Thursday Reads

Rare Sunrise Eclipse Entrances Northeast States

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – JUNE 10: A partial solar eclipse is seen as the sun rises behind the Capitol Building on June 10, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

Good Morning!!

I don’t know why I keep reading articles about the lab-leak theory. It’s not that I necessarily believe it’s true. I certainly don’t believe that a virus was created or modified in the Wuhan lab and then released into the population. I do think it’s possible that a researcher picked up a virus in the field and somehow carelessly infected someone on the outside. I still think the most likely scenario is the cross species (animal-to-human) route, because that clearly happens. I guess I’m just interested in why the argument has arisen in the media and won’t go away. 

Anyway, there’s an interesting article on the subject at The Atlantic this morning: Don’t Fall for These Lab-Leak Traps.  Recent coverage of the pandemic’s origins has ensnared readers in semantic quibbles, side points, and distractions, by Daniel Engber. I won’t try to summarize the piece because it’s so long, but here’s a bit of what Engber writes about what he calls “the mad scientist trap.”

The lab-leak theory isn’t singular; rather, it’s a catchall for a continuum of possible scenarios, ranging from the mundane to the diabolical. At one end, a researcher from the Wuhan Institute of Virology might have gone out to sample bat guano, become infected with a novel pathogen while in the field, and then seeded it back home in a crowded city. Or maybe researchers brought a specimen of a wild-bat virus back into the lab without becoming infected, only to set it free via someone’s clothes or through a leaky sewage pipe.

The microbiologists Michael Imperiale and David Relman, both former members of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, told me several weeks ago that lab-leak scenarios of this rather more innocent variety—involving the collection and accidental release of a naturally occuring pathogen—were the most probable of all the non-natural possibilities. Yet the most prominent opinionating on this topic has clustered at the other end of the continuum, at first around the dark-side theory of a bioweapon gone awry, and then around the idea that a harmless virus had been deliberately transformed into SARS-CoV-2 (and released by accident) after a reckless series of tabletop experiments.

The eclipse viewed from Brooklyn Thursday morning. Justin Lane EPA, via Shutterstock

The eclipse viewed from Brooklyn Thursday morning. Justin Lane EPA, via Shutterstock

That’s another pitfall in this debate: a tendency to focus only on the most disturbing and improbable versions of the lab-leak hypothesis, and to downplay the rest. The mad-scientist trap sprays a mist across the facts by presuming scientific motivations; it posits that researchers could have caused the pandemic only if they’d been trying to create infectious pathogens.

Efforts to enhance a virus in a lab, usually described as “gain of function” studies, have engendered hyperbolic speculation….

The problem is, depending on how one chooses to define gain-of-function research, it could well include most virological research, some forms of vaccine development, and a healthy portion of biology writ large. Anytime a scientist tries to probe or tweak the function of a gene, she could be working in this vein. In that sense, yes, the National Institutes of Health is a “huge gain-of-function bureaucracy.” So what?

Engler concludes:

One might assume that the single-minded fear of gain-of-function research is peculiar to conservatives—sitting, as it does, at the shadowy convergence of Big Government and Critical Frankenstein Studies. But the urge to blame scientific hubris for scientific problems, as opposed to farcical incompetence, seems to have long-standing, bipartisan support.

This trap was last sprung seven years ago. In March 2014, a CDC lab accidently shipped the highly virulent H5N1 bird flu to a poultry lab at the Department of Agriculture. Then in June, another CDC lab sent off samples of the bacteria that cause anthrax without properly inactivating them—and 75 government employees were potentially exposed. A few weeks after that, scientists at NIH stumbled across six vials of smallpox in a forgotten cardboard box. Regulators had every reason to believe that accidental laboratory leaks of naturally occurring pathogens were more common (and more likely) than genetic-engineering studies gone awry. But when confronted with all this evidence that scientists were slipping on banana peels, the government looked at other risks instead: It announced a pause on gain-of-function research.

Rare Sunrise Eclipse Entrances Northeast States

The sun rises next to the Statue of Liberty during an annular eclipse on June 10, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

We’re in the process of defaulting to the same idea—that better biosafety might be achieved, and the next pandemic headed off, if we prevent or slow the development of genetically engineered bananas. That might only help ensure that no one thinks too hard about the odds of slapstick-fueled catastrophe. We may yet find, with more investigation, that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and other places like it around the world, is positively strewn with banana peels. If that’s the case, our first and most important goal should be to clean them up. In the meantime, don’t be fooled by false antonyms. The opposite of nature isn’t hubris, and if SARS-CoV-2 turns out not to have a “natural” origin, that doesn’t have to mean someone made it in a lab.

Sorry for the long excerpt, but I do think it’s a useful article. Read more at the link if you’re interested.

The New York Times has an article on this morning’s eclipse: Highlights From the ‘Ring of Fire’ Solar Eclipse at Sunrise.

Just after sunrise over the eastern half of North America, the sun was almost completely blotted out by the moon for a few dawn hours in an annular solar eclipse.

During such an eclipse, the black silhouette of the moon — too far from Earth to completely cover the sun — will be surrounded by a thin ring of our home star’s surface, or photosphere. Many know this as a “ring of fire,” but few will get to experience the full effect.

The eclipse started after sunrise north of Lake Superior and began crossing remote regions of Canada, on its way into Greenland and the Arctic Ocean before going over the North Pole. Its course then heads south before ending in parts of the Russian Far East.

Still, some lucky souls got to experience this cosmic geometry, and a few were even intrepid and well organized enough to book airplane flights into the zone of maximum darkness. Many more of us got to experience a partial solar eclipse if we woke up early to clear enough skies….

It was dark and windy as the visitors spread out across the 86th floor observation deck 1,050 feet above midtown, adjusting camera lenses and perfecting positions as they waited for the sun to appear.

When the sky began to lighten and clouds turned shades of fuchsia pink, attendees of the event, who had paid $114.81 each to be there, could be overheard begging the skyline to clear up so there would be a better view….

Finally, the sun rose and the eclipse was visible — if a little hazily — through the cloud cover.

“You could hear the entire audience react at the first viewing of the sun,” said Jean-Yves Ghazi, president of the Empire State Building Observatory. “Everybody was gasping and it was absolutely magical.”

Read more at the link.

US-SOLAR-ECLIPSE-WEATHER

Annular (partial solar) eclipse is seen as the sun rises over Scituate Light in Scituate, MA, June 10, 2021. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) via Getty Images)

From Stephen Collinson at CNN on Biden’s first foreign trip: Why Biden’s foreign trip is so unique and so important.

No US President has ever left the nation’s shores with democratic values under attack as broadly and systemically at home as they are abroad. This extraordinary reality will complicate his mission to purge the trauma of the Donald Trump era and convince both foes and friends that the US is reclaiming its global leadership role for good.

Biden meets British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday before the G7 summit, makes a hop to NATO in Brussels, then has a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva that will evoke the most tense days of the Cold War.

“We’re going to make it clear that the United States is back and democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges,” Biden told US troops at an air base in eastern England on WednesdaFor Biden, democracy is not just some abstract concept from civics class that Americans experience only when they enter the voting booth every few years.

It is a system, a way of life and a set of rules and norms that made the United States the strongest and richest country in history. The free, prosperous nations the US rebuilt and protected after World War II faced down communist tyranny in the form of the Soviet Union and underwrote 70 years of peace. This web of open, like-minded countries is also the key to America’s global power. If democracy ebbs abroad, so does US influence.

The rise of a new superpower, China, determined to overhaul US riches and power is becoming a grave threat to democracy, and offers potential autocrats an alternative power template of one-party rule.

Russia — the adversary that Biden will confront at the end of his Europe trip — meddled in the last two US elections to help Trump, who often seemed to advance its foreign interests over America’s.

But the most extraordinary feature of Biden’s trip is that he’s not an American President going out to confront tyranny abroad — that’s happened before. He’s huddling with US allies at a moment when the greatest threat to democracy comes from within the United States.

The world looked on, horrified, at the insurrection against the US Capitol orchestrated by Trump in January. Since then, the ex-President has poisoned millions of Americans against democracy with his false electoral-fraud claims. Republican state lawmakers are quickly passing bills that make it harder for all but their own supporters to vote and make it easier to steal elections. The principle that voters have the right to pick their own leaders is under threat.

Thursday’s eclipse over the Toronto skyline.Credit Frank Gunn, The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

Thursday’s eclipse over the Toronto skyline. Credit Frank Gunn, The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

I don’t see how U.S. democracy can be saved unless Trump and his enablers are investigated and prosecuted. It’s also vitally important to investigate the insurrection that Trump incited on January 6, 2021. There are endless avenues of corruption to deal with from Trump’s four years in office, but here’s the latest to hit the news (actually is old news…). 

Adam Klasfeld at Law and Crime: ‘Point of No Return’: Don McGahn Told Congress How Close Trump Came to ‘Inflection Point,’ Another ‘Saturday Night Massacre.’

In a fit of pique over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, former President Donald Trump almost reached an “inflection point” and “point of no return” that would have set in motion a Richard Nixon-style “Saturday Night Massacre,” ex-White House Counsel Don McGahn recently told Congress behind closed doors.

The just-released transcript of McGahn’s closed door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee contains a series of new answers and elaborations on details that were publicized in the Mueller Report.

Releasing the June 4th transcript on Wednesday, Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said: “Mr. McGahn provided the Committee with substantial new information—including firsthand accounts of President Trump’s increasingly out of control behavior, and insight into concerns that the former President’s conduct could expose both Trump and McGahn to criminal liability.”

“Mr. McGahn also confirmed that President Trump lied when he denied the accuracy of the Mueller report, and admitted that he was the source for a Washington Post report that confirmed Trump’s direction to McGahn to remove the Special Counsel,” Nadler wrote in a statement.

In the transcript, McGahn explains his reluctance to convey a message from Trump pressuring then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to not allow the special counsel to serve because of alleged conflicts—a request that McGahn considered an “inflection point.”

“‘Inflection point,’ with that I meant a point of no return,” McGahn testified. “If the Acting Attorney General received what he thought was a direction from the counsel to the President to remove a special counsel, he would either have to remove the special counsel or resign. We are still talking about the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ decades and decades later.”

Have a great Thursday Sky Dancers!!


Lazy Caturday Reads

Very Unpleasant Weather, George Cruikshank, 1820

Very Unpleasant Weather, George Cruikshank, 1820

Good Afternoon!!

New England weather is insane!! Just a couple of days ago, it was in the 90s here. Now it’s raining cats and dogs and 46 (feels like 41). I had to turn the heat on in my apartment this morning! Memorial Day weekend is usually the first big weekend on the Cape, but I don’t think it will be that nice down there. The rain and cold is supposed to continue through Monday. On the plus side, it’s perfect weather for reading mysteries. Anyway, here’s what’s happening in the news.

As everyone knows, yesterday Senate Republicans blocked the bill that would have created a bipartisan commission to investigation the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

NPR: Senate Republicans Block A Plan For An Independent Commission On Jan. 6 Capitol Riot.

Bipartisan legislation to establish an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has failed in the Senate, as Republicans staged their first filibuster since President Biden took office to block the plan.

The final vote Friday was 54-35, but Republicans withheld the votes necessary to bring the bill up for debate. Just six GOP senators joined with the Democrats, leaving the measure short of the 60 votes needed to proceed.

Cat+in+Rain Tarra Lyons

Cat in the rain, by Tarra Lyons

The proposed commission was modeled on the one established to investigate the 9/11 terror attacks, with 10 commissioners — five Democrats and five Republicans — who would have subpoena powers. A Democratic chair and Republican vice chair would have had to approve all subpoenas with a final report due at the end of the year.

The House approved the measure 252-175 last week with 35 Republicans joining all Democrats in support of the plan.

But Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, were deeply skeptical of the commission in the days leading up to the vote.

McConnell had dismissed the proposal as a “purely political exercise,” given that two Senate committees are already looking into the events of Jan. 6. In remarks from the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell called into question how much more a commission would be able to unearth….

In remarks on the Senate floor after the vote, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described the outcome this way: “[O]ut of fear of — or fealty to — Donald Trump, the Republican minority just prevented the American people from getting the full truth about Jan. 6.” He added: “Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they’re afraid of Donald Trump.”

Joe Manchin was very upset about the vote, but he isn’t willing to do anything about the systemic problems that allowed a minority of Republicans to defeat the majority. Raw Story: 

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) Friday afternoon after failing to help get at least 10 Republicans to join with Democrats to not filibuster a vote on a bill to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, expressed frustration….

Manchin’s full remarks, which he made to Forbes’ Andrew Solender about Republicans voting to block the January 6 insurrection commission bill:

“This job’s not worth it to me to sell my soul. What are you gonna do, vote me out? That’s not a bad option, I get to go home.”

“If that’s what they wish. But I’m sure not going to sell my soul when I know what’s right. And this is right for us to start healing the country. You’ve got to get this commission.”

Manchin, who has also announced he will not support HR1/S1, the “For the People Act” to protect voting rights, has positioned himself as something of a powerbroker, given his conservative voting record (Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, is ranked more liberal than Manchin.) He absolutely has refused to allow the filibuster (which was designed to block civil rights legislation from passing during the past 99 years, and especially used during the late middle 20th century,) to be killed.

The Nation’s Justice Correspondent Elie Mystal notes “if the filibuster didn’t exist, the 1/6 commission would have gotten 10-15 Republican votes.”

c378bdc2b541226b54cc26a199ce5393The other Democratic roadblock, Senator Krysten Sinema, supposedly supports the commission, but instead decided to help kill it. The Arizona Republic: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema skips Jan. 6 US Capitol riot commission vote.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema skipped Friday’s procedural Senate vote on establishing a bipartisan commission to study the U.S. Capitol riot. 

Senate Republicans, in their first use of the filibuster under President Joe Biden, blocked the legislation from proceeding. 

It’s unclear why Sinema, D-Ariz., missed the vote, which took place Friday morning after Republicans forced an overnight marathon session involving separate legislation intended to bolster the U.S.’s competitiveness against China. She was last seen voting Thursday evening on the Senate floor on that legislation.

EJ Montini at The Arizona Republic: The way Sen. Kyrsten Sinema helped to kill the Jan. 6 commission.

Make no mistake, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema helped to kill the bill that would have created a commission to investigate the insurrection of Jan. 6, even though creating such a commission is something she supported.

Just last week Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia issued a statement urging Republican colleagues to vote for the commission.

Sinema and Manchin are staunch supporters of the Senate’s filibuster rule, which requires a 60-vote majority to pass legislation. They were hoping to get more of their Republican colleagues to reach across the aisle to help create a commission….

Essentially, even when there is a bipartisan majority of senators supporting a course of action – as 54 did with establishing a commission – a minority can keep it from happening.

The same fate awaits the For the People Act, a sweeping piece of legislation aimed at combating voter suppression laws being enacted in many state legislatures – including ours.

David Smith at The Guardian: Republicans’ blocking of the Capitol commission shows how deep the rot is.

The question now is not so much whether the Republican party can be saved any time in the foreseeable future. It is what Joe Biden and the Democrats should do when faced with a party determined to subvert democracy through any means necessary, including violence.

On Friday Republicans in the Senate torpedoed an effort to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the deadly insurrection by Donald Trump’s supporters at the US Capitol on 6 January, deploying the procedural move known as the filibuster to stop it even being debated.

Fearful perhaps of what such a commission might uncover about their own role as co-conspirators, most brushed aside personal pleas by Gladys Sicknick, the mother of a police officer who was that day sprayed with a chemical, collapsed and later had a stroke and died….

Cats. Rain. by Elena Reutova, 2020

Cats. Rain. by Elena Reutova, 2020

One of America’s two major parties now falls outside the democratic mainstream – think “far right” in European terms. But are Democrats taking the existential threat sufficiently seriously or sleepwalking towards disaster in the next election cycle? [….]

Minutes after Friday’s vote, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, seemed to get it, arguing that Republicans acted out of “out of fear or fealty” to Trump and made his false claim of a stolen election their official policy. “Trump’s big lie is now the defining principle of what was once the party of Lincoln,” Schumer said. “Republican state legislatures, seizing on the big lie, are conducting the greatest assault on voting rights since the beginning of Jim Crow.”

But national voting rights legislation that would counter such steps is in deep trouble on Capitol Hill. Biden’s deadline for a police reform law named after George Floyd has come and gone due to Republican objections. His ambitious infrastructure investment is stalling as Republicans seek to shave billions off.

If Democrats can’t get rid of the filibuster, U.S. democracy may be in its death throes. 

Michael Kranish, Mike DeBonis, and Jacqueline Alemany at The Washington Post: Democrats grapple with the enemy within: What to do about the filibuster rule that could kill their agenda.

On Friday, for the first time this congressional session, Republicans used the filibuster on a piece of legislation, killing the proposal to form a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the very institution in which they sit. A growing number of Democrats, a group that now goes beyond the liberal wing of the party, believe that if Republicans were willing to use the procedure to kill what once was considered an uncontroversial bipartisan idea, they won’t hesitate to use it on more contentious parts of President Biden’s agenda.

“If you can’t get a Republican to support a nonpartisan analysis of why the Capitol was attacked the first time since the War of 1812, then what are you holding out hope for?” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is an advocate of reforming and potentially eliminating the filibuster.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) stressed that the filibuster was not in the Constitution, calling it an anti-democratic tool used to “block the will of the majority of the American people.”

“The framers of the Constitution built plenty of checks and balances into our system and they didn’t think we needed a filibuster — it’s a complete invention of the U.S. Senate,” Van Hollen said. “The greater danger to our country right now is our inability to get big things done.” [….]

raining-cats-dogs-4-590x368But some Democratic senators, particularly those who won by narrow margins or are from states won by former president Donald Trump, insist that bipartisanship is not dead. Indeed, skepticism about flatly eliminating the filibuster goes deeper in the Democratic ranks than the much-noted opposition of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). Members such as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said they are dismayed at Republican obstruction, but also believe that the specter of gridlock has been exaggerated by those pushing for rules changes.

“We’re not even six months into this administration. We’ve already passed a major bipartisan bill on hate crimes. We’re about to pass another major bipartisan bill that will address research and innovation,” said Shaheen, referencing bills regarding attacks on Asian Americans and competition with China, while also saying she hopes for bipartisan support for an infrastructure plan. “I think it’s an important message for the American people to see that we’re going to work together in the best interests of the country.”

The result is a party impasse over how to handle the filibuster, which has alarmed activists and lawmakers who fear Democrats are fumbling a make-or-break moment with the midterms and the threat of losing control of Congress looming.

That’s just a brief excerpt. The whole article is well worth reading.

As Senate Republicans and one Democrat were killing the bipartisan commission, the DOJ criminal investigation continued. 

CNN: Prosecutors announce fresh charges against ‘Maga Caravan’ leader, others in January 6 insurrection.

The self-proclaimed leader of the “Maga Caravan,” which led dozens of vehicles to Washington, DC, to a rally held by former President Donald Trump, was charged with allegedly being one of the first insurrectionists to assault law enforcement at the US Capitol, the Justice Department announced.

Kenneth Joseph Owen Thomas, 38, of East Liverpool, Ohio, was arrested in Alabama this week for federal charges that include assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers; obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder; and engaging in physical violence on Capitol grounds. Thomas made his initial court appearance in the Northern District of Alabama Wednesday, prosecutors said. He has not entered a plea and information about his attorney was unavailable on Thursday….

wry39LLvWV_ae0eldW850aOAer0DTaGBRWtOHmhDGPgInvestigators, in documents supporting Thomas’ arrest, describe how he convened the caravan of nearly 60 vehicles around midnight of January 6 to listen to speakers Mike Lindell and Michael Flynn, who were both parroting false accusations of election fraud.

Thomas identified himself in an interview with a local news station as “Pi Annon,” according to the criminal complaint. He later uploaded the videos from the insurrection, including one of the interview to his personal YouTube page where his display name is “Joseph Thomas,” according to the criminal complaint.

Body camera footage from Washington, DC’s Metropolitan Police Department allegedly showed Thomas “advancing toward a line of law enforcement and pushing against their shields … punched and struck the officers with his fist and forearm at least twice,” according to a news release. Law enforcement officers later confirmed the attack and stated the individual in the interview “was one of the first to come in and start hitting [and] pushing officers on the line,” prosecutors said.

Adam Klasfeld at Law and Crime: ‘2 If By Sea’: Oath Keepers Messages Shed New Light on Alleged Plot to Storm D.C. With Guns by Way of Potomac.

Hours before Senate Republicans killed an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6th siege, federal prosecutors disclosed communications about how Oath Keepers allegedly plotted to storm Washington, D.C. with guns by boat by way of the Potomac River.

Those discussions became public in a filing seeking to maintain the strict pretrial release conditions of Oath Keepers member Thomas Caldwell, whom prosecutors allege organized a group of militia members on “standby with guns in a hotel across the river.” In the brief, prosecutors also alleged that a message from the militia’s leader described a “worst case scenario” where former President Donald Trump “calls us up as part of the militia to to assist him inside DC.”

Pulling a line from one of the immortal verses of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the extremist group’s Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs allegedly imagined the militia members as the modern day equivalent of their American colonial forebears.

raining-cats-and-dogs-sue-tasker

Raining cats and dogs, Sue Tasker

“1 if by land,” Meggs allegedly wrote in an encrypted message on the group’s Signal channel, quoting Longfellow’s 1861 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

“North side of Lincoln Memorial,” Meggs’s message continued, according to the government. “2 if by sea[,] Corner of west basin and Ohio is a water transport landing !!”

The alleged Oath Keepers plot to ferry heavy weapons across the Potomac River on a boat was previously reported by the New York Times in February, but prosecutors first made new evidence supporting that claim public on the day Trump’s Republican Party blocked independent scrutiny into the attack.

According to the government’s eight-page brief, the 65-year-old Caldwell allegedly answered Meggs’s call by asking a member of another militia group about procuring a boat for their so-called “quick reaction force,” or QRF.

Read the rest at the Law and Crime link.

That’s it for me today. I’m going to curl up with a good book. I hope you enjoy the long weekend, whatever your weather!


Thursday Reads

Van Gogh Monmarte painting revealed

Scène de rue à Montmartre, 1887

Good Morning!!

I’m illustrating this post with paintings from Vincent van Gogh’s Paris years, because of this story from BBC yesterday: Van Gogh Paris painting goes on public display for first time.

A Street Scene In Montmartre has been owned by a French family for most of the time since it was painted in 1887.

Sotheby’s estimates it could fetch up to eight million euros (£6.9m) when it is sold at auction next month.

Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey told BBC News that this is “the first time we are able to see it properly”.

Small reproductions have been made in the past, often in black-and-white. “What is exciting is that it is a Van Gogh painting which has been hidden away ever since it came off the artist’s easel,” Mr Bailey said.

“It has always been in private collections, so only the owners and their friends knew it.

“It is an interesting picture because it is a transitional work between Van Gogh’s Dutch years, when he painted in dark, earthy colours, and the exuberant works that he did in Provence. It was in Paris that he discovered the Impressionists, and this led him to explore colour.”

It is one of a series of works Van Gogh created while lodging with his brother Theo in 1886 and 1887 a short distance from the street depicted in the painting….

Montmartre was still semi-rural when the scene was painted. A windmill features prominently behind some perambulating locals. The famous Sacré-Cœur church that now dominates the area was under construction at the time.

View of Paris from Vincent's Room, 1887

View of Paris from Vincent’s Room, 1887

I’m getting really angry about the treatment of Neera Tanden and Deb Haaland–both women of color–in the Senate. This attack on her by fake good ‘ol boy Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana is really disgusting. Andrew Solender at Forbes: GOP Senator Questions Neera Tanden’s Loyalty To Biden, America – Says Her ‘Allegiance’ Is To Hillary Clinton.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) denounced two of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet-level nominees in fiery terms Wednesday, questioning Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden’s loyalty to America.

Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, Kennedy expressed pessimism about Tanden’s imperiled nomination, stating, “I’m not saying she’s a smoked turkey, but the smoker is heating up.”

Kennedy pointed to Tanden’s past tweets attacking lawmakers as the main area of concern, but simultaneously launched into his own attacks, claiming there is bipartisan concern that Tanden’s “allegiance is not to America and it’s not to President Biden, it’s to Secretary Clinton.

Kennedy also echoed Republican attacks on Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Biden’s nominee for Interior secretary, as a radical leftist, but said he needs to “do a little more research” and is still undecided, according to pool reports.

Kennedy said he is “not impressed” with what he has seen from Haaland thus far, labeling her a “neo-socialist, left-of-Lenin whackjob” who is “living in La La Land,” citing her support for an oil and gas moratorium.

What an asshole. And remember, Kennedy is one of the eight Republicans who in 1918 spent the Fourth of July in Russia sucking up to Putin.

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Opinion: What terrible things did Neera Tanden tweet? The truth.

Can you believe that Neera Tanden called Hillary Clinton the “anti-Christ” and the “real enemy”?

Oh, wait. It was Ryan Zinke who said those things. Fifty-one Republican senators (and several Democrats, including Joe Manchin III of West Virginia) confirmed him as secretary of the interior in 2017.

Agostina Segatori Sitting in the Café du Tambourin, 1887

Agostina Segatori Sitting in the Café du Tambourin, 1887

And how about the times Tanden allegedly called the NAACP a “pinko organization” that “hates white people” and used racial epithets?

My bad. That was Jeff Sessions. Again, 51 Republican senators (and one Democrat, Manchin) voted to confirm him as attorney general in 2017.

Surely Tanden went beyond the pale when she “liked” a tweet calling then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry a “traitor” and “Vietnam’s worst export,” and when she suggested Clinton supporters leave the country.

Except Mike Pompeo was the one who did those things. He won confirmation as secretary of state in 2018 with the votes of 50 Republicans and six Democrats, including Manchin.

But, really, the most appalling thing Tanden said was that Muslims have a “deficient theology” and they “stand condemned.”

Whoops. That wasn’t Tanden but Russell Vought. Just last year, 51 Republicans voted to confirm him as director of the Office of Management and Budget — the same position Tanden is up for now.

Now, all 50 Senate Republicans, assisted by Manchin, are on the cusp of sinking Tanden’s nomination because they object to her harsh tweets. Many have noted the hypocrisy, particularly when compared with the treatment of Richard Grenell, an online troll who won confirmation as ambassador to Germany with 50 Republican votes — and Manchin, natch — despite routinely disparaging women’s appearances.

But this isn’t just about double standards. What really must sting about Tanden’s tweets is not that they were mean, but that, for the most part, they were true.

What really got Manchin’s goat was that Tanden criticized his daughter.

At The Daily Beast, David Rothkopf asks: Joe Biden Wants to Repair America. Will Joe Manchin Let Him?

Like 82 million others, I voted last year to entrust America to a moderate Democrat named Joe.

Little did I expect that the Joe who’d end up with the last word on a host of vital national issues would be Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin’s ascendancy came thanks to the Democratic victories in the two Georgia runoff races in January. That gave the party 50 votes in the Senate and control, thanks to the decisive tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, so long as the caucus maintains unity. What they could not count on, it turned out, was Manchin.

Fishing in Spring, 1887

Fishing in Spring, 1887

On issues from cabinet nominations to the filibuster to the minimum wage, Manchin has seized the power that breaking from the Democratic majority gives him. He does this in the name of being a so-called centrist, a moderate. But the reality is that he is proving to be a MINO, a moderate in name only, embracing views that are more like those of the increasingly radical Republican Senate caucus than they are like those of his Democratic colleagues….

One of the earliest signs that Manchin was perfectly happy to play the spoiler disrupting the aspirations of his own party leadership came even before the Democrats took control of the Senate. While negotiations were taking place between Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell over the new power-sharing arrangements in the 50-50 Senate, McConnell sought to put a stake through the heart of any idea the Democrats might have of seeking to abolish the filibuster, one of McConnell’s favorite tools of obstruction in the Senate, vital to enabling his minority to continue to block key legislation that could not make it to the filibuster threshold of 60 votes.

Manchin publicly announced his opposition to removing the filibuster. His rationale was that of all filibuster advocates, that it was an important institutional legacy in the Senate and helped drive bipartisanship by forcing the majority to seek some minority support for their legislation. Neither of these assertions are true, however. The filibuster was rarely used in the first 200 years of U.S. history and once it began to be used more frequently, from the 1990s onward, it was almost always used to block the passage of legislation rather to leverage opposing sides into dialogue.

Biden needs to start playing hardball with Manchin. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

The Capitol insurrection in the news:

Frank Figluzzi at MSNBC: The Senate asked all the wrong questions about the pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.

The Senate held its first hearings into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol on Tuesday. And I have to be honest: I was not impressed.

The cadre of former Capitol security chiefs testifying might as well have played a continuous recorded loop of them reciting in unison, “the intelligence wasn’t there,” in response to senators’ equally redundant questions about the Capitol security failure and why adequate resources weren’t deployed.

A Woman Walking in a Garden 1887

A Woman Walking in a Garden 1887

But neither the senators nor their witnesses addressed the toughest questions: Why didn’t you see what so many civilians did? What biases fed into the many incorrect assumptions made? And what keeps us collectively — as Americans, as law enforcement, and more specifically, as white people — from perceiving our own as a potential threat? The answers are complex — but the right questions need to be asked first.

The more that former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving, and former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger repeated their “intelligence was lacking” mantra, the less intelligent they sounded. Irving stated, “We did discuss whether the intelligence warranted having troops at the Capitol, and our collective judgment at that time was no, the intelligence did not warrant that.” Sund testified that “the level of probability of acts of civil disobedience/arrests on Jan. 6 ranged from ‘remote’ to ‘improbable'” and that “none of the intelligence we received predicted what actually occurred.”

Perhaps the dozens of intelligence professionals on Sund’s staff should include the cost of newspaper subscriptions and laptops in their next budget request. The truth is that there was significant online chatter and numerous media reports that protestors were targeting the electoral vote count. So then, what is it that keeps law enforcement professionals from seeing what’s right in front of them?

Ouch!

As these hearings continue, we will likely hear from the FBI and other law enforcement leaders. Importantly, we can expect to hear about the legal constraints on what that agency can and cannot do about monitoring social media, penetrating protests groups and investigating domestic extremism. These limits rightfully help preserve our civil liberties, free speech and freedom of association. And it’s true that law enforcement can’t possibly see and assess the universe of social media even if such monitoring were allowed. But plenty of social media posts prior to the insurrection spoke of violence, vandalism and targeting the Capitol — those things have little to do with exercising civil liberties.

After the insurrection, two ProPublica journalists interviewed 19 current and former U.S. Capitol Police officers about the assault on the Capitol. They also obtained confidential intelligence bulletins and previously unreported planning documents. Significantly, their reporting provides something other than the convenient “intelligence failure” rationale as to why planning was so poor when it came to protecting our iconic symbol of democracy.

Read the rest at MSNBC. 

NPR: Architect Of The Capitol Outlines $30 Million In Damages From Pro-Trump Riot.

The cost of repairing damages from the attack on the U.S. Capitol and related security expenses have already topped $30 million and will keep rising, Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton told lawmakers on Wednesday.

The events of Jan. 6, he said, were “difficult for the American people and extremely hard for all of us on campus to witness.”

Farmhouse in a Wheat Field, 1888

Farmhouse in a Wheat Field, 1888

Blanton said that congressional appropriations committees have already approved a transfer request of $30 million to pay for expenses and extend a temporary perimeter fencing contract through March 31.

But more money will be needed, he added: “History teaches us that project costs for replacements and repairs beyond in-kind improvements across campus will be considerable and beyond the scope of the current budgetary environment.”

The price tag will go even higher, Blanton told lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee, if the fence and other security measures are needed beyond March.

Republicans aren’t upset about the Capitol attack though. What they care about is Neera Tanden’s “mean tweets.”

Profiles of two of the insurgents:

The Daily Beast: An NYPD Cop’s Road From Terror ‘Victim’ to Capitol Rioter.

The retired NYPD cop now charged with assaulting a D.C. cop in the Capitol riot that has been called domestic terrorism was previously assigned to guard the ruins of the World Trade Center as recovery teams extracted the remains of innocents killed by Islamic terrorism.

And 54-year-old Thomas Webster once presented himself as a victim of terrorism in a civil suit filed in the same federal jurisdiction where he was accused this week of attacking a District of Columbia police officer “like a junkyard dog.”

Webster can be seen on video wielding a metal flagpole and seeking to tear off the cop’s gas mask with such ferocity that he became known online as “the eye gouger.”

Webster’s transformation from supposed terror victim to accused terrorizer caused him to be denounced by a law enforcement supervisor who directed and participated in the actual removal of remains from Ground Zero while the now retired cop stood guard at the periphery. The supervisor does not remember Webster from those months in downtown Manhattan but had seen the Jan. 6 video from the Capitol.

“I look at it as a further desecration of all first responders,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “It’s taken 20 years, but he managed in my view to be as guilty as any terrorist or terrorist wannabe. You are attacking the very principles of our existence: democracy, the Constitution, the Capitol.”

Bellingcat: Woman Accused of Stealing Nancy Pelosi’s Laptop Appears in Video Making Nazi Salute.

On January 6, 2021, Riley June Williams, a 22-year-old home care worker from Pennsylvania, was one of roughly 800 rioters who breached the US Capitol building in Washington D.C. While many engaged in property damage and violence that day, Williams’ case stands out given her ex-partner has alleged to the FBI that she stole a laptop from Nancy Pelosi’s office.

This former boyfriend also alleges that her goal was to sell the laptop to a Russian intelligence agency, a claim January court documents say “remains under investigation,” but which has been denied by Williams’ lawyer who accuses the former partner of seeking revenge. 

Vase with White and Red Carnations, 1886

Vase with White and Red Carnations, 1886

While Williams has not been charged with stealing the laptop itself, something she also denies, she faces multiple charges including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds as well aiding/abetting others to “embezzle, steal, purloin.”

Footage from January 6 released by ITV News shows Williams urging rioters upstairs towards Congressional offices. In one video from inside Pelosi’s office, a voice that the FBI states it believes to be Williams’ says “dude, put on gloves” before a gloved hand takes a laptop from a table. The affidavit links to a thread of captured Discord posts from a user named Riley bragging, “STOLE SHITT FROM NANCY POLESI [sic]”.

In an interview with ITV on January 16, Williams’ mother described her daughter as getting caught up in the moment. She noted that Riley had been radicalized on far-right message boards but described her daughter’s main political goal as, “…wanting America to get the correct information”. 

However, Bellingcat has since received information that suggests that Williams was more than just a Trump supporter caught up in the maelstrom. She is somebody who posted racist and Anti-Semitic content as well as filmed a video that appears openly pro-Nazi and promotes accelerationism (speeding up the collapse of society) as a pathway towards establishing a genocidal white supremacist state….

Several days after Williams was charged in mid-January, an antifascist activist reached out to Bellingcat with a video they believed showed her pledging allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Bellingcat has since shared the footage and findings of its investigation with NBC News.

The 36-second video opens with a young woman dancing in a dress while wearing a hat, glasses and a mask decorated with a skull. These skullmasks were adopted as a symbol by Atomwaffen and similar accelerationist Nazi terrorist groups back in 2017.

But so what? Have you heard about Neera Tanden’s tweets?

That’s all I have for you today. I know there’s lots of other news–what stories have caught your interest?