Thursday Reads

Girl with Sunflowers, 1941 (oil on masonite), Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

Good Morning!!

As usual, there is way too much news this morning. How have we survived nearly four years of this? The U.S. is leading the world in cases and deaths during a historic global pandemic that has killed more than 170,000 Americans. The U.S. economy is a raging dumpster fire that has been a disaster for all but the wealthiest Americans.

The so-called “president” couldn’t care less about the death and destruction that his neglect of his duties has caused. He’s far too busy trying to steal the 2020 election and achieve his goal of becoming a dictator.

More evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia and his idol Vladimir Putin has emerged in recent days, and it really looks as if he has been getting lessons from Putin in how do to the U.S. what Putin did to Russia. Meanwhile Putin appears to have poisoned his primary political opponent. Is he telling Trump how to do that too?

Today is the fourth day of the virtual Democratic National Convention. Last night was pretty dramatic. Kamala Harris accepted the nomination for Vice President. She is first woman of color and the first Asian-American to do so. Before Harris spoke, former President Obama gave a merciless critique of Trump’s failed leadership and issued a dire warning about the future of our democracy. Tonight Joe Biden will accept the nomination for President.

On the breaking news from Russia

The Daily Beast: Putin Critic Alexey Navalny Allegedly Poisoned by Toxin in His Tea.

Edvard Munch, The Sun

MOSCOW—Vladimir Putin’s nemesis, corruption fighter Aleksey Navalny, is fighting for his life in a Siberian hospital after allegedly being poisoned at an airport while travelling to Moscow.

Navalny’s closest aide, Kira Yarmysh, said Navalny was poisoned after drinking a cup of tea at Tomsk airport early Thursday morning. He then boarded a flight to the Russian capital but fell violently ill en route. Taken from the aircraft on a stretcher after it was diverted to the city of Omsk, the opposition leader is in intensive care, relying on a respirator to breathe.

A Russian DJ who was on the same flight recorded a video that showed medical help arriving after the plane landed in Omsk. Navalny’s screams could be heard in the background.

Yarmysh said she knew immediately what had happened to her colleague: “A year ago, when Aleksey was in a detention center, he was poisoned. Obviously, now they’ve done the same thing to him again,” she wrote on Twitter.

Navalny’s friend, former lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov is convinced this was yet another assassination attempt on an opponent of Putin. “Ever since Boris Nemtsov was murdered by the wall of the Kremlin, all of us knew who was going to be their next target—but Aleksey and I avoided talking about that,” Gudkov told The Daily Beast.

Read more at BBC News: Alexei Navalny: Russian opposition leader ‘poisoned’

On the Democratic National Convention

DECLARING “LET’S fight with conviction, let’s fight with hope, let’s fight with confidence,” Kamala D. Harris made history on Wednesday night in accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice president. The California senator’s address was the nation’s first broad introduction to the first Black woman ever on a major party presidential ticket.

Impression, Sunrise, Claude Monet, 1872

The daughter of immigrants, she described her family’s only-in-America story. She also highlighted racial inequities that continue to plague American society, including the disproportionate suffering communities of color have endured during the covid-19 pandemic. But Ms. Harris, who has won several elections in the nation’s most populous state and boasts an impressive record as a prosecutor, state attorney general and U.S. senator, did not serve merely as an avatar of one demographic group or another. The vision she offered was of universal values — and the need to restore them after the presidency of Donald Trump. She lamented that “the constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone.” She offered an alternative in which “we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.”

In other elections, such sentiments might feel trite. In this one, they draw a clear distinction with the incumbent president. Former president Barack Obama drove that point home before Ms. Harris spoke. “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” he said. “The consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead; millions of jobs, gone, while those at the top take in more than ever; our worst impulses unleashed; our proud reputation around the world badly diminished.”

Politico: ‘Our worst impulses unleashed’: Obama assails Trump as a threat to democracy.

Former President Barack Obama delivered his sharpest broadside yet against President Donald Trump, blasting his successor as unserious and self-centered and cautioning that core democratic institutions have been imperiled by the Trump presidency.

“I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies,” Obama said in his remarks at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday. “I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously. But he never did.”

Alexander Calder, Sunrise on Pyramids, 1070

“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama continued. “And the consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”

Obama portrayed the president as a catastrophically ineffective leader who has used the office only to benefit himself and his friends and spoke with an urgency not often seen from a man who has largely declined to weigh in on the Trump outrage du jour. Trump, he said, views the presidency as no more than a “reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

He dismissed Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, asserting that “our ability to work together to solve big problems like a pandemic depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up.”

Also see Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Obama’s Convention Speech Is the First Time I Have Seen Him Scared.

On the Senate Intelligence Committee’s latest report on Trump and Russia

Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: Russiagate Was Not a Hoax.

Rereading the Mueller report more than a year after its publication is an exercise in disappointment. One gets the feeling that Robert Mueller didn’t press his inquiry to its end. Instead of settling the questions that haunt the 2016 campaign, he left them dangling, publishing a stilted document riddled with insinuation and lacunae. He rushed his work, closing up shop before finishing his assignment.

While Mueller received all the hype, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence kept its head down. Yesterday, having avoided cable speculation almost entirely, the SSCI released the fifth and final volume of a report on Russia’s attempt to sway the last election in Donald Trump’s favor. It finally delivered what Mueller either could not or would not: a comprehensive presentation of the evidence in the matter of “collusion.” The report confirms that Russiagate is no hoax. Whether or not the Trump campaign illegally coordinated with the Kremlin, Trump has no grounds for proclaiming vindication, much less that he’s the victim of a witch hunt….

The Wheat Field, Sunrise, Vincent Van Gogh

Mueller’s team referred to Manafort’s Kyiv-based aide-de-camp, Konstantin Kilimnik, as an active Russian agent. Manafort had clearly spoken with Kilimnik during the campaign, and had even passed confidential campaign information to him, with the understanding that the documents would ultimately arrive in the hands of oligarchs close to the Kremlin….

The committee…reports that Manafort and Kilimnik talked almost daily during the campaign. They communicated through encrypted technologies set to automatically erase their correspondence; they spoke using code words and shared access to an email account. It’s worth pausing on these facts: The chairman of the Trump campaign was in daily contact with a Russian agent, constantly sharing confidential information with him. That alone makes for one of the worst scandals in American political history.

The significant revelation of the document is that Kilimnik was likely a participant in the Kremlin scheme to hack and leak Clinton campaign emails. Furthermore, Kilimnik kept in close contact with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a former client of Manafort’s. The report also indicates that Deripaska was connected to his government’s hacking efforts. This fact is especially suggestive: Deripaska had accused Manafort of stealing money from him, and Manafort hoped to repair his relationship with the oligarch. Was Manafort passing information to him, through Kilimnik, for the sake of currying favor with an old patron?

Also see The New York Times Editorial Board: The Trump Campaign Accepted Russian Help to Win in 2016. Case Closed. Too bad the NYT can’t admit how wrong they were in 2016 and issue a long-needed apology to Hillary Clinton and the American people.

On Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election:

Joanne Lipman and Edward B. Foley at The Washington Post: If we don’t dispel the falsehood of an election ‘delay’ now, we risk chaos in November.

Leonid Afremov, The Sweetness of the Sun

President Trump is ramping up his attacks on mail-in voting by insisting election results “must” be known on election night. “No more big election night answers?” he tweeted last month. “Ridiculous! Just a formula for RIGGING an Election . . .”

The news media have pushed back on his baseless claims of fraud. But they agree with him on one point: There is likely to be a “delay” in election results because of a surge in mail-in votes.

But that’s wrong. If results aren’t known on election night, that doesn’t mean there’s a delay. The fact is, there are never official results on election night. There never have been.

Predictions of a delay rest on a misunderstanding of the vote-counting process — a misunderstanding that is both dangerous and hugely consequential. If election-night results are considered the norm, and what happens this year is described as a “delay,” it will be easy to paint the result as problematic — and for Trump to continue to spread suspicions about the entire process.

Concerns about a supposed delay stem from a coronavirus-fueled interest in absentee and mail-in ballots. In a July survey of more than 19,000 Americans, 41 percent of those who plan to vote said they were “very likely” to vote by mail this year, and another 23 percent said they would be “somewhat likely” to do so. That compares with 21 percent who voted by mail in 2016, “which itself was a historic high,” the survey, conducted by a consortium of universities, noted. Counting those ballots could potentially take days or weeks, which means projecting a winner on election night may not be possible.

Yet even if counting takes several weeks, that wouldn’t constitute a delay — because by law, election results aren’t official until more than a month after the election.

I will highlight more important stories in the comment thread.

Take care of yourselves today Sky Dancers! We will survive because we must. Take care of yourselves and those you love today and every day.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

After several days of a media diet–reading and playing video games instead of following the news closely–I’m feeling a lot more grounded. The fake “president” is still insane and we are still living through a global pandemic that was made much worse by the actions and non-actions of Trump and his gang of evil thugs, but I feel more able to handle it today. It helps that it’s a long weekend and Trump might go play golf and leave us alone for some stretches of time.

Anyway, I hope all of you are doing well and staying safe in these crazy times. Please stay home as much as you can and take good care of yourselves and your loved ones.

Here’s the latest on the pandemic:

The Washington Post: Study estimates 24 states still have uncontrolled coronavirus spread.

The coronavirus may still be spreading at epidemic rates in 24 states, particularly in the South and Midwest, according to new research that highlights the risk of a second wave of infections in places that reopen too quickly or without sufficient precautions.

Researchers at Imperial College London created a model that incorporates cellphone data showing that people sharply reduced their movements after stay-at-home orders were broadly imposed in March. With restrictions now easing and mobility increasing with the approach of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, the researchers developed an estimate of viral spread as of May 17.

It is a snapshot of a transitional moment in the pandemic and captures the patchwork nature across the country of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Some states have had little viral spread or “crushed the curve” to a great degree and have some wiggle room to reopen their economies without generating a new epidemic-level surge in cases. Others are nowhere near containing the virus.

The model, which has not been peer reviewed, shows that in the majority of states, a second wave looms if people abandon efforts to mitigate the viral spread.

“There’s evidence that the U.S. is not under control, as an entire country,” said Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer in geostatistics at Imperial College.

The model shows potentially ominous scenarios if people move around as they did previously and do so without taking precautions. In California and Florida, the death rate could spike to roughly 1,000 a day by July without efforts to mitigate the spread, according to the report.

Nic Robertson at CNN: The pandemic could reshape the world order. Trump’s chaotic strategy is accelerating US losses.

London (CNN)Europe outright rejected US President Donald Trump’s vision of the world this week. Tensions between these historic democratic allies that have been simmering since Trump came to office three years ago have now come to a boil during the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 has shocked the world by the speed of its spread, but it is also accelerating another global change in the balance of power — and not in America’s favor.
The extent of the divide became clear on Tuesday during a vote at the World Health Organization annual assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, backing Europe’s conciliatory approach to China relating to an investigation into the outbreak. Power had visibly ebbed away from the United States as its demand for a tougher approach was dismissed, a move that should sound alarm bells in Washington.

Vladimir Sichov, street portrait

Five months into 2020 and it already feels like a new era: now there is only BC and AC — before and after coronavirus. Suddenly the dynamics of almost every single geopolitical dispute are being exacerbated by the pandemic, sharpened by the complexity and urgency of the situation.

Chief among these is the perennial, three-way battle for dominance between the US, Europe and China. Despite Trump’s early hailing of Xi Jinping’s handling of the pandemic, he has since blamed the Chinese President for covering up the early stages of China’s outbreak. Beijing has consistently denied such accusations, and criticized the US approach to the pandemic.

Trump has tried to blame China and WHO for his own disastrous response to the pandemic, but Europe is sticking with China and WHO.

Despite deep concerns about China’s handling of the pandemic, European leaders backed the WHO resolution calling for “a stepwise process of impartial independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, as appropriate to review experience gained and lessons learned” from the global response to Covid-19.

The language is convoluted and hardly inspires confidence China will atone appropriately for its early failures, but it is a measure of the gulf opening up between Trump and his European allies that such a compromise could even be countenanced….

Europe’s decision to reject Trump’s confrontation with China and the WHO will affect both parties vying to win this year’s US election. Regardless of who wins that race, Trump and his handling of Covid-19 are weakening America’s global leverage.

At The Atlantic, Charles C. Mann on “What history can tell us about the long-term effects of the coronavirus”: Pandemics Leave Us Forever Altered. I hope you’ll read the whole thing; here’s just a brief excerpt:

Americans may have forgotten the 1918 pandemic, but it did not forget them. Garthwaite matched NHIS respondents’ health conditions to the dates when their mothers were probably exposed to the flu. Mothers who got sick in the first months of pregnancy, he discovered, had babies who, 60 or 70 years later, were unusually likely to have diabetes; mothers afflicted at the end of pregnancy tended to bear children prone to kidney disease. The middle months were associated with heart disease.

Other studies showed different consequences. Children born during the pandemic grew into shorter, poorer, less educated adults with higher rates of physical disability than one would expect. Chances are that none of Garthwaite’s flu babies ever knew about the shadow the pandemic cast over their lives. But they were living testaments to a brutal truth: Pandemics—even forgotten ones—have long-term, powerful aftereffects.

The distinguished historians can be forgiven for passing over this truth. Most modern people assume that our species controls its own destiny. We’re in charge! we think. After all, isn’t this the Anthropocene? Being modern people, historians have had trouble, as a profession, truly accepting that brainless packets of RNA and DNA can capsize the human enterprise in a few weeks or months.

The convulsive social changes of the 1920s—the frenzy of financial speculation, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, the explosion of Dionysian popular culture (jazz, flappers, speakeasies)—were easily attributed to the war, an initiative directed and conducted by humans, rather than to the blind actions of microorganisms. But the microorganisms likely killed more people than the war did. And their effects weren’t confined to European battlefields, but spread across the globe, emptying city streets and filling cemeteries on six continents.

Unlike the war, the flu was incomprehensible—the influenza virus wasn’t even identified until 1931. It inspired fear of immigrants and foreigners, and anger toward the politicians who played down the virus. Like the war, influenza (and tuberculosis, which subsequently hit many flu sufferers) killed more men than women, skewing sex ratios for years afterward. Can one be sure that the ensuing, abrupt changes in gender roles had nothing to do with the virus?

We will probably never disentangle the war and the flu. But one way to summarize the impact of the pandemic is to say that its magnitude was in the same neighborhood as that of the “war to end all wars.”

What societal and health changes will follow the coronavirus pandemic? Read Mann’s speculations at The Atlantic.

Some presidential election news:

The Guardian: Barack Obama poised to add his star appeal to Joe Biden’s campaign.

Former president Barack Obama has dipped his toes into the 2020 presidential campaign recently and is positioned to do more in the coming months as Joe Biden’s effort to defeat Donald Trump gathers steam.

Interviews with about a dozen Democratic strategists, party officials and people close to Obama want the popular former president utilizing his powerful online presence and focusing on rallying key Democrat constituencies that are critical to a Biden victory.

Obama is regarded as one of the most popular politicians in American politics and a huge asset within the Democratic party. He left the White House with a near-60% approval rating. His endorsement for any candidate is the political campaign equivalent of an oilman and hitting a gusher.

Obama would be most effective, interviewees said, in highlighting his former vice-president’s résumé, rallying key Democratic voting groups like African American women, and pushing voters to register.

The situation is unique. There hasn’t been a popular former two-term president eager to hit the trail for his former running mate for years. On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic limits in-person campaigning and rallies. Still, the strategists interviewed say Obama is valuable and should be used everywhere.

“You rarely have a former president that is more popular than the now-sort-of-nominee,” Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher said. “Barack Obama is the most popular political figure in America right now.”

Read the rest at The Guardian.

Trump may be losing some evangelicals. Politico: Behind Trump’s demand to reopen churches: Slipping poll numbers and alarm inside his campaign.

A sudden shift in support for Donald Trump among religious conservatives is triggering alarm bells inside his reelection campaign, where top aides have long banked on expanding the president’s evangelical base as a key part of their strategy for victory this November.

The anxiety over Trump’s standing with the Christian right surfaced after a pair of surveys by reputable outfits earlier this month found waning confidence in the administration’s coronavirus response among key religious groups, with a staggering decline in the president’s favorability among white evangelicals and white Catholics. Both are crucial constituencies that supported Trump by wide margins in 2016 and could sink his reelection prospects if their turnout shrinks this fall.

The polls paint a bleak picture for Trump, who has counted on broadening his religious support by at least a few percentage points to compensate for weakened appeal with women and suburban populations. One GOP official said the dip in the president’s evangelical support also appeared in internal party polling, but disputed the notion that it had caused panic. Another person close to the campaign described an April survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, which showed a double-digit decline in Trump’s favorability among white evangelicals (-11), white Catholics (-12) and white mainline protestants (-18) from the previous month, as “pretty concerning.”

To safeguard his relationship with religious conservatives, Trump on Friday demanded that America‘s governors permit houses of worship to immediately reopen, and threatened to “override“ state leaders who decline to obey his directive. The announcement — which came days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention omitted religious institutions in new guidance about industry reopenings — featured clear appeals to white evangelicals, many of whom have long supported Trump’s socially conservative agenda.

Read more at the link.

According to The Daily Beast, Trump wants an in-person convention despite the pandemic, and his advisers are afraid to tell him it might not happen: Trump Plows Ahead With His Convention Planning, Virus Be Damned.

President Donald Trump has been adamant that the 2020 Republican National Convention—or some version of it—go on. For months, he’s demanded that back-up options for less crowded gatherings be fully explored by his staff, if a full-blown convention isn’t ultimately possible or safe, according to three people familiar with his private insistence. But he has scoffed at the notion of a virtual convention in recent weeks, saying that it sounds like “something Joe Biden would do from his basement,” said a source who heard Trump mock the idea.

Trump’s desire to have some sort of coronation moment fits his love of pageantry and spectacle. But various staffers working on plotting the Republican gathering aren’t quite so optimistic that it’s doable, knowing that they are entirely at the mercy of the virus and that the convention may end up even sparser than some expect.

“I don’t want to be the one to tell the president,” the White House official said, envisioning a scenario in which a disappointed, possibly angry Trump is informed he would have to be livestreamed into his own convention.

More stories to check out, links only:

The New York Times: Trump’s Press Secretary Displays One of His Checks in a Little Too Much Detail.

The Washington Post: Trump administration discussed conducting first U.S. nuclear test in decades.

WJC CBS Baltimore: Baltimore Mayor Jack Young On President Trump’s Memorial Day Fort McHenry Visit: ‘I Think He’s Violating The Law’

New York Magazine: That Office AC System Is Great — at Recirculating Viruses.

NBC News: Jeff Sessions stands up to former boss Trump on Twitter.

Business Insider: Roughly half the Twitter accounts pushing to ‘reopen America’ are bots, researchers found.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Tomoo Inagaki, Woodcut Cats in Moonlight

Good Morning!!

Before I get started on the political news, I want to note the passing of one of the great pioneers of rock and roll. Rolling Stone: Little Richard, Founding Father of Rock Who Broke Musical Barriers, Dead at 87.

Little Richard, a founding father of rock and roll whose fervent shrieks, flamboyant garb, and joyful, gender-bending persona embodied the spirit and sound of that new art form, died Saturday. He was 87. The musician’s son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the pioneer’s death to Rolling Stone, but said the cause of death was unknown.

Starting with “Tutti Frutti” in 1956, Little Richard cut a series of unstoppable hits – “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up” that same year, “Lucille” in 1957, and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958 – driven by his simple, pumping piano, gospel-influenced vocal exclamations and sexually charged (often gibberish) lyrics. “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” Elton John told Rolling Stone in 1973. “I didn’t ever want to be anything else. I’m more of a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry Lee is a very intricate piano player and very skillful, but Little Richard is more of a pounder.”

Wassily Kandinsky, Three figures and a cat, woodcut

Although he never hit the top 10 again after 1958, Little Richard’s influence was massive. The Beatles recorded several of his songs, including “Long Tall Sally,” and Paul McCartney’s singing on those tracks – and the Beatles’ own “I’m Down” – paid tribute to Little Richard’s shredded-throat style. His songs became part of the rock and roll canon, covered over the decades by everyone from the Everly Brothers, the Kinks, and Creedence Clearwater Revival to Elvis Costello and the Scorpions.

Little Richard’s stage persona – his pompadours, androgynous makeup and glass-bead shirts – also set the standard for rock and roll showmanship; Prince, to cite one obvious example, owed a sizable debt to the musician. “Prince is the Little Richard of his generation,” Richard told Joan Rivers in 1989 before looking at the camera and addressing Prince. “I was wearing purple before you was wearing it!”

Read about Little Richard’s (born Richard Wayne Penniman) life and career at the Rolling Stone link.

 

Now to other news of the day.

As Trump and his personal attorney general Bill Barr take steps to erase the rule of law and establish a fascist dictatorship in the U.S., is President Obama finally getting ready to speak out publicly? Michael Isakoff at Yahoo News: Exclusive: Obama says in private call that ‘rule of law is at risk’ in Michael Flynn case.

Former President Barack Obama, talking privately to ex-members of his administration, said Friday that the “rule of law is at risk” in the wake of what he called an unprecedented move by the Justice Department to drop charges against former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

In the same chat, a tape of which was obtained by Yahoo News, Obama also lashed out at the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as “an absolute chaotic disaster.”

“The news over the last 24 hours I think has been somewhat downplayed — about the Justice Department dropping charges against Michael Flynn,” Obama said in a web talk with members of the Obama Alumni Association.

Woodcut by Kioshi Saito 1985

“And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places.”

The Flynn case was invoked by Obama as a principal reason that his former administration officials needed to make sure former Vice President Joe Biden wins the November election against President Trump. “So I am hoping that all of you feel the same sense of urgency that I do,” he said. “Whenever I campaign, I’ve always said, ‘Ah, this is the most important election.’ Especially obviously when I was on the ballot, that always feels like it’s the most important election. This one — I’m not on the ballot — but I am pretty darn invested. We got to make this happen.”

Obama misstated the charge to which Flynn had previously pleaded guilty. He was charged with false statements to the FBI, not perjury.

Click the Yahoo link to read the rest.

And from Caleb Ecarma at Vanity Fair: As the DOJ Drops Flynn’s Case, Trumpworld’s Next Target is Obama Alums.

Conservative media figures who spent months insisting on Michael Flynn’s innocence, after he twice pleaded guilty to lying to investigators, are taking a gleeful victory lap in response to the Justice Department moving to drop its criminal case against the retired lieutenant general and former Trump national security adviser. But the reversal is not enough to placate the right-wing media rabble, as they are now calling for Attorney General William Barr to prosecute members of the Barack Obama administration and its judicial allies for their roles in the case….

M.C. Escher, White Cat, woodcut

Shortly after the news broke on Thursday, right-wing radio host Mark Levin appeared on Fox News to boast, and to accuse Obama of conducting a vast shadow operation against the Trump administration. “You know what this is? This is Barack Obama’s blue dress. That’s what that is without the DNA on it,” he told Sean Hannity, referencing Monica Lewinsky’s infamous garment. “[The Flynn case documents] tells us that Obama knew…. Obama was working with the FBI and the intelligence agencies.” Levin also tweeted that “the perps responsible for trying to destroy” Flynn should be prosecuted, a talking point Hannity is now pushing too. “All this does is exonerate General Flynn,” the Fox News host declared on his Thursday radio program. “Now, it’s time to investigate Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Department of Justice…and what they did here is they targeted an innocent man, and they—this is prosecutorial abuse.” Hannity’s colleague Tucker Carlson called Flynn’s case “demonstrably and provably unfair” and accused federal prosecutors of wanting “Flynn crushed purely because he happened to be away from the power they seek, and that’s why they’re still trying to put Roger Stone behind bars…. But the question is: How many other inconvenient Americans would they bankrupt and imprison if they could?”

A Daily Beast report found that numerous Trump administration and campaign officials are hoping to see Flynn resume work for the president in an official capacity. “Years ago when Nelson Mandela came to America after years of political persecution he was treated like a rock star by Americans,” Trump pollster John McLaughlin said Thursday while discussing the possibility of a Flynn–Trump reunion with the Daily Beast. “Now after over three years of political persecution General Flynn is our rock star. A big difference is that he was persecuted in America.” [….]

On Thursday, Trump described Flynn as “an innocent man” and “an even greater warrior,” before appearing on Fox & Friends the following morning to praise his attorney general’s efforts. “Bill Barr is a man of unbelievable credibility and courage, and he’s going to go down in the history books,” he told Fox News, adding that Fox hosts Hannity, Carlson, and Laura Ingraham “should get the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes” for leading the Flynn-innocence media campaign.

Wow. That is through the looking glass stuff. But the way things are going, it could happen. But through the looking glass is where Trump lives. Even with cases popping up in the White House, he still thinks the coronavirus will magically disappear.

Woodcut by Ellen Corddry

Yahoo News: Trump says coronavirus will ‘go away without a vaccine.’

President Trump on Friday broke with health experts, telling reporters that the coronavirus will “go away without a vaccine.”

“This is going to go away without a vaccine, it’s gonna go away, and we’re not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time,” Trump said at the White House. “You may have some flare-ups, and I guess I would expect that.”

Just days ago the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, a project to accelerate the production of a vaccine for the coronavirus, which as of Friday had infected at least 1.2 million Americans and killed more than 76,000 here….

Asked what led him to believe that the virus would disappear without a vaccine, Trump claimed he had received that information from medical professionals.

“I just rely on what doctors say. They say it’s going to go. That doesn’t mean this year. It doesn’t mean, frankly, it’s going to be gone before the fall or after the fall, but eventually it’s going to go away. The question is whether we will need a vaccine. At some point it will probably go away by itself.”

Who are these mysterious “medical professionals?”

 

Trump doesn’t think testing for the virus is important either–unless you are Trump, Pence and people working around them. The Washington Post: Trump plays down coronavirus testing as U.S. falls far short of level scientists say is needed.

President Trump is increasingly dismissing the consensus of health experts, scientists and some of his Republican allies that widespread testing is key to the safe end of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, saying Friday that “testing isn’t necessary” and is an imperfect guide.

The president has played down the need for testing as he overrides public health recommendations that would prolong the closures of schools, businesses and much of daily life. Although he is now tested every day with a rapid-result machine, Trump has questioned the value of extensive testing as the gap between available capacity and the amount that would be required to meet public health benchmarks has become clearer.

Woodcut by Masharu Aoyama

Trump’s comments came as a second employee in the White House complex tested positive for the coronavirus, a development that prompted increased testing for staff and other precautions not generally available to most Americans.

“This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily great,” Trump said at the White House, as he confirmed a positive test result “out of the blue” for a top staffer, Vice President Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller.

During a Friday morning interview on Fox News, Trump ticked approvingly through the current testing figures but did not say what level he thinks is optimal or safe to use as a national benchmark for economic reopening.

Asked about the positive test result for one of his Navy valets, the president said that he himself remains negative but that the valet’s experience is instructive.

“And this is why testing isn’t necessary. We have the best testing in the world, but testing’s not necessarily the answer because they were testing them,” Trump said of the staff members.

WTF?! He found out these people had contracted the virus because they were being tested! What a fucking moron!

I’ll end with this. The AP has learned definitively that the President and his buddies were behind the shelving of the CDC reopening report: AP Exclusive: Docs show top WH officials buried CDC report.

The decision to shelve detailed advice from the nation’s top disease control experts for reopening communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels of the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press.

Two Cats woodcut by Felix Vallotton from the periodical Pan published by F. Fontane and Co., Berlin 1895

The files also show that after the AP reported Thursday that the guidance document had been buried, the Trump administration ordered key parts of it to be fast-tracked for approval.

The trove of emails show the nation’s top public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spending weeks working on guidance to help the country deal with a public health emergency, only to see their work quashed by political appointees with little explanation.

The document, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It included detailed “decision trees,” or flow charts aimed at helping local leaders navigate the difficult decision of whether to reopen or remain closed.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that the documents had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. The new emails, however, show that Redfield cleared the guidance.

This new CDC guidance — a mix of advice already released along with newer information — had been approved and promoted by the highest levels of its leadership, including Redfield. Despite this, the administration shelved it on April 30.

Read the rest at the AP link.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump’s Stupid Iran Gambit

Good Afternoon!!

There are several articles at major news sources today claiming to describe the process by which Trump decided to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Trump doesn’t make decisions in the orderly manner in which aides and gullible reporters like to describe. I think this Twitter thread by The Hoarse Whisperer makes more sense.

This article at The Daily Beast supports Hoarse’s argument: Trump Told Mar-a-Lago Pals to Expect ‘Big’ Iran Action ‘Soon.’

In the five days prior to launching a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, Donald Trump roamed the halls of Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, and started dropping hints to close associates and club-goers that something huge was coming.

According to three people who’ve been at the president’s Palm Beach club over the past several days, Trump began telling friends and allies hanging at his perennial vacation getaway that he was working on a “big” response to the Iranian regime that they would be hearing or reading about very “soon.” His comments went beyond the New Year’s Eve tweet he sent out warning of the “big price” Iran would pay for damage to U.S. facilities. Two of these sources tell The Daily Beast that the president specifically mentioned he’d been in close contact with his top national security and military advisers on gaming out options for an aggressive action that could quickly materialize.

“He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’” one of the sources recalled, describing a conversation with Trump days before Thursday’s strike.

Meanwhile, he told Congress nothing. This thread that JJ pointed me too is also very helpful. I won’t post the whole thing because it’s long; but I highly recommend reading the whole thing on Twitter.

Read the rest on Twitter.

More Iran reads:

Abigail Tracy and Vanity Fair: “The Administration’s Track Record Doesn’t Inspire Confidence”: After Killing Soleimani, Trump Confronts a Credibility Gap.

The Washington defense and diplomatic communities are not exactly mourning the death of Qasem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian commander who was killed by a U.S. airstrike on Thursday night. “Soleimani was a murderer and the major source of violence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon for three decades,” said, former ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, echoing a near-unanimous position. “He was an enemy of the U.S., responsible for hundreds of American deaths.”

But many in Washington believe that the killing of this dangerous man made the world a much more dangerous place, and now, in a moment of ominous quiet, a new landscape is being mapped. Among diplomats I spoke with familiar with the region, there was little doubt that Iran would respond forcefully to Soleimani’s killing. “A real retaliation is going to come months from now,” a former ambassador to a country in the region said. And Iranian leadership left little doubt that this would be the case. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, called for three days of national mourning and vowed revenge. “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands,” he said in a statement. Thus far, clarity is lacking as to how the decision to kill Soleimani was made, and the diplomatic corp, deeply skeptical of Trump to begin with, tends to see it as an impulsive act. “It was of course a serious escalation,” said a former diplomat who worked on Middle East issues, “and seemingly devoid of strategic rationale.”

Does Trump know what’s next? Of course not.

There is also an acute fear within the diplomatic community that the Trump administration has failed to plot its next moves on the chessboard. “The emphasis now should be on de-escalation. But we [have] every reason to assume that Trump has not thought through the full implications of this event and the repercussions it will unleash. In other words, there likely is no strategy in place to de-escalate,” Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and Iran expert, told me. “When Trump violated the Iran nuclear deal, official communications with Tehran were severed. There is no deconfliction channel. With a hollowed-out State Department, we do not have the capacity to carry out the intense diplomacy required to manage a spiraling crisis.”

Read more expert opinions at the Vanity Fair link.

Wesley Clark at The Washington Post: Killing a top Iranian military leader was a whack-for-tat move.

Like the killing of Osama bin Laden, the strike on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on Thursday appears to be a stunning confirmation of U.S. military and intelligence capabilities. Like bin Laden, Soleimani was responsible for many American deaths; the Quds Force he led targeted and killed Americans, as bin Laden’s al-Qaeda did.

But there the similarities end. Soleimani was no stateless outlaw. He was a decorated public figure in a nation of more than 80 million people. He was the most renowned of the Iranian generals, hugely popular within Iran — and in Iraq, where supporters of an Iranian-backed militia stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad early this week.

If the killing of Soleimani was a response to that attack, it was clearly disproportionate: We suffered no casualties in the embassy standoff. Proportionality might have been some diplomatic pressure on Iranian authorities in Iraq or elsewhere or, a notch up, seizing another Iranian ship. That makes what comes next highly unpredictable. And failing to think ahead to the likely Iranian next steps is extremely dangerous….

No doubt the attack was intended to be preemptive as well as punitive. Soleimani and his team were certainly planning responses to U.S. actions. But here the question is whether this strike prevented further Iranian strikes or simply made escalation inevitable. Regardless of Soleimani’s charisma or strategic genius, it’s unlikely that the loss of a leader will so cripple Iran’s capacity to strike back that the escalatory cycle will be broken.

More at the WaPo link.

David Corn and Matt Cohen at Mother Jones: With a War Against Iran Brewing, Don’t Listen to the Hawks Who Lied Us Into Iraq.

Shortly after the news broke that a US airstrike in Baghdad ordered by President Donald Trump had killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, Ari Fleischer went on Fox News and proclaimed, “I think it is entirely possible that this is going to be a catalyst inside Iran where the people celebrate this killing of Soleimani.”

Here we go again.

Fleischer was press secretary for President George W. Bush when the Bush-Cheney administration deployed a long stretch of false statements and lies—Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al Qaeda! Saddam had WMDs! Saddam intended to use WMDs against the United States! Saddam’s defeat would lead to peace and democracy in Iraq and throughout the region!—to grease the way to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. In that position, Fleischer was a key spokesperson for the war. Prior to the invasion, he promised the war would lead to a bright future: “Once the Iraqi people see that Saddam and those around him will be removed from power, they’ll welcome freedom, they’ll be a liberated people.” Instead, Iraq and the region were wracked with destabilization and death that continues to this day. About 200,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in the chaos and violence the Bush-Cheney invasion unleashed, and 4,500 US soldiers were killed in their war.

Back then, Fleischer was just one of many cheerleaders for the Iraq war inside and outside the administration. In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush-Cheney officials (including Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney), neocon pundits, Capitol Hill lawmakers, and some liberal pundits were beating the drums of war, inciting the public with claims that Saddam was a direct and immediate threat to the United States. They insisted that a war with Iraq would be quick, easy, and cheap and turn Iraq and the Middle East into a bastion of democracy brimming with gratitude to the United States. They were wrong, they were misguided, they were arrogant, and in some cases they outright lied to whip up fear and boost popular support for the war. With Trump’s attack in Baghdad prompting talk about another US war in the Middle East, it’s a good time to remember those who misled the public prior to the Iraq war, so if they now try to participate in the national discourse about Trump’s potential war with Iran, we won’t get fooled again. At least not by them.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Trump Thinks Attacking Iran Will Get Him Reelected. He’s Wrong.

Beginning in 2011, and continuing through the next year, Donald Trump began obsessively predicting that President Obama would start a war with Iran in order to be reelected. Trump stated it publicly, on at least a half-dozen occasions, explicitly positing that attacking Iran would help Obama win reelection.

Trump posted tweets on that same theme throughout 2012, including just weeks before Obama’s victory over Republican candidate Sen. Mitt Romney….

Just like Trump’s notions that Obama would direct his attorney general whom to investigate or not, or pressure the Federal Reserve to loosen the money supply in order to help his party win the next election, Trump’s attacks on Obama were the purest form of projection. They reflect his cynical belief that every president will naturally abuse their powers, and thus provide a roadmap to his own intentions.

And indeed, Trump immediately followed the killing of Qasem Soleimani by metaphorically wrapping himself in the stars and stripes. No doubt he anticipates at least a faint echo of the rally-around-the-flag dynamic that has buoyed many of his predecessors. But Trump’s critics need not assume he will enjoy any such benefit, and should grasp that their own response will help determine it.Clic

One salient fact is that it’s not 2001, or even 2003. A poll earlier this summer found that just 18 percent of Americans prefer to “take military action against Iran” as against 78 percent wanting to “rely mainly on economic and diplomatic efforts.”

Click the link to read the rest.

More from CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski:

 


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?