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!


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

I hope you’ll forgive a little childhood nostalgia from me this morning. Yesterday I came down with a cold and sought a little comfort by recalling the Beatrix Potter stories my parents read to me as a child. I googled Potter and came across this wonderful story about her life at The Guardian: The strange life of Beatrix Potter — how rabbits (and mushrooms) set her free, by Matthew Dennison. Dennison wrote a brief biography of Potter, Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter. Here’s the Amazon blurb of the book:

Inspired by the twenty-three “tales,” Matthew Dennison takes a selection of quotations from Potter’s stories and uses them to explore her multi-faceted life and character: repressed Victorian daughter; thwarted lover; artistic genius; formidable countrywoman. They chart her transformation from a young girl with a love of animals and fairy tales into a bestselling author and canny businesswoman, so deeply unusual for the Victorian era in which she grew up. Embellished with photographs of Potter’s life and her own illustrations, this biography will delight anyone who has been touched by Beatrix Potter’s work.

At The Guardian, Dennison writes that at 25, Potter was:

Unmarried, cripplingly shy, plagued by poor health, she passed empty days in the nursery of her childhood home in South Kensington, at the beck and call of her irritable parents. She would remain there until her unexpected marriage at the age of 45.

In place of friends, she had a “noisy cheerful” pet rabbit called Benjamin H Bouncer. On good days, she noted, he was “amiably sentimental to the point of silliness”; on bad days, he ate the insides of her paintbox. Beatrix even dreamt about him: “Bunny came to my bedside in a white cotton nightcap and tickled me with his whiskers.” Inspired by Pepys, she wrote her diary in a complicated code of her own invention, sometimes framing her entries as letters to an imaginary friend called Esther. In these diaries, she vented frustration at her comfortable, pointless existence. As young as 10, she recorded an intention to “do something”.

It took quite awhile, but Potter eventually broke away from her restrictive parents by studying nature and painting. Of course she was best known for her illustrations of rabbits, but she also wrote illustrated stories about cats. I’ve used some of those illustrations in this post.

Now to the latest news.

We’re moving rapidly toward impeachment and maybe we’ll actually be able to rid ourselves of the monster in the White House. The revelations about Trump administration corruption are coming out at warp speed. You’ve probably been following every twist and turn, just as I have.

The latest: Last night we learned that Trump’s meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office was even worse than previously reported. The Washington Post: Trump told Russian officials in 2017 he wasn’t concerned about Moscow’s interference in U.S. election.

President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people, according to three former officials with knowledge of the matter.

The comments, which have not been previously reported, were part of a now-infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Trump revealed highly classified information that exposed a source of intelligence on the Islamic State. He also said during the meeting that firing FBI Director James B. Comey the previous day had relieved “great pressure” on him.

A memorandum summarizing the meeting was limited to a few officials with the highest security clearances in an attempt to keep the president’s comments from being disclosed publicly, according to the former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

A bit more:

White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said. Trump also seemed to invite Russia to interfere in other countries’ elections, they said.

The previous day, Trump had fired Comey amid the FBI’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia. White House aides worried about the political ramifications if Trump’s comments to the Russian officials became public.

Trump had publicly ridiculed the Russia investigation as politically motivated and said he doubted Moscow had intervened in the election. By the time he met with Lavrov and Kislyak, Trump had been briefed by the most senior U.S. intelligence officials about the Russian operation, which was directed by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and included the theft and publication of Democratic emails and the seeding of propaganda in social media, according to the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.

Apparently, no one told Robert Mueller about these remarks–unless they were redacted by Cover-Up General Bill Barr.

Another scoop from The New York Times: White House Classified Computer System Is Used to Hold Transcripts of Sensitive Calls.

The White House concealed some reconstructed transcripts of delicate calls between President Trump and foreign officials, including President Vladimir V. Putin and the Saudi royal family, in a highly classified computer system after embarrassing leaks of his conversations, according to current and former officials.

The handling of Mr. Trump’s calls with world leaders has come under scrutiny after questions over whether a transcript of a July 25 call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was improperly placed into this computer system.

The latest revelations show the focus that White House officials put o safeguarding not only classified information but also delicate calls with Mr. Trump, the details of which the administration did not want leaked.

In the case of the calls with the Saudi royal family, the restrictions were set beforehand, and the number of people allowed to listen was sharply restricted. The Saudi calls placed in the restricted system were with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Khalid bin Salman, who at the time was the Saudi ambassador to the United States….

The practice began after details of Mr. Trump’s Oval Office discussion with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, leaked to the news media, leading to questions of whether the president had released classified information, according to multiple current and former officials. The White House was particularly upset when the news media reported that Mr. Trump had called James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, a “nut job” during that same meeting, according to current and former officials.

The White House had begun restricting access to information after initial leaks of Mr. Trump’s calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia. But the conversation with Mr. Lavrov and Sergey I. Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, prompted tighter restrictions.

From The Guardian this morning: Trump’s Ukraine call sparks new questions over intelligence chief’s firing.

Three days after his now infamous phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Donald Trump abruptly fired his director of national intelligence in favour of an inexperienced political loyalist.

According to a New York Times report, the White House learned within days that the unorthodox call on 25 July with Zelenskiy had raised red flags among intelligence professionals and was likely to trigger an official complaint.

That timeline has raised new questions over the timing of the Trump’s dismissal by tweet of the director of national intelligence (DNI), Dan Coats, on 28 July and his insistence that the deputy DNI, Sue Gordon, a career intelligence professional, did not step into the role, even in an acting capacity.

Instead, Trump tried to install a Republican congressman, John Ratcliffe, who had minimal national security credentials but had been a fierce defender of the president in Congress. Trump had to drop the nomination after it emerged that Ratcliffe had exaggerated his national security credentials in his biography, wrongly claiming he had conducted prosecutions in terrorist financing cases.

Despite the collapse of the Ratcliffe nomination, Gordon was forced out. She was reported to have been holding a meeting on election security on 8 August when Coats interrupted to convinceher that she would have to resign.

According to The New York Times, Trump knew about the whistleblower complaint “Soon After Trump’s Call” with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, so it appears that Trump fired Coats and Gordon to keep them from getting involved in the situation. 

The Washington Post reports that Trump may have been trying to get China to investigate Hunter Biden’s activities there: Trump says he raised Hunter Biden allegations with his China go-between.

President Trump, who has alleged that Hunter Biden got the Chinese to put $1.5 billion into an investment fund, said during private remarks this week that he raised the matter with a U.S. executive who has served as his intermediary on trade talks with Beijing….

In remarks to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations on Thursday morning, Trump said he discussed Biden’s China work with Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive of the investment company Blackstone.

“I was with the head of Blackstone . . . Steve Schwarzman,” Trump said, according to a video of the remarks obtained by The Washington Post. After alleging that Hunter Biden got $1.5 billion from the Chinese, Trump said he asked Schwarzman, “Steve, is that possible?” Trump said Schwarzman asked, “Who got that?” and Trump responded, “Biden’s son.”

Trump said he asked Schwarzman how that could happen, and the executive responded: “Maybe I shouldn’t get involved, you know it’s very political.”

I wonder how many other countries Trump has tried to solicit for help with the 2020 election?

More stories to check out, links only:

Gary Kasparov at The New York Daily News: The dam is breaking: Trump’s true character is revealed, more fully than ever.

Michael Cohen at The Boston Globe: Forget impeachment. Donald Trump needs to resign.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: The Ukraine Scandal Is a Fitting Symbol of Trump’s Presidency. It May Finally Be His Downfall.

Anne Applebaum at The Washington Post: Americans spent decades discussing rule of law. Why would anyone believe us now?

The Washington Post: Deep Throat’s identity was a mystery for decades because no one believed this woman.

CNN: Democrats say White House stonewalling won’t drag out inquiry and will boost case for impeachment.

HuffPost: Now One Of Trump’s Court Picks Is Tied Up In This Ukraine Scandal.

The Washington Post: Amateur pro-Trump ‘sleuths’ scramble to unmask whistleblower: ‘Your president has asked for your help.’

The Daily Beast: Pompeo Grapples for Ways to Outlast Hurricane Rudy.

Have a great Caturday, Sky Dancers!!


Lazy Caturday Reads: We Are Screwed

Cat Lady Feeding the Cats, by Beryl Cook

Good Afternoon!!

This morning I’m having flashbacks to 2006. Democrats had just retaken the House and Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker. But even before she took the gavel, she announced that “impeachment is off the table.” Never mind that Bush and Cheney had lied us into an endless war.

The New York Times, November 8, 2006: Pelosi: Bush Impeachment `Off the Table.’

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi promised Wednesday that when her party takes over, the new majority will not attempt to remove President Bush from office, despite earlier pledges to the contrary from others in the caucus.

“I have said it before and I will say it again: Impeachment is off the table,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said during a news conference.

The Milk Man and Woman with Cat, by Beryl Cook

Pelosi also said Democrats, despite complaining about years of unfair treatment by the majority GOP, “are not about getting even” with Republicans.

She said the GOP, which frequently excluded Democrats from conference committee hearings and often blocked attempts to introduce amendments, would not suffer similar treatment.

“Democrats pledge civility and bipartisanship in the conduct of the work here and we pledge partnerships with Congress and the Republicans in Congress, and the president — not partisanship.”

She also extended an olive branch to Bush on the war in Iraq, saying she plans to work with him on a new plan but will not support the current strategy and supports beginning redeployment of troops by the end of the year.

Pelosi also said she supports the idea of a bipartisan summit on the war.

Now Pelosi is once again Speaker of the House and she’s doing a repeat performance with an even worse “president.” Until recently, I thought her arguments about “getting the facts” by holding hearings before rushing into impeachment made sense.

But the situation with Trump become an emergency. He is stonewalling any and all efforts to question witnesses in Congressional Committees. He is using mob tactics to force a foreign country into helping him get reelected. We can’t wait for the 2020 election to get rid of him, especially because there’s no guarantee that he won’t successfully win by cheating.

Please check out this piece by Tom Scocca at Slate: Someone Should Do Something.

After seeing the events of the past few days, in the light of the events of the days before those, in relation to the events that took place in the weeks, months, and years before that, I am strongly considering writing something that would address the question of whether Nancy Pelosi is bad at her job. If I did, I would argue that the House of Representatives, under Pelosi’s leadership, has come to function as a necessary complement to the corruption and incompetence of President Donald Trump—that a lawless presidency can only achieve its fullest, ripest degree of lawlessness with the aid of a feckless opposition party, which the Democrats are eager to provide.

Cats Eyeing a Lobster, by Beryl Cook

My editor thinks that I should write this article. I understand that in a week when one of the president’s most dedicated flunkies went before Congress to openly sneer at the idea that he should answer questions, making a show of obstructing what was supposed to be an investigation into obstruction of justice—a week now ending with reports, confirmed by the president’s jabbering ghoul of a lawyer on television, that the president tried to force a foreign country to act against the Democrats’ leading presidential candidate—there is good reason to feel that something needs to be written. It is certainly the sort of situation that someone could write about: the opposition party sitting on its hands and issuing vague statements of dismay while the entire constitutional order is revealed to be no match for the willingness of a president and his enablers to break the law.

At some point, in the future, it will probably be necessary to publish an article pointing out the terrifying mismatch between the ever-increasing speed with which our political system is falling apart and the slow trudge toward November 2020, when the Democratic Party hopes that voters will do what current elected Democratic officials will not do and take action to remove our visibly degenerating president from office. If someone did write an article like that, they could point out that by allowing Trump to remain in office unchallenged until the election, Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are saying that, although they hope the voters decide Trump is disqualified from office, they themselves do not think he has done anything wrong enough to merit his removal. If he had, they would do something, and they have not.

Feeding the Tortoise, Cat Looking On, by Beryl Cook

Scocca continues in this vein for several more paragraphs, ending with this conclusion:

Everyone in our democracy—citizens and officials alike, voters and writers, marchers and starers-at-screens—has a role to play, or to consider playing. If I were going to write about this, I would say that it might be time to plan on doing something.

Meanwhile, Jerry Nadler is supposedly thinking about maybe holding Corey Lewandowski in contempt for his disgraceful “testimony” several days ago.

We’re screwed, folks.

Yesterday it became clear that the New York Times is likely to do to Joe Biden what they did to Hillary Clinton and other media outlets will follow suit. Trump actually tweeted a video that featured NYT reporters arguing that Trump’s and Giuliani’s charges about Biden are legitimate.

And Trump (and the media, especially the NYT) will do the same thing to any Democratic candidate who ends up running against him.

We can see the future right now. It’s 2016 all over again.

Look at what happened to Kamala Harris at a forum on LGBT issues. Tommy Christopher at Mediaite: WATCH: ‘Biased’ LGBTQ Forum Question for Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren Goes Viral, Not in a Good Way.

On Friday, Democratic candidates participated in an LGBTQ forum in Iowa, moderated in part by Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Lyz Lenz. Her first question to Senator Harris was about a case in which, as attorney general of California, she defended the state corrections department against a lawsuit seeking gender reassignment surgery for a transgender woman inmate named Michelle-Lael Norsworthy.

“During your time as attorney general in California, you did send a brief seeking to deny gender-affirmation surgery for trans inmates,” Lenz said, adding “You stated that at the time you were just enforcing the existing law.:

By Beryl Cook

“But with this history, the question is, how can trans people trust you will advocate for them, and not just enforce discriminatory laws?” Lenz asked.

Harris responded by noting the support she has received from LGBTQ organizations in her home state, and said “When that case came up, it was because as attorney general, I had clients, and one of them was the California Department of Corrections, and it was their policy. When I learned about what they were doing, behind the scenes, I got them to change the policy.”

And here is how Lenz treat a nearly identical question to Elizabeth Warren:

But when Lenz brought up an arguably more damaging stance on the same issue with Elizabeth Warren, it wasn’t framed as a matter of trust, or even as something for which Warren should answer.

“In 2012, you wrote that you did not support gender-affirming surgery for trans inmates,” Lenz said — to a “Yeah” from Warren — then added “In January of this year, you reversed your opinion and said you had changed on this issue.”

But instead of asking Warren how she could be trusted on an issue that she just got right on (checks notes) 8 months ago, Lenz said Warren’s change “is great,” then asked “So you just said we have to get everybody on board, how do we even do that?”

“So, the way I think about this, and America, equal means equal,” Warren said, but did not address her prior comments in the remainder of her answer.

I guarantee you that if Warren is the nominee, she too will get the Hillary Clinton treatment from the media while Trump mocks her “Pocahantas” on an hourly basis.

 

Here is what the U.S. media should be doing about Trump.

Lenore Taylor at The Guardian: As a foreign reporter visiting the US I was stunned by Trump’s press conference.

…watching a full presidential Trump press conference while visiting the US this week I realised how much the reporting of Trump necessarily edits and parses his words, to force it into sequential paragraphs or impose meaning where it is difficult to detect.

The press conference I tuned into by chance from my New York hotel room was held in Otay Mesa, California, and concerned a renovated section of the wall on the Mexican border.

I joined as the president was explaining at length how powerful the concrete was. Very powerful, it turns out. It was unlike any wall ever built, incorporating the most advanced “concrete technology”. It was so exceptional that would-be wall-builders from three unnamed countries had visited to learn from it.

There were inner tubes in the wall that were also filled with concrete, poured in via funnels, and also “rebars” so the wall would withstand anyone attempting to cut through it with a blowtorch.

The wall went very deep and could not be burrowed under. Prototypes had been tested by 20 “world-class mountain climbers – That’s all they do, they love to climb mountains”, who had been unable to scale it.

It was also “wired, so that we will know if somebody is trying to break through”, although one of the attending officials declined a presidential invitation to discuss this wiring further, saying, “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing it”, which the president said was a “very good answer”.

The wall was “amazing”, “world class”, “virtually impenetrable” and also “a good, strong rust colour” that could later be painted. It was designed to absorb heat, so it was “hot enough to fry an egg on”. There were no eggs to hand, but the president did sign his name on it and spoke for so long the TV feed eventually cut away, promising to return if news was ever made.

By Beryl Cook

He did, at one point, concede that would-be immigrants, unable to scale, burrow, blow torch or risk being burned, could always walk around the incomplete structure, but that would require them walking a long way. This seemed to me to be an important point, but the monologue quickly returned to the concrete.

In writing about this not-especially-important or unusual press conference I’ve run into what US reporters must encounter every day. I’ve edited skittering, half-finished sentences to present them in some kind of consequential order and repeated remarks that made little sense.

But instead of focusing on Trump’s obvious ignorance, incompetence, and actual psychopathy and dementia, the media with focus on tearing down whichever Democrat wins the nomination. If it’s a black woman it will be even worse.

Finally, here’s the latest on the Ukraine scandal.

The Washington Post: How Trump and Giuliani pressured Ukraine to investigate the president’s rivals.

Politico: Trump tries to move Ukraine scandal’s focus toward Biden.

Three Republicans call for impeachment.

Tom Nichols at The Atlantic: If This Isn’t Impeachable, Nothing Is.

George Conway III and Neal Kaytal at The Washington Post: Trump has done plenty to warrant impeachment. But the Ukraine allegations are over the top.

Beryl Cook and her cat

Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below. Have a nice weekend Sky Dancers!!


Lazy Caturday Reads: Post-Debate Speculation

Edvard Meownch

Good Afternoon!!

The mainstream (AKA white male) media has decided for us that only the oldest (white) Democratic candidates are acceptable to them. It also appears they have mostly rejected Bernie Sanders and embraced Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. I’d like to offer some rare counterarguments, even though it might be a futile exercise.

Henry Olsen at The Washington Post: The three big winners of the Houston debate.

Thursday’s Democratic debate lacked the sparks and conflicts that characterized the first two outings. It nonetheless produced three clear winners: former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Obviously, I disagree with Olsen about Biden but, after all, he is a white man. He does note that Biden “weakened” over the course of the three hours and gave “convoluted” answers to foreign policy questions. He doesn’t mention Biden’s racist response to a question about overcoming the long-term effects of slavery. On Harris and Klobuchar:

By Tetsuo Takahara

Harris was charismatic. Alternately funny and serious, warm and strong, she came across as a real person with real experience and a passion for change. Her answers lacked some of the policy detail of her competitors, but she more than made up for that with her wit and some planned one-liners. Former Obama Cabinet secretary Julián Castro spoke about how Democratic presidential winners excited millions of voters to put together their victorious coalitions. His low-energy performance did not show he was the person to do that, but Harris’s suggested she could.

Whether she can turn a winning persona into a winning campaign remains to be seen. Democrats looking for passionate progressivism have found their champions, and Harris wisely is not trying to out-shout Sanders or Warren. Democrats looking for a steady, more centrist hand also have their person, and Biden thus far hasn’t given them reason to change. But the race is still young, and we know from experience that candidates drop rapidly in the face of attacks and under the pressure of the moment. If Harris can keep this up, she is positioned to pick up former supporters of any of the top three if they falter.

Klobuchar was the surprise of the night, finally showing some energy and life. Her opening statement carefully presented her case as the Midwestern working mom who can unite the country while advancing liberal policy goals. Cleverly blasting Sanders’s signature Medicare-for-all proposal by saying, “While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill,” was a masterstroke. Her closing statement was superb as she argued that only someone from the middle of the country could speak to the middle of the political spectrum.

By Anatoly Merkushov

She won’t gain much in the polls from her performance, but it nonetheless demonstrates how she could break out of the pack. Her standing in Iowa polls is slightly higher than her national standing, and her debate strategy was laser-targeted on the Iowa voter who isn’t a staunch progressive.

Christopher Frizzelle at The Stranger: Kamala Harris Landed One Solid Blow After Another Against Trump.

Kamala Harris may not be my number-one choice for nominee, but hot damn she can land a punch. At a previous debate, she took her prosecutorial skills straight to Joe Biden. Last night, she changed tack and went for Trump, over and over again. In doing so, she demonstrated what kind of adversary she would be in general-election debates against Trump, and probably did herself some favors by making it easier to picture her as the nominee. (Not that “winning” debates against Trump in a general election would necessarily mean beating him: Hillary Clinton’s debate performances were flawless).

See videos of Harris’ attacks on Trump at the link. Here’s her opening statement:

 

On the Biden front, I posted this piece by Jamil Smith in a comment yesterday, but it’s so important that I’m posting again here:

As you can see from these few articles in which I found praise of Harris, she probably will never be accepted as a legitimate candidate by the media or the “Justice Democrats,” who favor Sanders and Warren. But it’s possible she could attract the black vote if Biden drops out. And we need the black vote.

Rolling Stone: Why It’s Time for Joe to Go.

Donald Trump is not merely a bully, but a racist one. Bigotry has been the marrow of his presidency, so whoever hopes to face him next year will need to at least be fluent in the language of antiracism, if not be practicing it. It is not enough, as author Ibram X. Kendi writes in his new book How to Be an Antiracist, to simply claim that you are “not a racist.” Democrats, particularly white liberals, have skated on that for generations. There is too much institutional cruelty for the next president to undo should a Democrat defeat Trump next fall….

By Robert Romanowicz

Thankfully, ABC seemed to understand this. They had excellent moderators, including Univision’s Jorge Ramos and ABC correspondent Linsey Davis, the panel’s only African American. She asked several questions of the entire field that provoked the kind of frank and open discussion of black concerns and political interests that is rare for a presidential debate. It was fitting, given the setting on the historically black campus of Texas Southern University, but also because Davis said that young black voters consider racism their chief concern….

Davis…directed a question at Biden concerning his alarming 1975 comments on school segregation. She read the full quote, “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago,” and Biden smirked oddly as she did so. The correspondent followed up by asking, “What responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?” Without missing a beat, the Democratic front-runner delivered a response that was considerably more disqualifying than anything Castro said all night.

Having just had something offensive that he said 44 years ago quoted back to him, Biden took the opportunity to say something that was arguably worse.

Night City by Marija Jevtic

After proposing that teacher raises are the first step to undoing the legacy of slavery, Biden said the following. It’s worth reading in full.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need — we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy.

The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have — make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not daycare. School. We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children.

It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

That’s the current front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination a) first appearing to treat the mere mention of an old segregationist quote of his as ridiculous, then b) responding to a question about repairing the legacy of slavery by saying that the government needs to have teachers go into the homes of kids in poor schools to teach the parents how to raise those children. And what color are the children, disproportionately, going to those poor schools? Nowhere in that answer is a prescription for making the poor families less so, nor for improving the schools. It’s the kind of paternalistic racism that has so long existed in both liberal and conservative circles, and was on Thursday night spilling out of the mouth of the former vice president on the campus of an HBCU. It was all quite a sight to behold.

Theophile Steinlen lithograph, 1909

Jamil Smith is right. We need an anti-racist candidate if we are going to defeat Trump. Biden can’t pass that test, and so far Warren hasn’t done it either. I guess we’ll find out if she has it in her as time goes on, but so far what we have is her claim of Native Americans blood that offended actual Native Americans and the fact that Trump will repeatedly call her “Pocahantas” in the general election campaign if she’s the nominee.

Jonathan Chait has an interesting argument about what may be happening in the Democratic primary race: What If the Only Democrat Who Isn’t Too Radical to Win Is Too Old?

Here is a science-fiction scenario: Imagine a strange new virus that incapacitates everybody below the age of 75. The virus wipes out the entire political leadership, except one old man, who has survived on account of his age, but may also be too old to handle the awesome task before him.

Now suppose — and I am not certain this is the case, but just suppose — that this is happening to the Democratic presidential campaign. The virus is Twitter, and the old man is (duh) Joe Biden.

Apparently Chait doesn’t see Sanders as a Democrat, and I agree with him. Chait argues that after 2016, liberal Democrats bought into the notion that, based on Bernie Sanders’ performance in the primaries, voters were ready to embrace the most progressive ideas and policies and that Trump’s election proved that “a nominee with extreme positions could still win.”

Dan Casado 2012

Neither of these conclusions was actually correct. The Bernie Sanders vote encompassed voters who opposed Hillary Clinton for a wide array of reasons — including that she was too liberal — and were overall slightly to the right of Clinton voters. And political-science findings that general election voters tend to punish more ideologically extreme candidates remain very much intact. (Trump benefited greatly by distancing himself rhetorically from his party’s unpopular small-government positions, and voters saw him as more moderate than previous Republican nominees, even though he predictably reverted to partisan form once in office.)

And yet, this analysis seemed to race unchallenged through the Democratic Party from about 2016 — it seemed to influence Clinton, who declined the traditional lurch toward the center after vanquishing Sanders — through this year.

Of course after Trump won, the media and many Democrats bought into the idea that they needed to work harder to win over white working class voters, but Chait doesn’t mention that.

Nowhere was the gap between perception and reality more dramatic than on health care. In the run-up to the primary, most of the field signed on to Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All plan. Sanders had not managed to work out solutions to the obstacles that have bedeviled single-payer health-care supporters for decades: How to assure Americans who currently have employer-sponsored insurance to accept higher taxes and that they’ll be happier on a public plan.

Engraving, 19th century, by George White, Vermont.

Kamala Harris has had second thoughts, and has twisted herself into a pretzel trying to wriggle away from the proposal. Cory Booker has largely avoided discussing it. Elizabeth Warren was signaling last year that she would support more moderate reforms, but has instead handcuffed herself to the Sanders plan.

The vulnerabilities of this position have been on bright display in every Democratic debate. Neither Warren nor Sanders could supply a coherent response to the question of whether middle-class voters would pay higher taxes or whether they would like being moved off their employer plan. “I’ve never met anybody who likes their health-insurance company,” Warren insisted, eliding the clear reality that most people who have employer-sponsored insurance do like it. When asked about higher taxes, they dodged by changing the question to total costs. And while it’s probably true that they could design a plan where higher wages — by taking insurance off the company books — would cancel out the high taxes, neither inspired confidence that they could persuade skeptical voters they’d come out ahead in the deal.

The odd thing about this race to the left is that there’s little evidence it appeals to the primary electorate, let alone the general election version. Democrats strongly support universal coverage, but have lukewarm feelings on the mechanism to attain this. They prefer reforms that involve a combination of public and private options over the Bernie movement’s manic obsession with crushing private health insurance.

This applies as well to the party’s general ideological orientation. More Democratic voters express concern the party will nominate a candidate who’s too liberal (49 percent) than one who’s not liberal enough (41 percent). By a similar 54–41 margin, more Democrats want their party to move toward the center than toward the left.

It’s an interesting article and there’s more at the link. I don’t agree with Chait on everything, but I do think Democrats need to think carefully about whether focusing on unrealistic policies that will never get through Congress instead of on the dangers of a Trump second term is a winning strategy.

This post is too long, but I want to call attention to one more important article by Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: What Happens if Trump Won’t Step Down? National security expert Josh Geltzer on why we should be prepared for the worst.

Min Zhen, The Black Cat, 18th century, Princeton University Art Museum

In February, Georgetown Law professor Josh Geltzer began to ponder aloud what would happen if President Donald Trump refused to leave office were he to be defeated in 2020. It sounded far-fetched, but Geltzer isn’t a conspiracy theorist. Actually, he served as senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council and, prior to that, as deputy legal adviser to the NSC and counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security. When he wrote his essay suggesting that perhaps it was time to start preparing for if Trump, who has repeatedly shown a willingness to overstep his constitutional authority, simply refused to leave the Oval Office, he was met with silence. When Michael Cohen warned in his March testimony before Congress, “given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 there will never be a peaceful transition of power,” he too was met with awkward silence. But the anxieties gradually began to grow. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fretted about this possibility in a May interview in the New York Times. When Politico probed the question this summer, it noted: “Constitutional experts and top Republican lawmakers dismiss the fears as nonsense, noting there are too many forces working against a sitting president simply clinging to power—including history, law and political pressure.” But commentators now seem less confident in those forces.

On Thursday, Edward Luce at the Financial Times noted how often Trump jokes about having a third term, observing that, because of Trump’s belief that he could face prosecution after he leaves office, “no other US president has faced the prospect of being re-elected or going to jail.” He added that for Trump, losing the 2020 election is an existential threat, and he has openly invited foreign interference, while Mitch McConnell refuses to even consider legislation to secure the vote. And even if Trump is truly joking when he tweets that he deserves to be credited two extra years in his existing term, years he believes were lost to the Mueller probe, or riffs on staying on the job long after he’d been term-limited out, the tweets send a dangerous message to his loyalists.

Please go read the whole thing.

So . . . what stories are you following? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a peaceful, relaxing weekend.


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Insanity Continues . . .

By Juan Bejar, b. 1946

Good Morning!!

The insanity continues. Yesterday Trump rocked markets with a series of unhinged tweets. I hope you’ll read this CNBC thread. It’s a classic of Trump turbulence.

 

Last night Trump left for the G7 Summit and on his way he had another yelling session with reporters. Nothing sane came out of that, but he claimed that his remark about being “the chosen one was “sarcastic.” and “we were all laughing?” I don’t think Trump knows what sarcasm is.

This morning I turned on the TV to see him at a “working lunch” with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron spoke about the many serious problems that need to be discussed at the summit, including climate change. Trump uttered several disconnected sentences, mostly about the weather. After the lunch, Trump tweeted thanks to Macron to a parody account, misspelling Macon’s name.

The New York Times summarizes yesterday’s insanity: One Crazy Day Showed How Political Chaos Threatens the World Economy.

President Trump arrived in France on Saturday for a meeting of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, having set the stage for fireworks and confusion. In one dizzying day, he had seemed to be searching for whom or what to blame for economic troubles, first using Twitter to call his own Federal Reserve chief an enemy of the United States and then to urge American companies to stop doing business with China.

Louis-Léopold Boilly – Gabrielle Arnault as a Child, 1813

And that was just while the markets were open. Later Friday, he said he would apply tariffs to all Chinese imports and increase those already in place….if a recession and breakdown in international commerce happens in the coming year, histories of the episode may well spend a chapter on the Friday collision of official actions in the government offices of Beijing, in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming and in the Oval Office.

It became clear in real time how the risks of an escalating trade war and the fraying of longstanding financial and political ties could quickly outpace the ability of central banks — the normal first responders to economic distress — to do anything about it.

President Trump’s shoot-first approach adds to the risks at a delicate moment, with major economies in Asia and Europe already teetering and policymakers’ capacity to contain the damage in question.

“The escalation, the unpredictability, the erratic nature of policy developments is central to what is going on, and these aren’t things you can plug into an economic model,” said Julia Coronado, president of MacroPolicy Perspectives, an economic consultancy. “Something is breaking. It’s very dangerous.”

Read the rest at the NYT.

In France today, Trump claimed he has the power to force companies to follow the commands he issued on Twitter yesterday. The New York Times: Trump Asserts He Can Force U.S. Companies to Leave China.

Portrait of a Young Girl, Samuel Miller (c. 1807–1853), c. 1845

BIARRITZ, France — President Trump asserted on Saturday that he has the authority to make good on his threat to force all American businesses to leave China, citing a national security law that has been used mainly to target terrorists, drug traffickers and pariah states like Iran, Syria and North Korea.

As he arrived in France for the annual meeting of the Group of 7 powers, Mr. Trump posted a message on Twitter citing the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 — a law meant to enable a president to isolate criminal regimes but not intended to be used to cut off economic ties with a major trading partner because of a disagreement over tariffs.

“For all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Case closed!” [….]

In raising the possibility of forcing American businesses to pull out of China on Friday, Mr. Trump framed it not as a request but as an order he had already issued.

“Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing our companies HOME and making your products in the USA,” he wrote on Twitter, adding, “We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them.”

In fact, aides said, no order has been drawn up nor was it clear that he would attempt to do so. Instead, it could be the latest negotiating tactic by a president who favors drastic threats without always following through on them in hopes of forcing partners to make concessions.

The “president” is a madman and we’re stuck with him for now.

By George Gassner 1811–1861

According to CNN, Trump doesn’t understand why he has to go to the G7: Trump has questioned why he must attend G7.

…in conversations with aides over the past weeks, Trump has questioned why he must attend, according to people familiar with the conversations. After the past two G7 summits ended acrimoniously, Trump complained about attending a third, saying he didn’t view the gathering as a particularly productive use of his time.

He’s made similar asides in meetings with other world leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Emmanuel Macron, who have encouraged him over the past six months to commit to attending the Biarritz summit, people familiar with the conversations said. Macron is this year’s summit host.

The G7 represents the world’s major economies, and has long been a regular stop on the US President’s calendar. In small group sessions, with only the leaders and few aides present, the world’s major economic and geopolitical problems are discussed at length.
It’s a more workaday style of foreign travel than the type of trip Trump has come to enjoy, which usually include lavish displays of welcome like royal parades or state banquets. It’s also a practice in the kind of multilateralism that Trump and his aides have downplayed in favor of one-one-one negotiations with other countries.

But if he didn’t attend, he would miss an opportunity to sow global chaos and frighten out allies half to death.

By Otto Van Veen, 1584

Associated Press: At global summit, Trump facing limits of go-it-alone stance.

Trump, growing more isolated in Washington, faces a tepid reception on the world stage, where a list of challenges awaits. Anxiety is growing over a global slowdown , and there are new points of tension with allies on trade, Iran and Russia.

Fears of a financial downturn are spreading, meaning the need for cooperation and a collective response is essential. Yet Trump has ridiculed Germany for its economic travails at a time when he may have to turn to Chancellor Angela Merkel and others to help blunt the force of China’s newly aggressive tariffs on U.S. goods. Those trade penalties, combined with the economic slowdown, have raised political alarms for Trump’s reelection effort .

In a late addition to the schedule, Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron sat across from each other at a small table for lunch outside the opulent Hotel du Palais before the official start of the summit. Hours earlier, Trump threatened anew to place tariffs on French wine imports to the U.S. over France’s digital services tax, and that prompted a European leader to promise European Union action if the U.S. followed through. Macron called for an end to the trade wars he said are “taking hold everywhere.”

Macron, the summit host, said two were discussing “a lot of crisis” around the world, including Libya, Iran and Russia, as well as trade policy and climate change.

Good luck with that.

Martha Bartlett with Kitten 1875 Unknown artist

At The New Yorker, David Remnick warns us about sinking into despair over Trump’s insanity: Trump Clarification Syndrome. Here’s the gist:

Again and again, Trump’s top advisers––Daniel Coats, Gary Cohn, James Mattis, Rex Tillerson, H. R. McMaster, and John Kelly among them––have left the White House clutching their heads, their dignity and nerves in rags, realizing that they have served a President who is unreachable, beyond cure and counsel; a man of rotten character, blatant instability, and zero empathy; an empty but radically dangerous human being, who occupies the highest office in the land….

But, as perilous and unnerving as things are, any form of political despair at such a moment remains unforgivable. Despair is a form of self-indulgence, a dodge. Trump’s derangements in policy and character should instead instill a kind of Trump Clarification Syndrome, a reckoning with what confronts us. A reckoning, as the Amazon rain forest burns, with climate change. A reckoning, as Trump threatens to revoke the barest protections for immigrant children and the guarantee of birthright citizenship, with the history and persistence of bigotry in all forms. With the structural persistence of inequality of income and opportunity. With matters of truth and falsehood. Trump’s presence in the White House is depressing, there is no doubt, but to wallow in that gloom, or even to imagine that public life will “return to normal” on its own after his departure, is insufficient, even inexcusable. Democrats, Independents, and Republicans who cannot countenance Trumpist politics ought to welcome the most urgent kind of political debate on matters of policy and on who we are as a country. Perhaps it is a form of derangement to say it, but it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump, who has been such a ruinous figure on the public scene, has at least done the country an unintended service by clarifying some of our deepest flaws and looming dangers in his uniquely lurid light.

A Girl with Her Cat by Hendrik Maarten Krabbe

In non-Trump news, Joe Biden committed another disturbing faux pas yesterday. The Washington Post: Evoking 1968 at town hall, Biden asks: What would have happened if Obama had been assassinated?

HANOVER, N.H. — Former vice president Joe Biden, returning to this crucial primary state and attempting to put the focus on the foibles of President Trump, took an unusual departure toward the end of a 70-minute dive into health-care policy by asking the crowd to imagine the assassination of Barack Obama.

“None of you . . . women are old enough — but a couple of you guys are old enough,” he said during a town hall at Dartmouth College. “I graduated in 1968. Everybody before me was, ‘Drop out, go to Haight-Ashbury, don’t trust anybody over 30, everybody not get involved.’ No, I’m serious. I know no woman will shake her head and acknowledge it. But you guys know what I’m talking about. Right? But then what happened?”

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination referenced the assassinations of two of his political heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy — who was killed while running for president.

At least he’s figured out that the assassinations happening 1968, not the late-1970s.

“Imagine what would have happened if, God forbid, if Barack Obama had been assassinated after becoming the de facto nominee,” he continued. “What would have happened in America?”

La dame et son chat Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)

What was his point? Your guess is as good as mine. But this puts me in mind of something Hillary said in 2008 that was met with universal outrage. The New York Times, May 24, 2008:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton defended staying in the Democratic nominating contest on Friday by pointing out that her husband had not wrapped up the nomination until June 1992, adding, “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

Her remarks were met with quick criticism from the campaign of Senator Barack Obama, and within hours of making them Mrs. Clinton expressed regret, saying, “The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy,” referring to the recent diagnosis of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s brain tumor. She added, “And I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive.”

Why isn’t Biden’s strange remark getting the same amount of negative attention that Clinton’s did back in 2008? Actually, I know the answer . . .

So . . . what stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Black Cats and Other News

Good Afternoon!!

Today is National Black Cat Appreciation Day!

On Black Cat Appreciation Day, August 17, black cats could use a good spin doctor. They’re so sleek and seductive with their all-knowing yellow eyes, that black cats seldom get positive publicity even though they’re just as adorable as other cats. So, who’s to blame for this negative black cat spin? Superstition! During the Middle Ages, people (mainly the Catholic Church) saw witches as shape-shifting black cats and the damage was done.

Today, pop culture loves black cats.  There’s the sarcastic Thackery Binx in  “Hocus Pocus”,  Salem, in “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and Pyewacket in the classic ”Bell, Book and Candle.” It’s National Black Cat Appreciation Day with big ups to America’s sultry, mysterious and mostly, sweet black cats!

In Other News . . .

By Irina Kalentieva, 1965

Former Trump supporter Anthony Scaramucci is now predicting that Trump won’t be on the ballot in November 2020.

William D. Cohan interviewed Scaramucci for Vanity Fair: “Oh My God, This Jackass”: The Mooch Explains Why He Thinks Trump is “Crazy,” “Narcissistic,” and a “Paper Tiger” Who Will Drop Out By March 2020. Some highlights:

Cohan: But what was the moment the scales actually fell from your eyes?

Scaramucci: The red line was the racism—full-blown racism. He can say that he’s not a racist, and I agree with him, okay? And let me explain to you why he’s not a racist, ’cause this is very important. He’s actually worse than a racist. He is so narcissistic, he doesn’t see people as people. He sees them as objects in his field of vision. And so therefore, that’s why he has no empathy. That’s why he’s got his thumb up in the air when he’s taking a picture with an orphan. That’s why when someone’s leaning over the desk and asks [Nobel Prize–winning human rights activist Nadia Murad], “Well, what happened to your family members?”—they were murdered—he just looks at her and says, “Okay, when are we getting coffee here?”

You know, he doesn’t look at people—and by the way, if you and I were in his field of vision and he had a cold and the two of us had to die for him to get a Kleenex, you’re fucking dead. I mean, there’s no chance. You understand that, right?

Cohan: And then there’s the mental element, right?

The Black Cat, by Christian Schloe

Scaramucci: I think the guy is losing it, mentally. He has declining mental faculties; he’s becoming more petulant; he’s becoming more impetuous. Okay, you see just by the way he’s sweating, his body’s not doing well. It’s obviously not a guy that takes care of himself, right? And he doesn’t listen to anybody. And just think about this, okay? There’s no one—there’s no Jim Mattis; there’s no Gary Cohn; there’s no one to check him anymore. Whatever my differences were with General John Kelly, after he left, this thing has completely unspooled….

He’s gonna drop out of the race because it’s gonna become very clear. Okay, it’ll be March of 2020. He’ll likely drop out by March of 2020. It’s gonna become very clear that it’s impossible for him to win. And is this the kind of guy that’s gonna want to be that humiliated and lose as a sitting president? He’s got the self-worth in terms of his self-esteem of a small pigeon. It’s a very small pigeon. Okay. And so you think this guy’s gonna look at those poll numbers and say—he’s not gonna be able to handle that humiliation. And by the way, he is smart enough to know that that entire Congress hates his guts.

Of course Scaramucci isn’t the first to predict that Trump will have to drop out. Tom Joseph has been documenting Trump’s rapidly advancing dementia symptoms on Twitter for a long time now. Here’s his latest thread on the subject:

Check out his Twitter feed to read more.

Last Tuesday Trump gave a speech to union workers in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t supposed to be a campaign event, but he turned it into one. The Washington Post:

 President Trump criticized the media, mocked his Democratic challengers, critiqued the Academy Awards, lamented losing money while president and boasted of his poll numbers while visiting a construction site here to give remarks about U.S. energy production.

The president spoke for more than an hour, meandering between his prepared remarks and a campaign-style speech listing grievances and currying votes. He touched on his 2016 victory in Pennsylvania, his love of trucks, “fake news,” China, trade, immigration, the Green New Deal, windmills, the Paris climate accord, former president Barack Obama’s $60 million book deal, Iran, veterans and New York energy policies.

Pierrot et le Chat, Theophile Alexandre Steinlen

Standing in a room full of construction workers in the middle of the day, many wearing their fluorescent work vests, Trump urged them to support his reelection and to convince their union leaders to do the same…..

Trump’s visit to Royal Dutch Shell’s Pennsylvania Petrochemical Complex here, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, was an official White House trip intended to promote the administration’s energy policies.

Yesterday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the workers were told they would have to attend the speech or lose a day’s pay. They were also ordered not to protest.

The choice for thousands of union workers at Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical plant in Beaver County was clear Tuesday: Either stand in a giant hall waiting for President Donald Trump to speak or take the day off with no pay.

“Your attendance is not mandatory,” said the rules that one contractor relayed to employees, summarizing points from a memo that Shell sent to union leaders a day ahead of the visit to the $6 billion construction site. But only those who showed up at 7 a.m., scanned their ID cards, and prepared to stand for hours — through lunch but without lunch — would be paid.

That company and scores of other contractors on site and their labor employees all have their own contracts with Shell. Several said the contracts stipulate that to get paid, workers must be onsite.

Portrait of Mo von Haugk, 1932 – Conrad Felixmüller, (German 1897-1977)

Those who decided not to come to the site for the event would have an excused but non-paid absence, the company said, and would not qualify for overtime pay on Friday.

Shell spokesman Ray Fisher explained that the workers onsite have a 56-hour workweek, with 16 hours of overtime built in. That means those workers who attended Mr. Trump’s speech and showed up for work Friday, meeting the overtime threshold, were being paid at a rate of time and a half, while those who didn’t go to hear the president were being paid the regular rate, despite the fact that both groups did not do work on the site Tuesday.

Show up to cheer for Trump or lose a day’s pay and overtime to boot.

Yesterday, The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush reported that President Obama tried to caution Joe Biden about running for president in 2020 and has been warning Biden that he needs younger advisers.

The two men spoke at least a half dozen times before Mr. Biden decided to run, and Mr. Obama took pains to cast his doubts about the campaign in personal terms.

“You don’t have to do this, Joe, you really don’t,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Biden earlier this year, according to a person familiar with the exchange.

Mr. Biden — who thinks he could have defeated Donald Trump four years ago — responded by telling Mr. Obama he could never forgive himself if he turned down a second shot at Mr. Trump.

In the boudoir, 1869, Lucius Rossi

Mr. Obama has said he will not make an endorsement in the primary, and has offered every candidate his counsel. But he has taken an active interest in the inner workings of his friend’s campaign, to an extent beyond anything offered to other candidates.

In his interactions with Mr. Biden — the pair had a quiet lunch in Washington last month — Mr. Obama has hammered away at the need for his campaign to expand his aging inner circle.

He has communicated his frustration that Mr. Biden’s closest advisers are too old and out of touch with the current political climate — urging him to include more younger aides, according to three Democrats with direct knowledge of the discussion.

Biden also met with Biden’s advisers and issued a warning:

In March, Mr. Obama took the unusual step of summoning Mr. Biden’s top campaign advisers, including the former White House communications director Anita Dunn and Mr. Biden’s longtime spokeswoman, Kate Bedingfield, to his Washington office for a briefing on the campaign’s digital and communications strategy with members of his own staff, including his senior adviser, Eric Schultz.

When they were done, Mr. Obama offered a pointed reminder, according to two people with knowledge of his comments:

Win or lose, they needed to make sure Mr. Biden did not “embarrass himself” or “damage his legacy” during the campaign.

Well Biden has already put his foot in his mouth numerous times, but he’s still leading in the polls. I can only hope voters will wake up before the primaries begin.

Katherina Goncharova – Midday Dream

Yesterday, Benjamin Netanyahu banned Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from traveling to Israel, after he was egged on by Trump. Later in the day, Netanyau told Tlaib she could come to visit her grandmother who lives in the occupied West Bank, with certain restrictions on her freedom of speech. Tlaib declined to accept the conditions. Now Democrats in the House are considering an official response.

The Miami Herald: House Democrats weigh action against U.S. and Israel ambassadors over banned visit.

Senior Democratic members of Congress are considering action against top emissaries of the Israeli government and the Trump administration for their roles in Israel’s decision to bar two House members from entering the country.

About a dozen lawmakers, including senior Jewish members, began discussions on Friday morning over ways to communicate a “deep lack of confidence and trust” in Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

The group is weighing issuing a statement of no confidence in Dermer and opening an inspector general investigation into Friedman’s conduct, the sources said.

Israel banned Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from a planned visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, provoking outrage among Democrats and several Republicans, including some who have harshly criticized the two lawmakers on policy grounds.

So . . . that’s it for me. what stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Russia Backs Tulsi Gabbard; Kamala Harris Gets the Hillary Clinton Treatment.

Breathe, by Yoko Tanji

Good Morning!!

In 2016, Russian bots targeted Hillary Clinton and worked to support Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein. The candidate they are most afraid of in 2020 appears to be Kamala Harris, and they are pushing hard to get Democrats to support Tulsi Gabbard.

Tulsi Gabbard is not Democrats’ friend.

Clint Watts is an expert on cybersecurity and Russian social media influence.

See also this important thread from Virginia Heffernan.

Stories to check out:

NBC News, from February: Russia’s propaganda machine discovers 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard.

The Russian propaganda machine that tried to influence the 2016 U.S. election is now promoting the presidential aspirations of a controversial Hawaii Democrat who earlier this month declared her intention to run for president in 2020.

An NBC News analysis of the main English-language news sites employed by Russia in its 2016 election meddling shows Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who is set to make her formal announcement Saturday, has become a favorite of the sites Moscow used when it interfered in 2016.

Several experts who track websites and social media linked to the Kremlin have also seen what they believe may be the first stirrings of an upcoming Russian campaign of support for Gabbard.

Watercolor by Fabienne Rivory

Since Gabbard announced her intention to run on Jan. 11, there have been at least 20 Gabbard stories on three major Moscow-based English-language websites affiliated with or supportive of the Russian government: RT, the Russian-owned TV outlet; Sputnik News, a radio outlet; and Russia Insider, a blog that experts say closely follows the Kremlin line. The CIA has called RT and Sputnik part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”

All three sites celebrated Gabbard’s announcement, defended her positions on Russia and her 2017 meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and attacked those who have suggested she is a pawn for Moscow. The coverage devoted to Gabbard, both in news and commentary, exceeds that afforded to any of the declared or rumored Democratic candidates despite Gabbard’s lack of voter recognition.

The Daily Beast, from May: Tulsi Gabbard’s Campaign Is Being Boosted by Putin Apologists.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is being underwritten by some of the nation’s leading Russophiles.

Donors to her campaign in the first quarter of the year included: Stephen F. Cohen, a Russian studies professor at New York University and prominent Kremlin sympathizer; Sharon Tennison, a vocal Putin supporter who nonetheless found herself detained by Russian authorities in 2016; and an employee of the Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT, who appears to have donated under the alias “Goofy Grapes.”

Gabbard is one of her party’s more Russia-friendly voices in an era of deep Democratic suspicion of the country over its efforts to tip the 2016 election in favor of President Donald Trump. Her financial support from prominent pro-Russian voices in the U.S. is a small portion of the total she’s raised. But it still illustrates the degree to which she deviates from her party’s mainstream on such a contentious and high-profile issue.

Illustration by Gisela Assensio Perez

The bots loved the way Gabbard attacked Kamala Harris in the second Democratic debate. Politifact looked at Gabbard’s charges against Harris and found them false or lacking context: Were Tulsi Gabbard’s attacks on Kamala Harris’ record as a California prosecutor on target? I hope you’ll read the article.

Finally, The New York Times has a major profile of Gabbard: Tulsi Gabbard Thinks We’re Doomed. Some exerpts:

A Democratic member of Congress from Hawaii who was first elected in 2012, Ms. Gabbard is a singular figure in the 2020 race. She doesn’t fit neatly into any one established ideology or school of thought.

She has a relatively bare-bones political operation and a history of outlier positions, from her foreign policy stances to suing Google for free-speech impingement. Some of her own advisers do not think she will win….

…her run, and the unusual cross-section of voters she appeals to — Howard Zinn fans, anti-drug-war libertarians, Russia-gate skeptics, and conservatives suspicious of Big Tech — signifies just how much both parties have shifted, not just on foreign policy. It could end up being a sign that President Trump’s isolationism is not the aberration many believed, but rather a harbinger of a growing national sentiment that America should stand alone.

On the far left, her supporters appreciate how she talks about respecting Native cultures. On the right, as liberal democracies see authoritarian strongmen rise, Ms. Gabbard’s allies like that she would not meddle with dictators.

The threat from Russia is severely exaggerated, Ms. Gabbard says. Do not beat the drums of war with Iran. Make nice with North Korea.

She flew to Syria in 2017 and had what seemed to be a friendly meeting with Bashar al-Assad, shocking her colleagues in Congress, and voted against a House resolution condemning the dictator’s war crimes. More recently, she said Mr. Assad was “not the enemy of the United States.”

On Russian support for Gabbard:

Illustration by Jacqueline Molnár

“Tracking metrics of Russian state propaganda on Twitter, she was by far the most favored candidate,” said Clinton Watts, a former F.B.I. agent and senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “She’s the Kremlin’s preferred Democrat. She is such a useful agent of influence for them. Whether she knows it’s happening or not, they love what she’s saying.”

The appeal, Mr. Watts explained, is clear: “She’s a U.S. military officer and a Democrat who says the U.S. should withdraw from the world.”

And on support from the far right:

She also has attracted the attention of some figures in the alt-right, in part because they imagine that a reordering of America’s role abroad also means pulling away from its longstanding alliance with Israel. David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, has tweeted approvingly of her.

In other news . . .

The Baltimore Sun editorial board is on fire. Yesterday they once again wrote about Trump’s attacks on Baltimore: The pitiful day a U.S. president used a political rally to mock Baltimore’s homicide rate.

Slightly more than 15 minutes into his speech at a rally in Cincinnati Thursday night — right after claiming the crowd was record size but bemoaning how local authorities had limited the arena’s lawful capacity — President Donald Trump set his sights once again upon Baltimore. Basking in the crowd’s adulation, he started listing the dangerous countries where the murder rate was, he believed, not as bad as Charm City’s. El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala. Then he sought his supporters’ response. ” I believe it’s higher than … give me, give me a place that you think is pretty bad,” he excitedly announced. “Give me a place. This guy says Afghanistan,” he said smiling and pointing to a member of the audience. “I believe it’s higher than Afghanistan.”

White Boat par Oxana Zaika

The crowd took it all in appreciatively, smiling, some cheering. They laughed when their leader joked how fact-checkers might contradict him Friday. Like Mr. Trump, they appeared wholly indifferent to people dying in Baltimore.

We have seen much in our day. Crime, poverty, drug abuse, racial discrimination, human trafficking, hate crimes. We have witnessed soldiers marched off to wars, some justified, others not. We have reported on horrible car accidents, serial killings, political corruption, disease outbreaks, air crashes, natural disasters, tragedy heaped on tragedy. But we can’t recall a president of the United States making light of the violent deaths of his fellow Americans….

And what are we to make of an audience that Mr. Trump so often described as “patriotic” yet which views Baltimore with such distaste and indifference? Cincinnati suffers these woes, too. There are murders and trash strewn alleys, overdose deaths and concentrated poverty. Why so little compassion? This was not a game, not the Reds against the Orioles, the Bengals against the Ravens. It was about the carnage on our streets, the 309 people killed here last year, the 197 murdered so far this year.

Remember the way John Delaney attacked Medicare for all at the Democratic debate this week? Here’s an interesting story from Sludge: Delaney Super PAC’s Biggest Donor is Wife of Former Health Care CEO.

As former Maryland representative John Delaney campaigns against single-payer health care and enjoys his considerable investments in the health care industry, he’s getting a boost from the wife of a close friend and former health care CEO. The biggest donor to a pro-Delaney super PAC, The Right Answer Committee, is philanthropist Katherine Bradley, whose husband, David, founded The Advisory Board Company, a major health care research and consulting firm.

In 2017, Advisory Board was acquired by Optum, a pharmacy benefit manager owned by insurance giant UnitedHealth Group. UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann claimed that Medicare for All would “destabilize the nation’s health system” in April.

Painting by Kelly Beeman

Single-payer health care, as exemplified by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vt.) Medicare for All Act, would end the for-profit health insurance industry and decrease overall health spending in the U.S., according to multiple studies, including one published by the conservative, free-market think tank the Mercatus Center. The government would be able to bargain down drug prices, and fees for service to care providers would likely decrease (although providers would likely see an increase in patients, given that the roughly 30 million Americans without insurance today would all be covered).

Six individuals have contributed a total of $85,000 to the pro-Delaney super PAC in 2019, including $50,000 from Katherine Bradley. David Bradley hasn’t contributed to the super PAC or to Delaney’s campaign this year, but he, his wife, and two of his sons each donated $2,700 to the Delaney congressional campaign in 2017. From 2012-17, the Bradleys gave a total of over $39,000 to Delaney’s campaigns.

A judge has said that the officer who killed Eric Garner should be fired. NPR: NYPD Judge Recommends That The Officer Involved In Eric Garner’s Death Be Fired.

An administrative judge with the New York Police Department has recommended that Officer Daniel Pantaleo be fired for his role in the 2014 death of Eric Garner.

The judge found Pantaleo guilty of using a banned chokehold but did not find him guilty of intentionally restricting Garner’s breathing. Garner’s repeated cry of “I can’t breathe” triggered national outrage and galvanized activists concerned about police use of force.

As a result of the decision, the NYPD announced that Pantaleo has been suspended, “as is the longstanding practice in these matters when the recommendation is termination.” It is unknown whether he will be paid during this suspension.

The judge, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, issued her recommendation Friday.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was hit with questions about the Eric Garner case at the last debate. At The New York Daily News, Harry Siegal writes that de Blasio was gaslighting: Garner, Pantaleo, de Blasio and truth: Let’s be honest about how New York City got here</a. It’s a bit complicated. Click on the link to read about it.

One more interesting story from Justin Hendrix at Just Security: Trump’s Encouraging QAnon May Result in Violence—Just ask the FBI.

On Thursday, Yahoo! News published an exclusive story detailing a May 2019 FBI assessment that online conspiracy theories “very likely” result in domestic extremists committing violent crimes. The report notes that it is “the first FBI product examining the threat from conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists and provides a baseline for future intelligence products,” and predicts an increased risk of violent outcomes as the United States enters “major election cycles such as the 2020 presidential election.”

If that happens, it may be in no small part due to President Donald Trump’s endorsement and amplification of conspiracy theories and theorists such as QAnon. A few hours after the FBI assessment leaked, the President held a campaign rally in Cincinnati, where the pre-rally speaker Brandon Straka called out the phrase, “Where we go one, we go all,” a rallying cry of QAnon believers. That’s just the tip of the iceberg….

The President has retweeted QAnon supporters, perhaps unwittingly, dozens of times….Perhaps more significant is the President’s eagerness to engage personally with individuals who advance the conspiracy theory. For instance, right wing media personality Bill Mitchell “has regularly used his radio show and Twitter account to boost and legitimize ‘Q,’ the central figure of the QAnon conspiracy theory, sometimes hosting major QAnon believers,” according to Alex Kaplan at Media Matters. Mitchell was among the extremists invited to the White House for its recent Social Media Summit. Another QAnon supporter and conspiracy theorist, Michael Lebron, was photographed with Donald Trump in the Oval Office last summer, according to CNN.

Much more information at the link.

So . . . What stories are you following today?