Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

On Thursday, June 11, Lawrence O’Donnell discussed the speech on Civil Rights that President John F. Kennedy gave from the Oval Office on that day in 1963. The purpose of the speech was to propose the Civil Rights bill that passed after Kennedy’s assassination. Fifty-seven years later, we’ve made some progress, but systemic racism still runs rampant in this country. I thought I’d share some excerpts from that long-ago speech today.

NPR: John F. Kennedy’s Address on Civil Rights.

On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation on the most pressing domestic issue of the day: the struggle to affirm civil rights for all Americans. His administration had sent National Guard troops to accompany the first black students admitted to the University of Mississippi and University of Alabama.

Excerpts selected by NPR:

…It ought to be possible… for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops.

…It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal.

Painting by Ekaterina Mateckaya

It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case….

…This is not a sectional issue…Nor is this a partisan issue…This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

The heart of the question is — whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities. Whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free….

…It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.

Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality…

You can watch the entire speech at C-Span. I watched it yesterday and it made me so sad. The comparison between Kennedy and the current occupant of the White House so so glaring. Not only was Kennedy capable of compassion and empathy, but he also spoke eloquently, in complete sentences and paragraphs. Today we have a fraudulent “president” who babbles nonsense, effortlessly lies about everything and has no idea how to do the job he holds even if he actually wanted to be a leader.

Cat in the window, by Joanna DeRitis

Speaking of Trump’s incoherent babbling, on Thursday he gave another strange Fox News interview with Harris Faulkner (who is black). For Fox, the questions were pretty tough. You can read the transcript and watch video excerpts at Factbase.

The most stunning moment in the interview was when Trump claimed to have done more for black Americans than any previous president, including Abraham Lincoln. Business Insider: Trump says Abraham Lincoln ‘did good’ for the Black community but that ‘the end result’ is ‘questionable.’

“So I think I’ve done more for the Black community than any other president, and let’s take a pass on Abraham Lincoln because he did good, although it’s always questionable, you know, in other words, the end result —” Trump said before Faulkner interjected.

“Well, we are free, Mr. President, so I think he did pretty well,” she said, referring to Lincoln.

“We are free,” Trump said. “You understand what I mean.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Faulkner said.

This isn’t the first time Trump has claimed he’s done more for the Black community than his predecessors.

“This may well be the president’s most audacious claim ever,” Michael Fauntroy, a professor of political science at Howard University, told The New York Times earlier this month. “Not only has he not done more than anybody else, he’s done close to the least.”

Of course it’s not really clear what Trump was trying to say, because his speech is so incoherent. At Slate, Jeremy Stahl tries to make sense of Trump’s words: What Was Trump Trying to Say About Abraham Lincoln?

A lot of people saw the transcript of those words—and perhaps watched the clip—and interpreted Trump as having said that “the end result” of Lincoln’s presidency—i.e., winning the Civil War, preserving the union, and ending the atrocity of chattel slavery—was “always questionable.” [….]

By Utagawa Hiroshige

I would never definitively state that I believed Trump didn’t mean the most racist possible interpretation of one of his often hard-to-grasp word salads. Indeed, he has in the past questioned the fact that the Civil War needed to occur, stating in 2017 that had Andrew Jackson been president at the time he would have stopped the Civil War from happening because he would have realized “there’s no reason for this.”

“The Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask the question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” Trump said back then.

As my former colleague, Jamelle Bouie, wrote at the time, that statement—apparently that Jackson could have come up with a perfect “deal” to prevent the Civil War—was as dangerous as it was ahistorical.

Given that past remark, it’s certainly plausible that Trump’s brain is so rotted from his own racism that he would say that the end results of Lincoln’s presidency were “questionable.” Based on the context of the question, though, and more recent comments from Trump, I think that is unlikely.

I interpret this particular word salad to be an attempt by Trump to validate his recent tweet that his administration “has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln.”

Trump was likely attempting to say that while “I think I’ve done more for the black community than any other president,” he would ask that in such a ranking “let’s take a pass” on including Lincoln, because it’s an unfair comparison, but—even if he were to go head-to-head with Lincoln for the title of “best president for black people ever”—despite the fact that Lincoln “did good,” it would still be “always questionable” whether Trump was better, because you have to consider “the end result” of each man’s presidency.

Okay . . . I guess that’s as good an interpretation as any.

At Vox, Zach Beauchamp discusses another howler from the interview: Trump: “The concept of chokehold sounds so innocent, so perfect.”

When asked about police use of chokeholds on suspects like George Floyd, who was killed after a Minneapolis officer pinned him by the neck with his knee for nearly nine minutes, Trump initially told Faulkner that “I don’t like chokeholds,” even saying that “generally speaking, they should be ended.” But he contradicted that pretty quickly, saying that when you’ve got someone who is “a real bad person … what are you gonna do now — let go?”

He even went further, saying that “the concept of chokehold sounds so innocent, so perfect,” if a lone police officer is attempting to detain someone.

Deborah DeWitt, Birdwatching

His position, as far as I can tell, seems to be that maybe sometimes individual officers need to use chokeholds, but the more police there are, the less likely it is they’ll need to use one:

TRUMP: I think the concept of chokehold sounds so innocent, so perfect. And then you realize, if it’s a one-on-one. But if it’s two-on-one, that’s a little bit a different story. Depending on the toughness and strength — you know, we’re talking about toughness and strength. There’s a physical thing here too.

FAULKNER: If it’s a one-on-one for the [officer’s] life …

TRUMP: And that does happen, that does happen. You have to be careful.

The most relevant part here isn’t the president’s views on the details of self-defense tactics, but rather the lack of empathy in the way he talks about the issue. The only world in which police using chokeholds could sound “innocent” or “perfect” is a world in which you don’t think about what happens to people when they’re literally being choked — or one where you assume that it won’t happen to people like you.

A recent LA Times investigation found that 103 people were “seriously injured” by police using “carotid neck restraints” in California between 2016 and 2018. Black people, who make up 6.5 percent of the state’s population, were 23 percent of those injured in such holds.

Trump’s thinking seems so deeply shaped by his sense of generalized police innocence, his unwillingness to really process the fact of racial discrimination in police use of force, that he’s capable of saying out loud that chokeholds sound “innocent.”

What all this interpretation really boils down to is that Trump is disastrously incapable of doing the job of POTUS. And yet we’re stuck with him, so writers struggle to figure out what the hell he is talking about.

Stories to check out today

David Smith at The Guardian: ‘He just doesn’t get it’: has Trump been left behind by America’s awakening on racism?

The Washington Post: Trump says he’ll ‘go on and do other things’ if he loses in November.

Julian Borger at The Guardian: ‘Trump thought I was a secretary’: Fiona Hill on the president, Putin and populism.

The New York Times: Trump’s Actions Rattle the Military World: ‘I Can’t Support the Man’

NBC News: From ‘beautiful letters’ to ‘a dark nightmare’: How Trump’s North Korea gamble went bust.

The New York Times: Trump Moves Tulsa Rally Date ‘Out of Respect’ for Juneteenth.

The Daily Beast: Survivors of KKK’s Ax Handle Attack Appalled at Trump Speech.

The Washington Post: Republicans and Trump want a Jacksonville convention party. Some locals are worried about the area’s health.

The Daily Beast: A Black Man Was Found Hanging From a Tree—Residents Don’t Buy That It Was a Suicide.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Michael Flynn Writes Column Confirming He Is Definitely Insane.

The Atlantic: Coronavirus Researchers Tried to Warn Us. Before the pandemic hit, they struggled to get funding that might have helped us fight COVID-19.

USA Today: Fired Florida scientist builds coronavirus site showing far more cases than state reports.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Tinderbox America

Good Morning!!

The photos in today’s post are by Chinese photographer Wu Hongli, who has photographed street cats across China and several other countries. Read more about him and his project at National Geographic.

This week the U.S. added 1968-style violent protests to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and the growing madness of the monster in the White House who is doing his very best to make both of these crises so much worse.

Michelle Goldberg: America Is a Tinderbox. Scenes from a country in free fall.

The last two and a half months in America have felt like the opening montage in a dystopian film about a nation come undone. First the pandemic hit and hospitals in New York City were overwhelmed. The national economy froze and unemployment soared; one in four American workers has applied for unemployment benefits since March. Lines of cars stretched for miles at food banks. Heavily armed lockdown protesters demonstrated across the country; in Michigan, they forced the Capitol to close and legislators to cancel their session. Nationwide, at least 100,000 people died of a disease almost no one had heard of last year.

Then, this week, a Minneapolis police officer was filmed kneeling on the neck of a black man named George Floyd. As the life went out of him, Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, echoing the last words of Eric Garner, whose 2014 death at the hands of New York policemen helped catalyze the Black Lives Matter movement. Floyd’s death came only days after three Georgia men were arrested on charges of pursuing and killing a young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, whom they saw out running. A prosecutor had initially declined to charge the men on the grounds that their actions were legal under the state’s self-defense laws.

In Minneapolis protesters poured into the streets, where they met a far harsher police response than anything faced by the country’s gun-toting anti-lockdown activists. On Wednesday night, peaceful demonstrations turned into riots, and on Thursday Minnesota’s governor called in the National Guard.

For a moment, it seemed as if the blithe brutality of Floyd’s death might check the worst impulses of the president and his Blue Lives Matter supporters. The authorities were forced to act: All four of the policemen involved were fired, police chiefs across the country condemned them and William Barr’s Justice Department promised a federal investigation that would be a “top priority.” Even Donald Trump, who has encouraged police brutality in the past, described what happened to Floyd as a “very, very bad thing.”

But Trump can never allow himself to support human beings against authoritarian power.

But on Thursday night, after a county prosecutor said his office was still determining if the four policemen had committed a crime, the uprising in Minneapolis was reignited, and furious people burned a police precinct. (One of the officers was arrested and charged with third-degree murder on Friday.) On Twitter, an addled Trump threatened military violence against those he called “THUGS,” writing, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Whether Trump knew it or not, he was quoting a racist phrase from the 1960s used by George Wallace, among others. The president later tried to tamp down outrage by saying he was just warning of danger — the Trump campaign has hoped, after all, to peel off some black voters from the Democrats — but his meaning was obvious enough. This is the same president who on Thursday tweeted out a video of a supporter saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”

The Trump presidency has been marked by shocking spasms of right-wing violence: the white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Va., the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the mass shooting targeting Latinos in El Paso. But even as the country has simmered and seethed, there hasn’t been widespread disorder. Now, though, we might be at the start of a long, hot summer of civil unrest.

It certainly looks that way.

Julie Pace at the Associated Press: Analysis: Trump fuels new tensions in moment of crisis.

Over 48 hours in America, the official death toll from the coronavirus pandemic topped 100,000, the number of people who filed for unemployment during the crisis soared past 40 million, and the streets of a major city erupted in flames after a handcuffed black man was killed by a white police officer.

It’s the kind of frenetic, fractured moment when national leaders are looked to for solutions and solace. President Donald Trump instead threw a rhetorical match into the tinderbox. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he declared ominously in a late-night tweet.

Trump’s words were so jarring that Twitter attached a warning to his post — as well as to an identical message from an official White House account — saying that the president of the United States was “glorifying violence.” It’s the first time the social media giant has taken such a step with any world leader, prompting new claims of bias from Trump and some of his conservative allies.

The episode encapsulated Trump’s approach to the presidency and to this time of national crisis, which has upended nearly every aspect of American life and put his November reelection prospects at risk. He’s latched on to personal grievances and cast himself as a victim, while making only occasional references to the staggering loss of life across the country. He’s willingly stoked partisan divisions over public health, and now racial divisions in the face of a death, rather than seeking opportunities to pull the nation together.

Read the rest at AP.

Matt Zapotosky and Isaac Stanley-Becker at The Washington Post: Gripped by disease, unemployment and outrage at the police, America plunges into crisis.

America’s persistent political dysfunction and racial inequality were laid bare this week, as the coronavirus death toll hit a tragic new milestone and as the country was served yet another reminder of how black people are killed by law enforcement in disproportionately high numbers. Together, the events present a grim tableau of a nation in crisis — one seared by violence against its citizens, plagued by a deadly disease that remains uncontained and rattled by a devastating blow to its economy.

“The threads of our civic life could start unraveling, because everybody’s living in a tinderbox,” said historian and Rice University professor Douglas Brinkley.

Barbara Ransby, a historian at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a longtime political activist, said the toll of the coronavirus outbreak made long-standing racial inequities newly stark. Then, images of police violence made those same disparities visceral.

“People are seething about all kinds of things,” said Ransby, the author of “Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First Century.” “There are major turning points and ruptures in history. . . . This is one of these moments, but we’ve not seen how it will fully play out.”

Read more at the WaPo.

This seems really ominous from James LaPorta at the Associated Press: Pentagon puts military police on alert to go to Minneapolis.

As unrest spread across dozens of American cities on Friday, the Pentagon took the rare step of ordering the Army to put several active-duty U.S. military police units on the ready to deploy to Minneapolis, where the police killing of George Floyd sparked the widespread protests.

Soldiers from Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Drum in New York have been ordered to be ready to deploy within four hours if called, according to three people with direct knowledge of the orders. Soldiers in Fort Carson, in Colorado, and Fort Riley in Kansas have been told to be ready within 24 hours. The people did not want their names used because they were not authorized to discuss the preparations.

The get-ready orders were sent verbally on Friday, after President Donald Trump asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper for military options to help quell the unrest in Minneapolis after protests descended into looting and arson in some parts of the city.

Trump made the request on a phone call from the Oval Office on Thursday night that included Esper, National Security Advisor Robert O’ Brien and several others. The president asked Esper for rapid deployment options if the Minneapolis protests continued to spiral out of control, according to one of the people, a senior Pentagon official who was on the call.

I’m not a lawyer, but I thought it was illegal for the U.S. military to police American citizens. More from the AP story:

The person said the military units would be deployed under the Insurrection Act of 1807, which was last used in 1992 during the riots in Los Angeles that followed the Rodney King trial.

“If this is where the president is headed response-wise, it would represent a significant escalation and a determination that the various state and local authorities are not up to the task of responding to the growing unrest,” said Brad Moss, a Washington D.C.-based attorney, who specializes in national security.

Members of the police units were on a 30-minute recall alert early Saturday, meaning they would have to return to their bases inside that time limit in preparation for deployment to Minneapolis inside of four hours. Units at Fort Drum are slated to head to Minneapolis first, according to the three people, including two Defense Department officials. Roughly 800 U.S. soldiers would deploy to the city if called.

One more and I’ll end this catalog of horrors. I read this post at bellingcat a couple of days ago, and Michelle Goldberg discusses it in her NYT op-ed quoted up top: The Boogaloo Movement Is Not What You Think.

As Minneapolis exploded over the death of a another black man at the hands of police, members of a weird political subculture weighed a response.

On the internet, meanwhile, a largely white, and far right movement publicly contended over what risks its members should take to support a black man killed by police.

Wu Hongli and his rescued cat

On the Facebook page, Big Igloo Bois, which at the time of writing had 30,637 followers, an administrator wrote of the protests, “If there was ever a time for bois to stand in solidarity with ALL free men and women in this country, it is now”.

They added, “This is not a race issue. For far too long we have allowed them to murder us in our homes, and in the streets. We need to stand with the people of Minneapolis. We need to support them in this protest against a system that allows police brutality to go unchecked.”

One commenter added, “I’m looking for fellow Minneapolis residents to join me in forming a private, Constitutionally-authorized militia to protect people from the MPD, which has killed too many people within the last two years.”

These exchanges offer a window into an extremely online update of the militia movement, which is gearing up for the northern summer. The “Boogaloo Bois” expect, even hope, that the warmer weather will bring armed confrontations with law enforcement, and will build momentum towards a new civil war in the United States.

Mostly, they’re not even hiding it. And for the last several months, their platform of choice has been Facebook.

Like many other novel extremist movements, the loose network of pro-gun shitposters trace their origins to 4chan. What coherence the movement has comes from their reverence for their newly-minted martyrs and a constellation of in-jokes and memes

The article describes how this subculture has used Facebook to advance its agenda. Facebook is aiding numerous violent right wing movements and actively enabling the campaign of Donald Trump. Read more at these links:

Zeynep Tufekci at The Atlantic: Trump Is Doing All of This for Zuckerberg.

John Stanton at The Daily Beast: Mark Zuckerberg Profits from Rage as Much as Donald Trump Does.

Donnie O’Sullivan at CNN Business: Mark Zuckerberg silent as Trump uses Facebook and Instagram to threaten ‘looting’ will lead to ‘shooting.’

That’s it for me. What do you think? What stories are you following today?


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: Winter Solstice Edition

Good Morning Sky Dancers!!

The Winter Solstice arrives tonight at 11:19 PM. Justin Greiser at The Washington Post: Winter solstice: There’s beauty in the darkest day of the year.

There’s something enchanting about the winter solstice, which arrives this weekend and marks our longest night of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Perhaps it’s the stark contrast between daylight and darkness that we experience when the winter sun is shining and not hiding behind a thick blanket of clouds. Or maybe it’s the fact that the sun hangs so low in the sky all day at this time of year that it almost feels as if our nearest star is within tangible reach, despite being 91 million miles away….

When astronomical winter officially begins, we’ll be less than halfway through our longest night of the year, which lasts more than 14 hours here in Washington. On both Saturday and Sunday, the sun will be up for just nine hours and 26 minutes, rising in the southeastern sky at 7:23 a.m. and setting to the southwest at 4:49 p.m.

I’ve always considered the winter solstice one of my favorite days of the year. Long before the dawn of modern technology, ancient cultures and civilizations have celebrated the winter solstice as a seasonal turning point, welcoming the inevitable return of the sun’s light.

Even in the modern age of technology and artificial lighting, the darkest day of the year forces us to ponder the importance of sunlight in our daily lives. It affects our moods, our productivity and even our sleep patterns. While the dark, gloomy days of winter can trigger seasonal affective disorder in many people, there’s something about the sun’s blinding, golden glow around this time of year that feels bizarrely uplifting.

Yule Cat (Icelandic folklore)

In Icelandic folklore, there are Christmas monsters, one of which is the Yule cat. Smithsonian Magazine: Each Christmas, Iceland’s Yule Cat Takes Fashion Policing to the Extreme.

For most kids who celebrate Christmas, new clothes probably sit just above lumps of coal on the good present scale. But according to an Icelandic tradition, getting new socks before Christmas might just save your life. That’s because the Jólakötturinn, or Yule Cat, eats anyone who hasn’t received new clothes by the time Christmas rolls around, Matthew Hart writes for Nerdist.

The story of the Jólakötturinn likely dates back to the Dark Ages, though the oldest written accounts are from the 19th century. In any case, much like the Krampus, the Yule Cat has long been a Christmas-time enforcer of good behavior, Miss Cellania writes for Mental Floss. According to Icelandic tradition, anyone who finished their chores before Christmas would get new clothes as a reward. Meanwhile, lazy children who didn’t get their work done would have to face the Jólakötturinn.

For starters, the Jólakötturinn is no mere kitten—it towers above the tallest houses. As it prowls about Iceland on Christmas night, the Yule Cat peers in through the windows to see what kids have gotten for presents. If new clothes are among their new possessions, the big cat will move along. But if a child was too lazy to earn their new socks, the Jólakötturinn will eat their dinner, before moving on to the main course: the child herself, Hart writes.

Read more at the link.

I posted this story on the thread yesterday, but I’m doing it again just because: The mystery of the missing police station donation toys has been solved. The thief is very cute.

A Massachusetts police department has a thief in its midst.

Officers with the Franklin Police department had worked diligently to collect toys for needy children this holiday season, but noticed that some of those toys were disappearing, according to CNN affiliate WFXT.

Fortunately, the culprit was caught in the act and on camera. It was their own therapy dog, Ben Franklin.

“When Ben saw the toys, he thought they all belonged to him,” Deputy Chief James Mill told the station.

Among the stolen items was a baby doll.

Ben tried to outrun officers when they caught him carrying a baby doll in its carrier by the handle. But he ended up just leading them back to the stash of goodies by his bed under a desk.

Police were unable to recover the toys from Ben, due to an excess of slobber. Officers have instead replaced the stolen toys, the station reported.

He will likely not face charges, the station said, but he has been banned from the toy room.

I just love that Ben wanted to play with a baby doll.

I hate to have to post actual news today, but I’ll force myself.

A new story at The Daily Beast reveals that the White House is blacking out important information in documents it has been ordered by a judge to release: Trump Administration Officials Worried Halt to Ukraine Aid Violated Spending Law.

When President Donald Trump ordered a halt to aid to Ukraine last summer, defense officials and diplomats worried first that it would undermine U.S. national security. Ukraine is, as some of them later testified before Congress, on the front lines of Russian aggression, and only robust American support would fend off aggressive Moscow meddling in the West. This worry eventually helped galvanize congressional support for one of the two impeachment articles approved by the House of Representatives on Dec. 18.

By Inge Sigrid Micha Koeck

But there was also a separate, less-noticed facet of the internal administration uproar set off by Trump’s July 12 order stopping the flow of $391 million in weapons and security assistance to Ukraine. Some senior administration officials worried that by defying a law ordering that the funds be spent within a defined period, Trump was asking the officials involved to take an action that was not merely unwise but flatly illegal.

The administration so far has declined to release copies of its internal communications about this vital issue—the legality of what Trump had ordered. On Friday, in 146 pages of new documents provided to the Center for Public Integrity under a court order, the Justice Department blacked out —for the second time—many of the substantive passages reflecting what key officials at the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget said to one another.

But considerable evidence is still available that those at key institutions responsible for distributing the Ukraine aid worried the halt potentially violated a 45-year-old law written to keep presidents from ignoring the will of Congress, according to public statements and congressional testimony.

Click the link to read the rest.

Bloomberg: Trump Quest to Expose Whistle-Blower Hard to Pull Off in Senate.

President Donald Trump says his impeachment trial should deliver on a goal he’s nurtured for months: unmasking the whistle-blower who started it all. But that would pose legal and ethical challenges that would be hard to overcome….

A Senate demand that the whistle-blower testify would probably be challenged in court as a violation of the law’s protections, and as a move that could put the unidentified person at risk while extracting only secondhand evidence of limited value. Lawmakers of both parties may share those concerns….

By Kazuaki Horitomo

Experts on whistle-blower laws say disclosing the person’s identify, as Trump desires, would clash with protections from reprisal under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998.

“Everyone knows that the whistle-blower’s career will be devastated” if identified publicly, said Stephen M. Kohn, who has represented whistle-blowers for more than three decades. “There is no doubt that this whistle-blower will be attacked on social media vigorously and for years to come.”

I didn’t watch the debate, but reportedly one of the big issues was about the “progressive” candidates who have pledged not to hold fundraisers for big donors. Frankly, I think that’s silly as long as Republicans are raking in all the money they can. It only makes it harder for Democrats to compete. Anyway, a very generous donor is insulted. The New York Times: Democrats Sparred Over a Wine Cave Fund-Raiser. Its Billionaire Owner Isn’t Pleased.

To reach the wine cave that set off a firestorm in this week’s Democratic presidential debate, visitors must navigate a hillside shrouded in mossy oak trees and walk down a brick-and-limestone hallway lined with wine barrels. Inside the room, a strikingly long table made of wood and onyx sits below a raindrop chandelier with 1,500 Swarovski crystals.

The furnishings drew the ire of Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Thursday, when she chastised Pete Buttigieg for holding a recent fund-raiser in a wine cave “full of crystals” where she said guests were served $900 bottles of wine….

Illustration by Théophile Steinlen, ’Compagnie française des chocolats et des thés’ (ca. 1895-1900)

On Friday, the billionaire couple who owns the wine cave — wine is often stored underground because of the cool, stable temperatures — said they were frustrated that their property had set off one of the fiercest back-and-forths of the debate. Watching the contentious moment on television, they grew frustrated as Ms. Warren and other candidates used their winery as a symbol of opulence and the wealthy’s influence on politics.

“I’m just a pawn here,” said Craig Hall, who owns Hall Wines, which is known for its cabernet sauvignon, with his wife, Kathryn Walt Hall. “They’re making me out to be something that’s not true. And they picked the wrong pawn. It’s just not fair.”

Mr. Hall said he had not settled on a favorite Democratic candidate, but that Mr. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., was a leading contender. His positions on climate change, gun safety and immigration appealed to the couple, said Mr. Hall, who added that he wanted it to be easier for middle-class Americans to start successful businesses.

The Halls have given at least $2.4 million to Democratic candidates, committees and PACs since the 1980s, according to Federal Election Commission records. They have donated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Kamala Harris of California before she ran for president.

Of course Warren had no problem beginning her campaign with money she got from wealthy donors.

The Washington Post published a shocking immigration story yesterday: Under secret Stephen Miller plan, ICE to use data on migrant children to expand deportation efforts.

The White House sought this month to embed immigration enforcement agents within the U.S. refugee agency that cares for unaccompanied migrant children, part of a long-standing effort to use information from their parents and relatives to target them for deportation, according to six current and former administration officials.

By Utagawa Hiroshige, ‘Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival’ (1857) Japanese

Though senior officials at the Department of Health and Human Services rejected the attempt, they agreed to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to collect fingerprints and other biometric information from adults seeking to claim migrant children at government shelters. If those adults are deemed ineligible to take custody of children, ICE could then use their information to target them for arrest and deportation.

The arrangement appears to circumvent laws that restrict the use of the refu­gee program for deportation enforcement; Congress has made clear that it does not want those who come forward as potential sponsors of minors in U.S. custody to be frightened away by possible deportation. But, in the reasoning of senior Trump administration officials, adults denied custody of children lose their status as “potential sponsors” and are fair game for arrest.

The plan has not been announced publicly. It was developed by Stephen Miller, President Trump’s top immigration adviser, who has long argued that HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement is being exploited by parents who hire smugglers to bring their children into the United States illegally. The agency manages shelters that care for underage migrants who cross the border without a parent and tries to identify sponsors — typically family members — eligible to take custody of the minors.

Read more at the WaPo.

That’s it for me. What stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Lighter Stories for a Dark Time

By Didier Lourenco

Good Morning!!

I hope all you Sky Dancers are having a nice weekend! I’m going to stick with lightweight stories today, because I’ve been feeling so discouraged by the political news. So here goes.

You know that impenetrable wall that Trump is trying build on our Southern border? It’s not working out so well. The Washington Post: Smugglers are sawing through new sections of Trump’s border wall.

SAN DIEGO — Smuggling gangs in Mexico have repeatedly sawed through new sections of President Trump’s border wall in recent months by using commercially available power tools, opening gaps large enough for people and drug loads to pass through, according to U.S. agents and officials with knowledge of the damage.

The breaches have been made using a popular cordless household tool known as a reciprocating saw that retails at hardware stores for as little as $100. When fitted with specialized blades, the saws can slice through one of the barrier’s steel-and-concrete bollards in a matter of minutes, according to the agents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the barrier-defeating techniques.

By Nastya Ozozo

After cutting through the base of a single bollard, smugglers can push the steel out of the way, allowing an adult to fit through the gap. Because the bollards are so tall — and are attached only to a panel at the very top — their length makes them easier to push aside once they have been cut and are left dangling, according to engineers consulted by The Washington Post….

Trump has increasingly boasted to crowds in recent weeks about the superlative properties of the barrier, calling it “virtually impenetrable” and likening the structure to a “Rolls-Royce” that border-crossers cannot get over, under or through.

Hahahahaha!! A bit more:

The smuggling crews have been using other techniques, such as building makeshift ladders to scale and overtop the barriers, especially in the popular smuggling areas in and around San Diego, according to nearly a dozen U.S. agents and current and former administration officials….

The U.S. government has not disclosed the cutting incidents and breaches, and it is unclear how many times they have occurred. U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to provide information about the number of breaches, the location of the incidents and the process for repairing them. Matt Leas, a spokesman for the agency, declined to comment, and CBP has not yet fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request seeking data about the breaches and repairs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the private contractors building the barrier, referred inquires to CBP….

In the San Diego area, smugglers have figured out how to cut the bollards and return them to their original positions, disguising the breaches in the hope that they will go unnoticed and can be reused for repeated passage. Agents said they have learned to drive along the base of the structure looking for subtle defects, testing the metal by kicking the bollards with their boots.

Kazuaki Horitomo, tattooed cats

If damage is detected, welding crews are promptly sent to make fixes. The smugglers, however, have returned to the same bollards and cut through the welds, agents say, because the metal is softer and the concrete at the core of the bollard already has been compromised. The smugglers also have tried to trick agents by applying a type of putty with a color and texture that resembles a weld, making a severed bollard appear intact.

I guess it’s not so funny when you think about what a waste of taxpayer money this boondoggle is.

Also at The Washington Post, yesterday Alexandra Petri had a little fun with Trump’s announcement that he’s now a Florida resident: ‘Why I’m Leaving New York,’ by Donald Trump. A sample:

I did not leave for a long while because I was in love with New York. I do not mean love in the gross way you feel inside that makes you weak. I mean love like, the city begged and pleaded with me, the city wanted to give me everything, they would catch and kill the bad stories for me. Here I was in Manhattan.

I remember when my publicist and I first moved to Manhattan. We needed new faces. All the old faces of contractors were upset, they whined and sobbed, they said, pay me, pay me, please. But I didn’t pay them. New York was a wonderful place, a brass jungle where dreams were made of, where you did not have to pay the people who built the dreams.

But the city changed. They say I changed, but you know. I remember. One morning I woke up and something was different. There was a time when there were so many mobsters in my office that I worried about inviting cameras in to film the first season of “The Apprentice.” Where everything was brass, or at least brazen. When the smell of graft rose up from the whatever the river is called, and it was a good place to have a family, to not change your kids’ diapers in. Did the city change, or did I, or did the tax rate, or did the ongoing prosecution by the SDNY?

By Will Barnet, American, 1911-2012

So I said, should I leave? And the people cried.

A man came up to me on the street, he said, “Sir, you can’t leave, you can’t leave New York!” And he was crying. He said, “It’s going to be carnage if you leave, sir, it’s going to be bloody, painful carnage.” And I said, “I know, believe me, it’s going to be bad, but I have to do it! What can I say? They don’t tax you so good here in New York City. They don’t treat you very nice.” I said, “Maybe treat me nice, and I will stay.” But they didn’t treat me nice, and now I have to go.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

At The New York Times, Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt analyze Trump’s insane storytelling about the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi:

It was a vivid scene worthy of the ending of a Hollywood thriller, the image of a ruthless terrorist mastermind finally brought to justice “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” to his death. But it may be no more true than a movie script.

In the days since President Trump gave the world a graphic account of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s last minutes, no evidence has emerged to confirm it. The secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the regional commander who oversaw the operation that killed the leader of the Islamic State all say they have no idea what the president was talking about.

Four other Defense Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share details of the raid, said they had seen no after-action reports, situation reports or other communications that support Mr. Trump’s claim. Nor did they have any indication that Mr. Trump spoke with any of the Delta Force commandos or ground commanders in the hours between the Saturday night raid and his Sunday morning televised announcement.

One American official who was deeply familiar with the operation dismissed the president’s version of events as mere grandstanding. Another senior official briefed extensively on the mission said, “I don’t know how he would know that. It sounds like something he made up.” The surveillance drone video Mr. Trump watched in the Situation Room had no live audio.

‘Hallowed Cat’ by Nicola Slattery

But we’re so used to Trump’s constant exaggerations and lies that no one seems to care.

That Mr. Trump seems to have made up the scene of a whimpering terrorist may be shocking on one level yet not all that surprising from a president who over the years has made a habit of inventing people who do not exist and events that did not happen. Mr. Trump’s flexibility with fact has become such an established feature of his presidency that polls show most Americans, including even many of his own supporters, do not, as a rule, take him at his word.

What may be most telling about the episode is how little attention the disparity of details received. In the past, presidential words were scrutinized with forensic exactitude and any variance from the established record could do lasting political damage. In the era of Trumpian truth, misstatements and lies are washed away by the next story, prompting Pinocchios from fact checkers and scolding from Democrats and Never Trumpers while Republicans dismiss them with that’s-just-Trump-being-Trump weariness.

“Donald Trump is not simply a serial liar; he is attempting to murder the very idea of truth, which is even worse,” said Peter Wehner, a former strategic adviser to President George W. Bush and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. “Because without truth, a free society cannot operate.”

Emphasis added.

The New York Times has three stories today analyzing Trump’s Twitter feed and the power of its influence. Here’s the main one: In Trump’s Twitter Feed: Conspiracy-Mongers, Racists and Spies.

Mr. Trump, whose own tweets have warned of deep-state plots against him, accused the House speaker of treason and labeled Republican critics “human scum,” has helped spread a culture of suspicion and distrust of facts into the political mainstream.

The president is also awash in an often toxic torrent that sluices into his Twitter account — roughly 1,000 tweets per minute, many intended for his eyes. Tweets that tag his handle, @realDonaldTrump, can be found with hashtags like #HitlerDidNothingWrong, #IslamIsSatanism and #WhiteGenocide. While filters can block offensive material, the president clearly sees some of it, because he dips into the frothing currents and serves up noxious bits to the rest of the world.

By Kelly Beeman

By retweeting suspect accounts, seemingly without regard for their identity or motives, he has lent credibility to white nationalists, anti-Muslim bigots and obscure QAnon adherents like VB Nationalist, an anonymous account that has promoted a hoax about top Democrats worshiping the Devil and engaging in child sex trafficking….

The New York Times examined Mr. Trump’s interactions with Twitter since he took office, reviewing each of his more than 11,000 tweets and the hundreds of accounts he has retweeted, tracking the ways he is exposed to information and replicating what he is likely to see on the platform. The result, including new data analysis and previously unreported details, offers the most comprehensive view yet of a virtual world in which the president spends significant time mingling with extremists, impostors and spies.

Fake accounts tied to intelligence services in China, Iran and Russia had directed thousands of tweets at Mr. Trump, according to a Times analysis of propaganda accounts suspended by Twitter. Iranian operatives tweeted anti-Semitic tropes, saying that Mr. Trump was “being controlled” by global Zionists, and that pulling out of the Iran nuclear treaty would benefit North Korea. Russian accounts tagged the president more than 30,000 times, including in supportive tweets about the Mexican border wall and his hectoring of black football players. Mr. Trump even retweeted a phony Russian account that said, “We love you, Mr. President!”

In fact, Mr. Trump has retweeted at least 145 unverified accounts that have pushed conspiracy or fringe content, including more than two dozen that have since been suspended by Twitter. Tinfoil-hat types and racists celebrate when Mr. Trump shares something they promote. After he tweeted his support for white farmers in South Africa, replies included “DONALD IS KING!” and “No black man can develop land.”

Read the analyses at the NYT.

Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread. I hope you’re enjoying a great Fall weekend!