins mocks Donnie’s wall obsession at The New York Times: Trump Hits the Wall. And what’s all that sniffling about?

We need to look at the bright side of Donald Trump’s border wall fixation.

Sure, he’s shut down the government and thrown the nation into chaos. But it could be worse. He could be demanding a fiery moat between us and Canada. Or building a 36,000-foot-deep barrier across the Pacific Ocean to drive home his commitment to tariffs.

See? There’s always a silver lining.

On Trump’s strange oval office address:

Maybe all this wall obsessing makes Trump tired. He certainly seemed low-energy during his Oval Office address. “He makes Jeb Bush look like a combination of Mighty Mouse and Bruce Springsteen,” a friend of mine said after the president finished his nine-minute speech to the American people.

For every viewer whose response to the talk was “Wow, we should do something about immigration!” there must have been a hundred whose first reaction was “Why does this man keep sniffing?” Deviated septum? Nasal polyps? Trump’s breathing has actually sounded strange for a long time, but most of us have chosen to ignore it rather than engage in a national conversation about the president’s nose.

If you watched the address — and really, you could have, it was only about as long as it takes to microwave popcorn — you saw a 72-year-old guy squinting at the teleprompter and making rather alarming breathing sounds while reading a speech about how we need a wall to protect women who are “sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico.”

This is not a man who should wrap his arguments around the idea of protecting women from sexual assault. But also, gee, he sounded like Uncle Fred who you haven’t seen for a while and suddenly he shows up for Thanksgiving with weird colored hair and vacant eyes and he’s talking into his mashed potatoes.

As the Trump shutdown continues, the administration has been giving tone-deaf advice to government employees who are going without pay.

The Washington Post: Coast Guard families told they can have garage sales to cope with government shutdown.

Employees of the U.S. Coast Guard who are facing a long U.S. government shutdown just received a suggestion: To get by without pay, consider holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog-walking or serving as a “mystery shopper.”

The suggestions were part of a five-page tip sheet published by the Coast Guard Support Program, an employee-assistance arm of the service often known as CG SUPRT. It is designated to offer Coast Guard members help with mental-health issues or other concerns about their lives, including financial wellness.

“Bankruptcy is a last option,” the document said.

The Coast Guard receives funding from the Department of Homeland Security and is subjected to the shuttering of parts of the government along with DHS’s other agencies. That stands in contrast to other military services, which are part of the Defense Department and have funding.

This is interesting, from Buzzfeed News: ICE Might Be Violating Federal Law By Keeping Immigrants Detained During The Shutdown.

A lengthy government shutdown over border wall funding has potentially put Immigration and Customs Enforcement at risk of violating a more than 100-year-old law that could not only require the release of “non-dangerous” individuals in the agency’s custody but also stop it from continuing to arrest and detain certain people, according to former senior ICE officials and experts.

The potential violation could complicate ICE’s operations at a time when President Donald Trump has argued that the shutdown is necessary to force Democrats to implement tougher immigration policies, such as building a wall on the US–Mexico border.

ICE contracts with nonfederal detention facilities, like county jails and private detention contractors, across the country to hold individuals detained by immigration agents. The agency pays for the bed space in various ways, including monthly payments or, in some cases, in advance.

As of Jan. 1, the agency was detaining more than 48,000 individuals, which is 8,000 more than the levels that had been provided for by the now-expired congressional funding. But nearly three weeks after its funding lapsed because of the shutdown, ICE has likely run out of money to pay contractors for the detention space it uses.

And while ICE has some non-appropriated funds it can lean on, those are not enough to pay for the overall detention space for more than a few weeks, said Kevin Landy, who was appointed during the Obama administration to run ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning, a position he held for more than six years, up until 2017.

In other news, Kamala Harris is close to announcing a run for president in 2020.

KCBS Radio: Kamala Harris Ready To Enter Race For President, Sources Say.

Sen. Kamala Harris has decided to run for president in 2020 and will announce her candidacy on or around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, probably at a campaign rally in Oakland, sources close to the freshman senator from California tell KCBS Radio.

Harris, 54, has been making the rounds of television talk shows and appearing at several events this week as part of a brief tour to promote her new book, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.”

At every stop, when asked about running for president, Harris has answered with some variation of “I’m not ready yet” to announce her decision, citing family considerations. But several sources knowledgeable about her plans say she is ready, and has in fact decided to run, with the enthusiastic blessing of her husband and two stepchildren.

The debate within her camp is how, and where, to launch her campaign. The tentative plan is for Harris to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination with a campaign rally, most likely in Oakland, where she was born and began her legal career.

And the media continues to belatedly vet Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign. Politico: Top Bernie Sanders 2016 adviser accused of forcibly kissing subordinate.

On the final night of the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016, Bernie Sanders’ staffers went out to a Mediterranean restaurant and hookah bar in Center City Philadelphia to celebrate and mourn the end of the campaign.

Sitting at the bar sometime after midnight, convention floor leader Robert Becker—who oversaw Sanders’ Iowa campaign, then helped lead his efforts in Michigan, California, and New York as deputy national field director—began talking with a female staffer who had worked under him along with her boyfriend.

Becker, now 50 years old, told the 20-something woman that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a reference to riding his “pole,” according to the woman and three other people who witnessed what happened or were told about it shortly afterward by people who did. Later in the night, Becker approached the woman and abruptly grabbed her wrists. Then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her, the woman and other sources said.

The woman said she didn’t come forward at the time, because Sanders’ campaign was over. But when she was recently contacted by Becker about 2020 the women felt she had to speak up.

“Candidates who allow people like Robert Becker to lead their organizations shouldn’t earn the highest office in our government,” said the woman, who was granted anonymity because she feared retaliation from supporters of Sanders and Becker, who has a loyal following of his own.

“It just really sucks because no one ever held him accountable and he kept pushing and pushing and seeing how much he could get away with. This can’t happen in 2020. You can’t run for President of the United States unless you acknowledge that every campaign demands a safe work environment for every employee and volunteer.”

 


Tuesday Reads: Trump Tantrum Live From The Oval Office Tonight

Good Morning!!

The TV networks are giving Trump free time tonight to spout lies about a non-existent “crisis” at the Southern border. Fortunately, they are also giving equal time to Democrats to respond. But they should have just said no. After all, they refused to carry an Oval Office speech by Obama in 2014. Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

In 2014, Obama was ready to announce a series of executive actions on immigration in the wake of the collapse in negotiations over a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. The plan had a lot of moving parts, but the centerpiece was to give work permits and formal protection from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants while focusing the nation’s immigration enforcement resources on immigrants who’d committed violent crimes.

This was, naturally, very controversial. And Obama, naturally, wanted to try to make it less controversial by convincing people that it was a good idea.

Conservative pundits were, at the time, pushing the notion that Obama was essentially seizing power like a Latin American dictator, so essentially anything that refocused the conversation on banal policy details would have played to his advantage. TV networks, however, didn’t give him what he wanted, in part because it was November sweeps time, but officially because he was playing partisan politics rather than addressing a true national emergency.

So why are they running Trump’s obviously political speech? Because they’re scared. This is what what one anonymous network executive told CNN’s Brian Stelter.

This “exec” didn’t even have the guts to let Stelter use his name!

Here’s what the U.S. Secretary of State thinks of what Trump plans to say tonight.

These people are pathetic. Meanwhile, in Turkey, more pathetic incompetence from National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Bloomberg: Erdogan Snubs Trump Adviser Bolton for Blocking Syria Roadmap.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, frustrated by evolving U.S. conditions for quitting Syria, refused to meet with visiting National Security Adviser John Bolton and ripped into U.S. proposals to give Kurds a key role in Syria after the withdrawal.

Turkey is angered that Bolton, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and top American military officials are slowing what President Donald Trump suggested only weeks ago would be a quick exit. The delay would restrict Turkey’s ability to launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers enemies but who allied with a U.S. coalition to oust the Islamic State terrorist group from Syria.

“Although we made a clear agreement with U.S. President Trump, different voices are emerging from different parts of the administration,” Erdogan said as Bolton prepared to leave Ankara, where he met with other Turkish officials. “Trump’s remarks continue to be the main point of reference for us.”

It looks like attempts to walk back Trump’s insane policy decisions are no longer working.

Will Trump try to declare a national emergency tonight? I have no idea, but if he does it’s going to cause more problems than any of us can predict. Here are some opinions about what could happen, beginning with the worst case scenarios

Elizabeth Goitein at The Atlantic: What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency. A brief excerpt:

It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.

But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.

This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.

Read the whole thing at The Atlantic.

At Bloomberg, Noah Feldman disagrees, because only Congress can authorize spending: No ‘Emergency’ Will Allow Trump to Build His Wall.

President Donald Trump has said that he can declare a national emergency and order his border wall to be built. He’s wrong. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain any national emergency provision that would allow the president to spend money for purposes not allocated by Congress. And it’s clearer than clear that Congress not only hasn’t authorized money for a wall along the border with Mexico but also doesn’t intend to do so.

The upshot is that any attempt by Trump to get around Congress by using invented emergency powers would violate the Constitution. It almost certainly would be blocked by the courts. And it would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor qualifying him for impeachment.

Of course, Trump may not care. He’s established a pattern of taking clearly unconstitutional action, waiting for the courts to block it, and winning (at least in his estimation) political points with his Republican base regardless. It would be perfectly within that pattern for Trump to announce that he can do whatever he wants in a national emergency. He is expected to lay the groundwork for such a declaration in a prime-time address Tuesday. But we should recognize any such action for what it is: a usurpation of clear constitutional commands for the purposes of political grandstanding.

A bit more detail:

The Constitution does contain an emergency powers clause. Article I, Section 9 allows for the suspension of habeas corpus in cases of rebellion or invasion.

Those emergency powers are unsurprisingly varied and broad. But none of them can displace the Constitution itself. And it is the Constitution that says the Congress appropriates money and the executive spends it.

If there were some statutory provision saying that in an emergency the president could do things Congress otherwise has told him he can’t do, that would pose an intriguing constitutional question: Which law would prevail in a conflict between one saying the president could do something and another saying he couldn’t?

But I know of no law that says the president can spend money on purposes that Congress doesn’t want him to spend it on.

From the fact that the suspension clause exists, you can deduce something very basic to the U.S. constitutional system: There are no other inherent constitutional emergency powers. Yes, the president is commander in chief, with the power to defend the United States — but he can only do that with an army authorized and paid for by Congress.

That means any emergency power the president might have must come directly from Congress. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 is Congress’s last word on what emergency powers it gives the president. That law was enacted after Senate staffers’ research revealed some 470 emergency provisions across the whole of the U.S. Code.

As Trump often says, “we’ll see what happens.”

Trump thinks he knows better than anyone about anything, and yet we can all see that he knows almost nothing about what his job entails. This video has been floating around lately.

How to explain Trump’s illusion of competency? Seemingly in answer to this question, The Washington Post has posted an article on the Dunning-Kruger effect: What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological phenomenon.

You may have witnessed this scene at work, while socializing with friends or over a holiday dinner with extended family: Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot. That person might even boast about being an expert.

This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s not a disease, syndrome or mental illness; it is present in everybody to some extent, and it’s been around as long as human cognition, though only recently has it been studied and documented in social psychology.

In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.

To test Darwin’s theory, the researchers quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought they did. Specifically, participants were asked how many of the other quiz-takers they beat.

Dunning was shocked by the results, even though it confirmed his hypothesis. Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.

That’s it for me today. I’m trying to decide whether to leave the TV off tonight or just mute it until the Democratic response begins. What are you going to do?


Monday Reads: The Republican Arsenal of Ad hominem Attacks and Lies

Vincent van Gogh – In the Café – 1887

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

Happy Carnival Season!

Yesterday was 12th night and the city was hopping with all the usual activities welcoming the start of the season. Usually, this is my favorite time in New Orleans because we’re post Sugar Bowl and pre Amateur Mardi Gras Tourists. We’ll see if Air BnB continues to wreck our neighborhood revelry this year. It would be such a relief to be able to have a street full of real neighbors again. They’ve overtaken just about every thing these days and staying out of the Quarter brings no relief anywhere.

Today is a good day to dance and yell “impeach the motherfucker” to distress all the Republicans around you.   The right wing media is going crazy over weird things this week and it’s mostly just stuff done by women in power that they don’t even blink about when men do it.  I had to laugh at Lady Lindsey who was on the tube yesterday complaining that the Democratic party had been over taken by by the “radical left”.

Graham insisted that an agreement on a spending bill to get the government up and running again was nearly impossible, but Brennan reminded him of the thousands of federal workers who are either furloughed or punching the clock without pay.

“With that in mind, with them in mind, why can’t you reopen the government while you argue about the things you just laid out?” she wondered.

Graham argued it couldn’t yet be done.

“Why would you negotiate with somebody who calls you a racist if you want a wall?” he shot back. “Who gives you a dollar for a wall when the Democratic Party supported 25 billion dollars in the past? We’re not going to negotiate with people who see the world this way.”

Let’s just say the wall’s a waste of time and money.  We’ve already got walls where they supposedly work.  Let’s talk about all those Canadians that overstay VISAS and why is it always about the brown people?  That’s hardly a radical leftist position to point out that no one talks about a wall along the Canadian border.  Why is it always to block brown people?  And we have no crisis of undocumented immigrants …

Pablo Picasso – Absinthe Drinker – 1901

All the Republican Party is about these days is attacking every one that’s not them.

Meanwhile, the attack continues on Elizabeth Warren and yes, it’s about “likability” today.  Here we go again and this is from a woman via the Daily Beast.

I’m a conservative, so I don’t really worry about whether I’ve offended liberal feminists. I don’t have a problem saying that Warren is unlikeable. She seems preachy and angry to me. Actually, she’s a combination of some of the horrible math teachers I endured in middle school, and a friend’s overly emotional mom.

This might sound pretty specific, but we’ve all met people like Warren. She’s an archetype of a genre that I’m pretty sure would turn off a lot of voters. What is more, she increasingly looks like a phony—a problem she is reinforcing by trying to copy Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Instagram game.

This is not an indictment of powerful women, but of Elizabeth Warren. I’m a fan of Nikki Haley. And though I’m no more ideologically simpatico to Nancy Pelosi, Krysten Sinema, or AOC than I am to Warren, the aforementioned progressive women seem kind of charming to me.

Yes, even Pelosi. First, above all else, you have to respect her. Second, let’s be honest, she’s stylish and glamorous—and who doesn’t like that? Pelosi serves up a pretty effective one-two punch of commanding respect and then charming you after she gets what she wants. Warren, by my estimation, fails to deliver on either front.

To be fair, it may be that this adjective (likeable) is applied more to women than it is to men. But everyone experiences some type of unfair bias on a daily basis. Each of us is constantly judged by the immediate impressions of others. They decide if they like us or trust us based not our résumés, but rather on some amalgam of information based on looks and perception.

Male candidates are judged by likeability, too. We may call it “charisma,” or talk about it in terms of which guy we’d rather have a beer with. But it’s the same thing. When two men are running against each other for office, is it fair that the taller candidate almost always wins, or that a full head of hair may be worth a point (or two)? When we attribute leadership qualities to politicians, who knows what arbitrary factors influence us?

Mina Carlson-Bredberg, Académie Julian, Mademoiselle Beson Drinking from a Glass (circa 1884). Courtesy of the Dorsia Hotel, Gothenburg, Sweden/the American Federation of Arts.

Well, it’s Mean Girls again.  Oh, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez danced at University and because she didn’t grow up in the Bronx she’s a poseur and you can find the links to that on your own. I don’t want any of those readers over here.  Women’s behavior is still under scrutiny and Trump can marry a porn star, drag her into the White House to “be best” and act like and sound like a dog, but hey, Cortez dances, and Rashida drops the F bomb and suddenly decorum is the topic du jour.

 

 

Edward Hopper, Automat 1927

Oh, and don’t say mean things about Julian Assange either.  When did men become such wusses? When women decided to fight them on their own battlegrounds?

The 5,000-word email included 140 statements that WikiLeaks said were false and defamatory, such as the assertion that Assange had ever been an “agent or officer of any intelligence service”.

WikiLeaks also said it was false and defamatory to suggest that Assange, 47, had ever been employed by the Russian government or that he is, or has ever been, close to the Russian state, the Kremlin or Putin.

Other items listed as false and defamatory included more personal claims including that Assange bleaches his hair, that he is a hacker, that he has ever neglected an animal or that he has poor personal hygiene.

 

Edoward Manet, Corner of a Cafe Concert, 1880

Meanwhile, the women we have in power are getting things done. From the LA TImes: ” Susan Zirinsky will replace David Rhodes as CBS News president, becoming first woman to lead division”.

Longtime producer Susan Zirinsky is replacing CBS News President David Rhodes in March, becoming the first woman to lead the storied division in the network’s history.

Zirinsky had been a leading candidate to become the executive producer of the network’s newsmagazine “60 Minutes,” replacing the program’s ousted leader, Jeff Fager.

But CBS Corp. acting Chief Executive Joseph Ianniello wanted to put Zirinsky in a larger role as Rhodes, who has been president of CBS News since 2011, is nearing the end of his contract and indicated he was ready to make an exit. He had been brought in by former CBS CEO Les Moonves, who was recently stripped of his $120-million severance over allegations of sexual misconduct after a four-month investigation.

“ ‘60 Minutes’ is the No. 1 news program and will continue to be that,” Ianniello said in an interview. “Susan can add more value creatively on some of our other broadcasts and have an impact that’s much greater on the entire organization.”

Speaker Pelosi continues to talk on the problems we have with the Trump Regime.  From CBS News: “Nancy Pelosi: “We have a problem” if Trump doesn’t care about governance”.

Nancy Pelosi capped her unlikely comeback this past week surrounded by children. The California Democrat was elected, once again, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and become the most powerful woman in American history.

“That’s funny, isn’t it?” she laughed. “Sadly, I was hoping that we would have an American woman president just two years ago.”

“Well, that didn’t happen,” said “Sunday Morning” anchor Jane Pauley. “But Speaker Pelosi is the most powerful woman in American history, and the most powerful woman in American politics. But you can’t make the government open?”

“Well, the Speaker has awesome power. But if the President of the United States is against governance and doesn’t care whether people’s needs are met or that public employees are paid or that we can have a legitimate discussion, then we have a problem, and we have to take it to the American people,” she replied.

Speaker Pelosi ushered in a new era of divided government in the midst of a government shutdown – 800,000 federal government employees furloughed or working without pay, national parks and museums closed.

President Donald Trump is demanding $5.6 billion to fulfill his campaign promise of a wall along the Mexico border. Pelosi has vowed to block any funding to build it. A tense standoff between the president and Democrats at the White House Friday lasted two hours.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer reported the president said “he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years” – a promise Mr. Trump confirmed at a press briefing later that day.

Pauley asked Pelosi, “Was that bluster? Hyperbole?”

“Well, I hope so,” Pelosi replied. “But the fact is, he has said it again and again.”

“Are you recalibrating your assessment of how you can work with this president?”

“Well, let me first say that our purpose in the meeting at the White House was to open up government,” said Pelosi. “The impression you get from the president [is] that he would like to not only close government, build a wall, but also abolish Congress so the only voice that mattered was his own.”

Justice Ginsberg will miss opening arguments but will be following them at home since she is still recovering from her Cancer Surgery.

So, the struggle continues. The attacks have been varied and consistent.  From the attacks on new Congresswomen being called out for taking their oaths on the Quran to calling Elizabeth Warren ‘Sacagawea’. Republican men have gone on the attack.  It likely will continue as the old white boys club learns to deal with diverse women as peers.

Freshman Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), who this week became one of the first two Native American women sworn into Congress, said it was “offensive and hurtful” for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) to call Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “Sacagawea.”

Haaland slammed Gaetz for making the comparison to Sacagawea, the Lemhi Shoshone woman who helped the Lewis and Clark expedition.

“Sacagawea made great sacrifices that changed American history,” Haaland said. “When anyone speaks her name, it should be with great respect.”

Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe in New Mexico, called Gaetz’s comments “offensive and hurtful.”

“I invite him to meet [with] me so I can share how such comments are a continuing assault on indigenous people,” she added.

Ashes, Edvard Munch ,1894

It’s an ongong battle to keep every one in their place. Kamala Harris is ready for the fight and may be the next woman to directly challenge Trump.  From the Guardian “Will it be a black woman who turfs Trump out of the White House?” and the keyboard of Richard Wolffe.

Outside Trump’s wall of delusion and distractions, a host of strong women candidates is poised to join Warren. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have often found themselves entirely misjudged by the men around them. Gillibrand was considered vulnerable in her first Senate election in 2010, but she trounced all comers in all of her contests. Klobuchar proved more than a match for the clumsy bullying of supreme court nominee – now Justice – Brett Kavanaugh last year.

But one likely candidate particularly intrigues. Kamala Harris embodies the driving force pushing Democrats to record turnouts in non-presidential contests over the last two years: women of colour. The California senator has served just two years in Congress – like the last freshman senator to win the Democratic nomination, in 2008. But unlike Barack Obama, Harris has a very significant record of public service in her pre-Senate career, serving as her state’s attorney general for six years and as San Francisco’s district attorney for seven years.

While all the Democratic candidates can appeal beyond their own demographics, personal perspectives can and do influence political character. There’s no mystery about why Trump performs so well with older white men. And there should be no surprise that Harris – the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants – has already won the overwhelming support and respect of influential women of colour who will help shape the Democratic primaries.

Harris, like the other candidates of colour, will face the same questions Obama did in 2008 about appealing to the white working-class voters across the rust-belt states that Hillary Clinton narrowly lost to Trump. However, working-class challenges are most acutely experienced by minorities, and each of the former industrial states that tipped the 2016 election – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin – have diverse electorates that shifted decisively against Trump last year.

The test for Harris, and all the other Democrats, is whether she can effectively demonstrate that she is listening and responding to those voters in order to overcome the culture wars that Trump will happily wage. Obama succeeded in 2008 by showing he was the adult in the middle of a financial crisis. He succeeded again in 2012, by showing Mitt Romney was out of touch with economic reality. If anything, Trump fills both boxes even more snugly than his predecessors.

I’m heartened to see so much fight against all the bullying.  It’s nice to know there’s a critical mass that can push back within the beltway these days.  It’s nice to see that the some of our grand old institutions are looking more like “We the People”.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Friday Reads: Why would a US President spout Soviet Talking Points?

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers and welcome to the New Year!

It’s been apparent to any one watching that Trump is delusional, lies, and has no grasp on reality, truth, or facts.  One of the most oft repeated personality traits you hear about him is that whoever talks to him last puts the most current words in his mouth. This raises a question for me today.  Why does Trump keep spouting old Soviet talking points and new Russian Federation ones on things like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?  BB and I keep wondering if he has Putin on speed dial. Where does he get this and why is he repeating it?

Here’s a bit of the back ground on that Afghanistan invasion thing and the crackpot narrative of the US President.

“The terrifying depths of Donald Trump’s ignorance, in a single quote” written by Terry Glavin for Maclean’s. ” The president’s recent claim that the Soviets were ‘right’ to invade Afghanistan is worse than idiotic—it’s downright frightening”.

It’s been two years since a reality-television mogul, billionaire real estate grifter and sleazy beauty-pageant impresario who somehow ended up on the Republican ticket in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, failed to win the popular vote but fluked his way into the White House anyhow by means of an antique back-door anomaly peculiar to the American political system known as the Electoral College.

We’re now at the half-way mark of Donald Trump’s term in the White House, and the relentless hum of his casual imbecilities, obscenities, banalities and outright fabrications has become so routine to the world’s daily dread that it is now just background noise in the ever-louder bedlam of America’s dystopian, freak-show political culture.

And yet, now and again, just when you think the president has scraped his fingers raw in the muck at the bottom of stupidity’s deep barrel, the man somehow manages to out-beclown himself. Such was the case this week, in a ramble of fatuous illiteracy that should drive home the point, to all of us, that the Office of the President of the United States of America is currently occupied by a genuinely dangerous maniac.

At a press briefing at the end of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump sat at a long table with a huge faux Game of Thrones television-series poster, featuring an image of himself taking up the whole thing, splayed out on the table in front of him.

In the course of contradicting himself—or maybe not, it’s hard to say—on the matter of if and when he intends to withdraw U.S. troops from the 79-member anti-ISIS coalition (“Syria was lost long ago … we’re talking about sand and death”), Trump muttered something about Iranian forces in Syria being at liberty to do as they please. “They can do what they want there, frankly,” he said. Unsurprisingly, upon hearing the news of what certainly sounded like an abrupt and dramatic shift in U.S. policy, Israeli officials were reported to be in shock.

But then the subject turned to Afghanistan, and Trump’s fervent wish to withdraw American troops from the 39-nation military coalition there—down from 59 nations, at its height—which is currently battling a resurgent Taliban that has been emboldened by American dithering generally, and specifically by Trump’s oft-repeated intent to get shut of Afghanistan and walk away from the place altogether.

Trump mocked India—a highly-valued friend of Afghanistan and contributor of $3 billion in infrastructure and community-development funding—with a weird reference to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan.” Officials in Modi’s office say nobody knows what the hell Trump was talking about. Then Trump complained that Pakistan—a duplicitous enemy of Afghan sovereignty and a notoriously persistent haven-provider and incubator of Taliban terrorism—isn’t making a sufficient military commitment to Afghanistan. Which made absolutely no sense.

But then Trump went right off the deep end with a disquisition on the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and his remarks betrayed a perilous, gawping ignorance of the very reason why Afghanistan became such a lawless hellhole in the first place—which is how it came to pass that al-Qaeda found sanctuary there with the deranged Pakistani subsidiary that came to be called the Taliban, which is how al-Qaeda managed to plan and organize the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—which is the very reason the American troops that Trump keeps saying he wants to bring home are still there at all.

Now, it’s safe to say that Trump never read anything in the news or books about the invasion but there were several movies out there that gave us all a good idea of what was going on and some of them were fairly recent.  Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts starred in “Charlie Wilson’s War” in 2007 for example. This basically outlines the Congressman’s role in funding what became the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

Then, there was this marvelous film from 1988 titled “The Beast” about a Soviet Tank Crew that gets lost in Afghanistan.

In 1981 Afghanistan, a Soviet tank unit viciously attacks a Pashtun village harboring a group of mujahideenfighters. Following the assault, one of the tanks, commanded by the ruthless Commander Daskal (George Dzundza), gets separated from the unit and enters a blind valley. Taj (Steven Bauer) returns to discover the village destroyed, his father killed and his brother martyred by being crushed under the tank, to serve as execution for disabling and killing a Russian tank crew. As the new khan, following his brother’s death, Taj is spurred to seek revenge by his cousin, the opportunistic scavenger Mustafa – and together they lead a band of mujahideen fighters into the valley to pursue the separated tank, counting on their captured RPG-7 anti-tank weapon to destroy it.

The tank’s crew is made up of four Soviets and an Afghan communist soldier. As night falls and the crew sets up camp, the Afghan tank crewman Samad (Erick Avari) educates the tank driver, Konstantin Koverchenko (Jason Patric), about the fundamental principles of Pashtunwali, the Pashtun people‘s code of honour: milmastia(hospitality), badal (revenge), and nanawatai, which requires even an enemy to be given sanctuary if he asks. As the plot progresses, Commander Daskal (called “Tank Boy” during World War II for destroying a number of German tanks when he was a child soldier during the Battle of Stalingrad) demonstrates his ruthlessness not only to the enemy, but also to his own men. He despises Samad for his ethnic association to the enemy and, after a couple of attempts to kill him, finally gets his wish on the pretext of suspecting Samad of collaborating with the mujahadeen. After Koverchenko threatens to report Daskal for the killing, Daskal entraps him and orders Kaminski (Don Harvey) and Golikov (Stephen Baldwin) to tie him to a rock, with a grenade behind his head to serve as a booby-trap for the mujahideen. Some wild dogs come upon him and as Koverchenko tries to kick at them, the grenade rolls down the rock and explodes, killing several dogs but leaving Konstantin unhurt. A group of women from the village, who had been trailing the mujahideen to offer their support, come across Koverchenko and begin to stone him, calling for his blood as revenge (badal). As the mujahideen approach, Koverchenko recalls the term nanawatai (sanctuary) and repeats it until Taj cuts him free, and allows him to follow their procession. That night, hidden in a cave, the fighters eat and Taj asks Koverchenko in broken language if he will fix their non-functioning RPG-7, and help them destroy the tank.

As the remaining three members of the tank crew begin to realize they are trapped in the valley, a Soviet helicopter appears and offers to rescue them. Daskal, caring more for his tank than his men, refuses the offer and simply refills the vehicle’s oil and gasoline. They get their bearings from the helicopter pilot and head back into the narrow mountain pass from which they came, looking for the way out of the valley.

It’s not your typical war movie and basically has more of a cult status than anything. But, please do notice that the reason Reagan and Charlie and every one was all excited about this invasion was that the Soviets got there to prop up what was basically a Communist-style puppet regime in Afghanistan.  It was well known at the time for any one who didn’t even rely on movies for their dose of history.  Well, every one who lived through the period and was some what aware of the goings on knew the deal. But–and I refer back to the Gladin piece–Trump was either not paying attention or forget a long time ago.  Here was his bizarre comment.

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan,” Trump began. “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”

They were right to be there.

You’ll want to let that sink in for a moment: on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, Donald Trump endorsed a revisionist lunacy that is currently being championed by a bunch of cranks at the outermost neo-Stalinist fringe of Vladimir Putin’s ruling circle of oligarchs. They’ve already managed to cobble together a resolution in Russia’s Potemkin parliament that is to be voted on next month. It’s jointly sponsored by lawmakers from Putin’s United Russia and the still-existing Communist Party.

There are so many things wrong with those statements you really have to wonder where it came from until you actually read Russian propaganda about it.  Then, you know.  The WSJ opinion page–not exactly the bastion of liberal enlightenment–even called it “cracked”.

This mockery is a slander against every ally that has supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan with troops who fought and often died. The United Kingdom has had more than 450 killed fighting in Afghanistan.

As reprehensible was Mr. Trump’s utterly false narrative of the Soviet Union’s involvement there in the 1980s. He said: “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.”

Right to be there? We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.

The invasion was condemned throughout the non-communist world. The Soviets justified the invasion as an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserting their right to prevent countries from leaving the communist sphere. They stayed until 1989.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat. Mr. Trump’s cracked history can’t alter that reality.

I’m old enough to remember when we all were supposed to hate Russia and Communism. WTF did Trump drink on New Year’s Eve?  Russian Koolaide?  Let’s talk again about the No Puppet! No Puppet!” thing by reading Melissa at Shakesville about Trump’s proclivities to spout Russian Propaganda at piece called: “Trump’s Strange Familiarity with Kremlin Talking Points“.

In comments, Shaker Aphra_Behn pointed to this piece at Maclean’s by Terry Glavin, in which Glavin notes [Content Note: Disablist language] that Trump’s “disquisition on the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan” is not only deeply problematic but alarmingly timed:

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan,” Trump began. “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”

They were right to be there. 

You’ll want to let that sink in for a moment: On Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, Donald Trump endorsed a revisionist lunacy that is currently being championed by a bunch of cranks at the outermost neo-Stalinist fringe of Vladimir Putin’s ruling circle of oligarchs. They’ve already managed to cobble together a resolution in Russia’s Potemkin parliament that is to be voted on next month. It’s jointly sponsored by lawmakers from Putin’s United Russia and the still-existing Communist Party.As Aphra said: “The timing is interesting, to say the least. We all know that Trump spouts off shit that somebody has been telling him. Who’s been giving him the pro-Stalinist version of the Afghanistan invasion just as the Russian parliament is set to debate it?”

She’s not the only person wondering. On Twitter, Jamie O’Grady asked: “Where/when/how does Trump access and memorize these random Russian talking points?” He further noted that Rachel Maddow used her show last night to lay out “multiple instances — Poland supposedly invading Belarus, Montenegro a risk to start WW3, justification of Russia’s Afghanistan adventure — where Trump has parroted Putin propaganda that doesn’t (shouldn’t) exist anywhere in Trump’s normal info sources.”

Okay if they’re not in “normal info sources” where the freak did they come from and how did we get to hear them on national TV?  And better yet, WHY?  There’s a lot of strangeness to unpack here. From NPR: “NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Seth Jones about President Trump’s claim that the Soviet Union collapsed due to its military operations in Afghanistan.”

SETH JONES: Thank you for having me on.

KELLY: So a lot to unpack there, but start with the why – why Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The president, as we just heard, says it was to stop terrorists who were attacking Russia. Was that the reason?

JONES: Well, we actually have now declassified Soviet documents, so we can fact check this ourselves. And what Soviet leaders say at the time is that their primary reason for going into Afghanistan was because of concerns that the U.S. government, including the CIA, were having significant influence among Afghan leaders. We know from these documents that the Soviets were increasingly concerned, much like the Soviets had been meddling in the soft underbelly of the United States in Cuba, that the U.S. was now doing the same just south of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

KELLY: And again, just to be completely clear, were terrorists from Afghanistan crossing the border into Russia?

JONES: No, I mean, there were certainly mujahideen operating in Afghanistan at that point. But no, there were no major terrorist attacks. And the Soviet archives are pretty clear about this. The reason was not about terrorism. The reason was entirely about balance of power politics.

KELLY: What about another assertion to fact check here that war in Afghanistan bankrupted Moscow and caused the collapse of the Soviet Union? Do the facts support that, that it was the war in Afghanistan that broke up the USSR?

JONES: No, the facts don’t support that the war in Afghanistan broke up the USSR. The USSR had tons of problems. It had overreach globally. Its military industrial complex was way too large. Its economy was in shambles because of a state-run system, and it had numerous ethnic problems both in Central Asia and in its Eastern European flank. So the Soviet Union collapsed for a range of very complex reasons. Virtually none of them had to do with its operations in Afghanistan.

KELLY: One more piece of the president’s comments to ask you about – he asserted that the Soviet Union was right to be in Afghanistan, which is an opinion, not a fact to check per se, but – safe to say this is not a view that has ever been staked out by a U.S. president before.

JONES: Well, I think the irony of the comment is that this was entirely about great power competition with the United States. So by saying they were right to be there, either it’s a misunderstanding of why the Soviets were actually there, or you’re giving them credence to be competing with the United States at that very point and to be worried about the U.S. influence. So it’s sort of a strange interpretation.

KELLY: Do we know where the president is getting his information about history in Afghanistan and the Soviet Union?

JONES: I could not tell you on this one (laughter).

Even Afghan leaders have stepped up to this revisionists history. This is via the NYT.

The Soviet Union, Mr. Trump said, invaded Afghanistan in 1979 “because terrorists were going to Russia.”

“They were right to be there,” he added. “The problem is it was a tough fight.”

On Thursday, Afghan officials contested Mr. Trump’s account — which was also at odds with the State Department’s Office of the Historian and historians, generally.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, after it fell into civil war, and occupied it until 1989, propping up “a friendly and socialist government on its border,” according to the Office of the Historian. The United States and its allies condemned the brutal, long-running war, and Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan supplied aid to Afghan insurgents fighting the Soviet Army.

In a statement on Thursday, the office of President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan recalled this era, saying, “After the invasion by the Soviet Union, all presidents of America not only denounced this invasion but remained supporters of this holy jihad of the Afghans.”

During this war, the statement said, Afghans did not threaten other countries, but rather “started a national uprising to earn liberation of their holy soil.”

Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani made similar remarks, writing on Twitter that the “Soviet occupation was a grave violation of Afghanistan’s territorial integrity” and national sovereignty. Any other depictions defy historical fact, he said.

I find these kinds of things very disturbing because it lets us know that he’s making decisions based on caca he’s gotten from who knows where at best and directly from Putin at worst. Then, it really worries me when the next morning’s headlines read:US halts cooperation with UN on potential human rights violations.”  In an Exclusive from the UK Guardian we learn that the US “State department has ceased to respond to complaints from special rapporteurs in move that sends ‘dangerous message’ to other countries” It seriously appears that tearing down the UN, NATO, and the US is high on Trump’s to do list.

The Trump administration has stopped cooperating with UN investigators over potential human rights violations occurring inside America, in a move that delivers a major blow to vulnerable US communities and sends a dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world.


Thursday Reads: Checks and Balances Are Coming!

Good Afternoon!!

Here she comes again! Today Nancy Pelosi will take the Speaker’s gavel from Paul Ryan, and Trump will begin to realize that he can no longer treat Congress as his doormat. Pelosi isn’t going to cringe in fear of Trump’s tantrums like Ryan did. She knows exactly what she’s doing and Trump’s tweets and rants will roll off her back as she works toward the restoration of our democracy. Trump won’t know what hit him.

I remember very clearly the day when Pelosi announced that “impeachment is off the table” back in 2006 when George W. Bush was president. I was furious. But she’s not saying that today.

The Today Show: Nancy Pelosi says she won’t rule out indictment, impeachment for Trump.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wouldn’t rule out President Trump being indicted while in office, describing the topic as “an open discussion.”

During an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie, the House Democratic leader said it’s possible that special counsel Robert Mueller could seek an indictment against the sitting president, despite Justice Department guidelines against such action….

Nancy Pelosi with JFK

“I think that that is an open discussion. I think that is an open discussion in terms of the law,” she said, on the eve of reclaiming her former title as speaker of the House. Pelosi will become the first lawmaker in recent history to hold that office twice when the 116th Congress convenes Thursday….

Although Democrats have discussed the idea of impeaching the president, Pelosi said it would not benefit the country to pursue one. But she wouldn’t rule the idea out either.

“We have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report. We shouldn’t be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn’t avoid impeachment for a political reason. So we’ll just have to see how it comes,” she said.

She said Trump isn’t getting his ridiculous border wall either.

“No, no. Nothing for the wall. We’re talking about border security,” she said. “There is no amount of persuasion he can do to say to us, ‘We want you to do something that is not effective, that costs billions of dollars.’ That sends the wrong message about who we are as a country.”

“This is the Trump shutdown, through and through. That’s why he has proudly taken, in his view, proudly taken ownership of it. There’s no escaping that for him,” Pelosi said. “That doesn’t mean we take any joy in the fact that there is a Trump shutdown. We want government to open.”

Pelosi remains the first woman ever to be Speaker of the House. From Politico’s somewhat patronizing piece on Pelosi: The survivor: Nancy Pelosi makes history — again.

The past seven speakers of the House have lost their majority, been forced out by their own colleagues, or stepped down amid personal scandal. One of them — Nancy Pelosi — now has a second chance to rewrite her legacy.

The past seven speakers of the House have lost their majority, been forced out by their own colleagues, or stepped down amid personal scandal. One of them — Nancy Pelosi — now has a second chance to rewrite her legacy.

On Thursday, the 78-year-old Pelosi will be the first person in more than six decades, since the legendary Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn, to return to the speaker’s chair after losing it. She will be surrounded by children as she does so, a replay of an iconic moment from her January 2007 swearing-in ceremony as the first female speaker in history.

Pelosi with George W. Bush

But Pelosi will also tie Rayburn on another front by becoming the oldest person ever elected speaker and the oldest to hold the post, a testament to both her staying power and the fact that her return engagement to the speakership will be limited.

Unlike her original go-round as speaker from 2007 to 2011, when the California Democrat was at her most powerful, Pelosi will face a whole new set of challenges during the 116th Congress — a fractious caucus full of upstart progressives who want to move an ambitious agenda; the unpredictable President Donald Trump, who has greeted Pelosi’s return to power with an ongoing government shutdown; a determined, experienced foe in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who runs his own chamber with a tight grip; and self-imposed term limits on her speakership of four years.

All that, however, shouldn’t diminish the scale of what Pelosi has done. She survived a challenge to her leadership after a 63-seat wipeout in the 2010 tea party wave. She faced more Democratic complaints in 2014 and 2016 — the latter heightened by the Democratic despair over Trump’s victory. Throughout this latest election cycle, moderate Democratic incumbents and candidates warned they wouldn’t vote for Pelosi for speaker and a band of rebels sought to derail her return to the speaker’s chair.

In the end, Pelosi overcame it all.

“I’m telling you what I know and what I have seen. … Nancy Pelosi is in charge of the Democratic Caucus, and to believe otherwise is perilous for an opponent,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, who has occasionally differed with Pelosi.

“She understands legislation down to the minute details and can flip you back and forth in a negotiation session based on her knowledge, skill and experience,” Cleaver noted. “And I’m kind of an independent person, so I’m not necessarily in her camp.”

Elle also gave an interview to Elle yesterday: Nancy Pelosi on Her New Role, Trump’s Manhood, and That Red Max Mara Coat.

Born in Baltimore with five older brothers and a father who served as mayor, Pelosi became the first woman to ever lead a political party when she was elected Democratic Leader of the House in 2002. In 2007, she made history again as the first female Speaker of the House. Famous for being a fundraising juggernaut—she pulled in over a hundred million dollars for the Democratic party last year—Pelosi has also proven herself to be a formidable politician, having been on the national stage longer than some of the incoming Congress members have been alive.

When Pelosi is sworn in, 106 women of all races, sexual orientations, and walks of life will join her in Congress. Many of them have voiced their concerns that a 78-year-old, wealthy white woman who currently lives in San Francisco may not be the best representative for all Americans. Just days before her holiday break with family (she has five grown children) and the partial government shutdown, Pelosi spoke with ELLE about the shifting face of the party, the prospect of impeaching President Trump, and the fiery coat that spawned a thousand memes.

Nancy Pelosi during her first run for the House in Maryland

ELLE: Diving right in here, you’ve been cast as a villain. There are Democrats who won their elections by saying they wouldn’t vote for you. Republicans have spent enormous sums to vilify you. What does it feel like to be hated in that way?

Nancy Pelosi: I don’t necessarily feel hated. I feel respected. They wouldn’t come after me if I were not effective. I consider myself a master legislator. Republicans fear me for that, but also because I am a successful fundraiser, enabling our candidates to have the resources they need to win. So from a political standpoint they have to take me down, and from an official standpoint they have to take me down. But I’m spending more time talking about it right now than I ever have thinking about it.

ELLE: Before her passing, California congresswoman Sala Burton anointed you as her successor. Because of Burton’s support, one of your biographers wrote that you are “Exhibit A for the case that the only way for women to reach the top echelon in politics is through the committed assistance of other women.” Do you agree with that?

NP: Absolutely. I say to women all the time, “This is not a zero-sum game. One woman’s success is not subtracting from anybody else’s opportunity. It’s the reverse. Every woman’s success helps other women.” Imagine, Sala Burton, a member of Congress, deciding she was going to encourage me to run? That was remarkable. Usually it’s men to men. Because of her encouragement, I ran, and I won. Women helping women—people are now seeing the magnified impact of that, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Read the rest at Elle.

Alexandra Pelosi with her mother Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi’s daughter spoke about her mother on CNN this morning. The Washington Post: Nancy Pelosi will ‘cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding,’ daughter Alexandra Pelosi says.

“How does she approach meetings with President Trump, A, and B, just what are your feelings about this person who you know quite well becoming speaker of the House for a second time?” host John Berman asked during an interview Wednesday on CNN’s “New Day.”

The younger Pelosi responded: “She’ll cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding.” [….]

“No one ever won betting against Nancy Pelosi,” she continued. “She’s persevered. You’ve got to give her credit.” [….]

Alexandra Pelosi…hailed her mother as someone who “knows what she’s doing — and that should make you sleep at night, knowing that at least somebody in this town knows what they’re doing.”

Pelosi has been busy hiring staff to help her deal with Trump. Vanity Fair: “A Formidable Opponent for Anyone: Pelosi Hires Her Legal Talent to Take on Trump.

As stained coffee cups and empty takeout containers pile up on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Donald Trump points fingers at the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi has been quietly preparing to assume her role as the president’s chief antagonist. During the reprieve between Christmas and the New Year, the California lawmaker announced the appointment of Justice Department veteran Doug Letter as the new general counsel for the House of Representatives. Though Pelosi’s decision was met with little fanfare, Letter will be the linchpin in the oversight nightmare that House Democrats are preparing for Trump and his administration, circa tomorrow. “It is fanciful to think that there won’t be a substantial oversight function served by the new House. There are just so many issues that have gone without scrutiny,” Robert Loeb, a D.C. appellate lawyer, told me. It will be Letter’s job to inform Pelosi and other lawmakers “what their options are and what the risks and costs are” when it comes to leveraging Congress’s oversight authority.

Democrats have not been coy about their plans to exhume the scandals their Republican colleagues buried during the first two years of Trump’s presidency. As I previously reported, House Democrats have been treating January 3—the day Pelosi takes the gavel from Paul Ryan—like D-Day, with teams of staffers already lined up to open investigations into the president’s deputies, associates, and businesses. The anticipated lines of inquiry run the gamut—child separation at the border; Trump-Russia collusion; the F.B.I. investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh; White House security clearances; emoluments; the list goes on. And regardless of the specific rabbit holes that House Democrats choose to go down, protracted federal court battles seem assured. As general counsel, Letter would be the point person in any litigation brought on behalf of Pelosi and the House.

To former colleagues, Letter seems poised for the challenge. “For the last dozen years, I’ve litigated against Doug and with him at my side in some of the most consequential appeals in our lifetimes. Every time, he has been brilliant, professional, nonpartisan, and balanced,” Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general at the Justice Department under Barack Obama, told me. “There is no one more experienced, and no one better suited to this job.” Letter has signaled as much, himself. “I am eager to apply my litigation experience as I take on the challenges and opportunities that come with the important position,” he said in a statement about his appointment.

Click on the Vanity Fair link to read the rest.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Wednesday Reads: Screw those virtual hugs.

 

Take your virtual hugs and fuck off….

 

I think that social media is turning everyone into anti-social assholes.

I went to a Christmas party this holiday season…it was a small party, when I got there I gave the people hugs. Why? Well…because it was fucking Christmas…and because I am an affectionate person and…being Latin, it is part of our DNA…you hug people you care about, especially if it is a fucking Christmas party.

Dammit, I could feel the animosity…

 

It seems as if the Facebook society has given people the excuse to become pseudo-Zuckerburgs.  By that, I mean…adopting an emotionally inept attitude, lacking any sentimental bonds or real human connection that is not some kind of fake fucking virtual “like” or “love” emoji.  In other words, behaving like a robotic asshole.

It is all bullshit….so damn sick of those “No Touch” memes:

 

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Welcome to a world where the only acceptable hug…is the virtual one you get over the fucking social network.

 

Here is my reply, via emoji:

 #🖕🏻🖕🏼🖕🏽🖕🏾🖕🏿

 

 

Sorry for the rant…

Now the cartoons:

2019..fingers crossed: 01/01/2019 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - 2019..fingers crossed

The hangover: 01/01/2019 Cartoon by Adam Zyglis

Cartoon by Adam Zyglis - The hangover

 

12/30 Mike Luckovich: Happy New Year

01/01/2019 Cartoon by Charlie Daniel

Cartoon by Charlie Daniel -

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon: 01/01/2019 Cartoon by Clay Bennett

Cartoon by Clay Bennett - Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

New Year Baby: 12/31/2018 Cartoon by Paul Fell

Cartoon by Paul Fell - New Year Baby

01/01/2019 Cartoon by MStreeter

Cartoon by MStreeter -

Bruce Plante Cartoon: Happy New Year?: 01/01/2019 Cartoon by Bruce Plante

Cartoon by Bruce Plante - Bruce Plante Cartoon: Happy New Year?

2019 eve: 12/31/2018 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - 2019 eve

WINDFALL: 12/30/2018 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - WINDFALL

And with that…I turn it over to you.

This is an open thread.