Lazy Caturday Reads

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Good Morning!!

We’ve reached the end of another week in the post-Trump era, and we continue to deal with crises that developed and worsened during the monster’s regime. It’s clear that it will take a long time to recover–if recovery is even possible. On the plus side, it’s great to have a normal president again–a person with empathy and compassion–and a caring, engaged first lady, and White House pets!

Biden’s Covid relief package appears to be on track for passage, despite the efforts of Republicans in Congress. The New York Times: Republicans Struggle to Derail Increasingly Popular Stimulus Package.

Republicans are struggling to persuade voters to oppose President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan, which enjoys strong, bipartisan support nationwide even as it is moving through Congress with just Democratic backing.

Democrats who control the House are preparing to approve the package by the end of next week, with the Senate aiming to soon follow with its own party-line vote before unemployment benefits are set to lapse in mid-March. On Friday, the House Budget Committee unveiled the nearly 600-page text for the proposal, which includes billions of dollars for unemployment benefits, small businesses and stimulus checks.

Republican leaders, searching for a way to derail the proposal, on Friday led a final attempt to tarnish the package, labeling it a “payoff to progressives.” The bill, they said, spends too much and includes a liberal wish list of programs like aid to state and local governments — which they call a “blue state bailout,” though many states facing shortfalls are controlled by Republicans — and increased benefits for the unemployed, which they argued would discourage people from looking for work.

f41e011b0d7776d62868846f4192e37dOut in the real world, even Republican voters support the relief bill.

More than 7 in 10 Americans now back Mr. Biden’s aid package, according to new polling from the online research firm SurveyMonkey for The New York Times. That includes support from three-quarters of independent voters, 2 in 5 Republicans and nearly all Democrats. The overall support for the bill is even larger than the substantial majority of voters who said in January that they favored an end-of-year economic aid bill signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

While Mr. Biden has encouraged Republican lawmakers to get on board with his package, Democrats are moving their bill through Congress using a parliamentary process that will allow them to pass it with only Democratic votes.

“Critics say my plan is too big, that it cost $1.9 trillion dollars; that’s too much,” Mr. Biden said at an event on Friday. “Let me ask them, what would they have me cut?”

House Republican leaders on Friday urged their rank-and-file members to vote against the plan, billing it as Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California’s “Payoff to Progressives Act.” They detailed more than a dozen objections to the bill, including “a third round of stimulus checks costing more than $422 billion, which will include households that have experienced little or no financial loss during the pandemic.” Ms. Pelosi’s office issued its own rebuttal soon after, declaring “Americans need help. House Republicans don’t care.”

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is moving forward with it’s investigation of Trump’s finances. Reuters: Exclusive: New York City tax agency subpoenaed in Trump criminal probe.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has subpoenaed a New York City property tax agency as part of a criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s company, the agency confirmed on Friday, suggesting prosecutors are examining the former president’s efforts to reduce his commercial real-estate taxes for possible evidence of fraud.

The subpoena issued to the New York City Tax Commission is the latest indication that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. is looking at the values Trump assigned to some commercial properties in tax filings and loan documents.

photo-of-snow-catAlong with information already subpoenaed from creditors, the tax agency documents would help investigators determine whether Trump’s business inflated the value of his properties to secure favorable terms on loans while deflating those values to lower tax bills for those same properties….

The subpoena likely would compel the agency to provide detailed income and expense statements the Trump Organization would have filed as part of an effort to lower tax assessments on some of its commercial properties, according to people familiar with the commission’s operations. Trump’s holdings include Trump Tower and Trump Plaza.

Those filings typically would include valuations submitted by the company to challenge the market values assigned to Trump’s property by the city’s tax assessors, they added.

Subpoenas also have been issued to at least two creditors that helped finance Trump’s real-estate holdings, Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital Finance LLC, Reuters has previously reported.

The Federal investigation into the January 6 insurrection is continuing to heat up. 

The Washington Post: U.S. investigating possible ties between Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Capitol rioters.

The Justice Department and FBI are investigating whether high-profile right-wing figures — including Roger Stone and Alex Jones — may have played a role in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach as part of a broader look into the mind-set of those who committed violence and their apparent paths to radicalization, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The investigation into potential ties between key figures in the riot and those who promoted former president Donald Trump’s false assertions that the election was stolen from him does not mean those who may have influenced rioters will face criminal charges, particularly given U.S. case law surrounding incitement and free speech, the people said. Officials at this stage said they are principally seeking to understand what the rioters were thinking — and who may have influenced beliefs — which could be critical to showing their intentions at trial.

769e257ae7490ca39b79e8e4d1bbe242However, investigators also want to determine whether anyone who influenced them bears enough responsibility to justify potential criminal charges, such as conspiracy or aiding the effort, the officials said. That prospect is still distant and uncertain, they emphasized.

Nevertheless, while Trump’s impeachment trial focused on the degree of his culpability for the violence, this facet of the case shows investigators’ ongoing interest in other individuals who never set foot in the Capitol but may have played an outsized role in what happened there through their influence, networks or action.

“We are investigating potential ties between those physically involved in the attack on the Capitol and individuals who may have influenced them, such as Roger Stone, Alex Jones and [Stop the Steal organizer] Ali Alexander,” said a U.S. official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a pending matter.

The Washington Post: U.S. Alleges Wider Oath Keepers Conspiracy, Adds More Defendants in Jan. 6 Capitol Riot.

U.S. authorities on Friday alleged a broader conspiracy by Oath Keepers to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, charging six new individuals who appeared to be members or associates of the right-wing group.

One self-described leader in the group, which recruits among military and law enforcement, sent a Facebook message claiming at least 50 to 100 Oath Keepers planned to travel to D.C. with him on Jan. 6 and that they would “make it wild,” echoing a comment President Donald Trump made on Twitter rallying supporters to the Capitol.

A 21-page indictment alleged that the defendants “did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown” to force entry to the Capitol and obstruct Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president in riots that led to five deaths and assaults on 139 police.

The nine-person indictment named three already charged military veterans — Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl, 50, both of Woodstock, Ohio; and Thomas E. Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Va. The six new defendants include siblings Graydon Young, 54, of Englewood, Fla., and Laura Steele, of Thomasville, N.C. It also includes married couples Kelly and Connie Meggs, 52 and 59, of Dunnellon, Fla.; and Bennie and Sandra Parker, 70 and 60, of the Cincinnati area.

More details at the WaPo link.

74b47b2bb2069367067776f258164a25Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: The Capitol Rioters Are Starting To Face Much More Serious Charges For The Insurrection.

Bruno Cua, an 18-year-old from Milton, Georgia, was already facing serious charges when he was arrested on Feb. 6 in connection with the insurrection at the US Capitol a month earlier. He was accused not only of illegally entering the Capitol but also of assaulting police and of obstructing Congress’s efforts to certify the presidential election, which are felony crimes.

But it only got worse for Cua when a federal grand jury in Washington, DC, returned an indictment four days later. On top of the original set of charges, the grand jury bumped up misdemeanor counts he’d faced for entering the Capitol to felonies, citing evidence that he’d carried a “deadly and dangerous weapon” — in his case, a baton. The addition of a “weapons enhancement” meant the maximum sentence he faced for those counts jumped tenfold, from one year in prison to 10.

Cua is one of a growing number of defendants charged in the insurrection seeing their felony counts — and potential prison time — stack up as the investigation presses on. Other defendants only charged with misdemeanors when they were arrested are now facing felonies post-indictment. Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin in Washington had told reporters one week after the assault on the Capitol that the early rounds of arrests on misdemeanor charges were “only the beginning,” and promised more “significant charges” once prosecutors took these cases before a grand jury. New court documents in cases such as Cua’s show how that’s taking shape.

Of the more than 230 people charged to date, at least 70 are now facing a minimum of one felony count — the most common is obstruction of Congress, which has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. More than 30 are charged with assaulting or interfering with law enforcement officers, and at least 14 are charged with carrying or using a weapon that day. Weapons identified in the government’s court filings so far have included knives, Tasers, a hockey stick, a large metal pipe, baseball bats, fire extinguishers, and batons.

Now that Trump is gone, the Feds are admitting how dangerous right-wing extremism is.

Yahoo News: Feds now say right-wing extremists responsible for majority of deadly terrorist attacks last year.

The U.S. government is acknowledging for the first time that right-wing extremists were responsible for the majority of fatal domestic terrorist attacks last year, according to an internal report circulated by the Department of Homeland Security last week and obtained by Yahoo News.

cat-snowmanA review of last year’s domestic terrorist incidents by a DHS fusion center — which shares threat-related information between federal, state and local partners — found that although civil unrest and antigovernment violence were associated with “non-affiliated, right-wing and left-wing actors, right-wing [domestic violent extremists] were responsible for the majority of fatal attacks in the Homeland in 2020.”

The report, produced by the Joint Regional Intelligence Center, a DHS-funded fusion center, was sent out to police and law enforcement agencies nationwide as part of an intelligence-sharing system created after the 9/11 attacks.

While independent think tanks and outside groups have been pointing to the rise in ring-wing violence for some time, this appears to be the first known instance of an official government or law enforcement agency clearly acknowledging the trend, though senior officials have noted the rise in white supremacist attacks. The report also comes not long after the end of the Trump administration, which was criticized for downplaying right-wing violence.

So . . . lots happening this weekend. I’ll add more stories in the comment thread. What’s on your mind today?


Day After Christmas Caturday Reads

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Good Afternoon!!

It’s difficult to believe, but today is kind of slow news day, compared to most of the days we’ve lived through in the past four years. Naturally, what news there is today is mostly awful.

The story getting the most attention right now is the bomb blast in Nashville. Here’s the latest:

ABC News: Human remains found at site of ‘intentional’ Nashville RV explosion: Sources.

Nashville police officers were first called to a report of shots fired, police said. There was no evidence of shots fired, but “there were announcements coming” from an RV saying a potential bomb would detonate within 15 minutes, police said.

The recording only began playing a short time after police reported to the scene, a law enforcement official told ABC News.

il_570xN.1628906646_o015Officers were working to evacuate nearby buildings when, around 6:30 a.m., the RV exploded, blowing out the windows of nearby buildings.

Human remains have been found at the scene of the explosion in downtown Nashville, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News.

The remains have not been identified and it’s unclear whether they’re identifiable.

“We found tissue that we believe could be human remains,” Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a press conference Friday evening. “We’ll have that examined and we’ll be able to tell you from that point.”

Nashville Tennessean: Exclusive: Nashville explosion witness remembers chilling warning from the RV: ‘A bomb is in this vehicle

A woman’s voice warned downtown residents to evacuate before the Christmas morning explosion that rocked Nashville, according to witness who described hearing the chilling message before fleeing with her family.

Betsy Williams, who owns the Melting Pot building on Second Avenue, lived in a loft apartment on the third floor of the building near the center of the blast.

Williams said she left the area after she heard the recording play a countdown to the explosion.

At least three people were injured in the explosion, according to authorities. A police officer in the area, who was responding to reports of suspicious activity in the area, was knocked to the ground by the blast.

Police said the explosion came from an RV that was parked on Second Avenue, in the midst of a business and entertainment district. Police spokesman Don Aaron confirmed the warning came from the RV.

Two-cats-dressed-up-in-holiday-outfitsAP: Downtown Nashville explosion knocks communications offline.

The blast sent black smoke and flames billowing from the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene, an area packed with honky-tonks, restaurants and shops. Buildings shook and windows shattered streets away from the explosion near a building owned by AT&T that lies one block from the company’s office tower, a landmark in downtown.

“We do not know if that was a coincidence, or if that was the intention,” police spokesman Don Aaron said. He said earlier that some people were taken to the department’s central precinct for questioning but declined to give details.

AT&T said the affected building is the central office of a telephone exchange, with network equipment in it. The blast interrupted service, but the company declined to say how widespread outages were.

The AT&T outages site showed service issues in middle Tennessee and Kentucky. Several police agencies reported that their 911 systems were down because of the outage, including Knox County, home to Knoxville about 180 miles (290 kilometers) east of Nashville.

AT&T said that it was bringing in portable cell sites and was working with law enforcement to get access to make repairs to its equipment. The company noted that “power is essential to restoring” service.

The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights out of Nashville International Airport because of telecommunications issues associated with the explosion. Later Friday, the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority said most flights were resuming but advised passengers to check with their airline for updates due to possible delays.

The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, agency spokesman Joel Siskovic said. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosives violations and acts of terrorism.

il_570xN.1302215820_8kviTrump is busy shirking his responsibilities, playing golf and tweeting as Americans die or go hungry and jobless, while facing evictions.

The New York Times: Unemployment Aid Set to Lapse Saturday as Trump’s Plans for Relief Bill Remain Unclear.

Expanded unemployment benefits were set to lapse for millions of struggling Americans on Saturday, a day after President Trump expressed more criticism of a $900 billion pandemic relief bill that was awaiting his signature and would extend them.

The sprawling economic relief package that Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support would extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits until March and revive supplemental unemployment benefits for millions of Americans at $300 a week on top of the usual state benefit.

If Mr. Trump signs the bill on Saturday, states will still need time to reprogram their computer systems to account for the new law, according to Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Projectbut unemployed workers would still be able to claim the benefits.

Further delays could prove more costly. States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday, benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.

Mr. Trump blindsided lawmakers on Tuesday when he hinted he may veto the measure, which he decided at the last minute was unsatisfactory. The most pressing issue prompted by the president’s delay was the fate of unemployment benefits. At least a temporary lapse in those benefits is now inevitable.

The country is also facing a looming government shutdown on Tuesday and the expiration of a moratorium on evictions at the end of the year because of the president’s refusal to sign the bill.

Screen_Shot_2018-12-12_at_1.56.56_PM_1024x1024Here’s what Trump is stewing about at the moment. Raw Story: Trump buried for whining Melania didn’t get enough fashion magazine covers — as he sits on COVID aid bill.

With all that is going on in the U.S. during Christmas week — COVID-19 infections on the rise, a desperately needed COVID-related aid package being held hostage by the president, extended unemployment insurance about to run out, families facing evictions — Donald Trump took time out from his busy holiday vacation at Mar-a-Lago to complain that his wife Melania didn’t get fashion magazine cover stories he feels she deserves.

Linking to a tweet from right-wing Breitbart, that read, “The elitist snobs in the fashion press have kept the most elegant First Lady in American history off the covers of their magazines for 4 consecutive years,” the preside t added “The greatest of all time” by which he presumably meant the first lady, before adding the requisite “Fake news!”

Commenters who were already criticizing the president for two days of golfing while they hunker down in their homes over fears of the spreading pandemic, piled on the president for his bizarre sense of priorities.

Maybe it’s because Melania is ugly inside and out? Click the link to read sample tweets.

Trump is also planning to try to pardon himself and push for inappropriate investigations, according to The Guardian: 

William Barr’s abrupt move to leave his post as attorney general this week has spurred fears among Department of Justice veterans that Donald Trump will put new pressures on Barr’s successor to do him big and potentially risky political and legal favors.

Former justice department officials say they are worried Trump will lean on Barr’s less experienced successor, the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, to push policies which Trump has suggested he backs, including naming special counsels to investigate President-elect Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and using the DoJ to investigate Trump’s baseless charges of widespread election fraud.

Critics also fear Rosen could face pressure from Trump to help obtain a legal opinion that would allow Trump to pardon himself by reversing a justice department opinion that dates back to the Nixon era and bars a presidential self-pardon. Such a move would probably trigger widespread outrage.

Mounting concerns that Trump will try to squeeze favors from Rosen, who became Barr’s deputy AG in early 2019 without previous DoJ experience, stem partly from Trump’s post-election anger at Barr, despite being arguably his strongest cabinet ally in the run-up to the November election.

baa09660e092dcb35cbb29f7ffab4940And what if Trump tries to stay in the White House after Biden’s inauguration? Eric Lutz at Vanity Fair: No One Knows How to Get Trump to Leave the White House in January.

Donald Trump was soundly defeated by Joe Biden, his efforts to overturn the results have been wildly unsuccessful, and the electoral college has made his loss official. In two weeks, lawmakers will meet to certify Biden’s win—and a longshot challenge Trump’s allies in the House are planning is unlikely to stop the inevitable. Constitutionally and legally, Trump will have no constitutional or legal claim to the White House.

But what if, after all that, he just…refuses to leave? What if he refuses to pack his shit and go back to Mar-a-Lago? What if he chains himself to the Resolute Desk? That prospect may sound comically outlandish, and is indeed unlikely to come to pass. But it’s hardly as far-fetched as it might seem, as Trump refuses to concede and continues to insist he won last month’s election in a “landslide.” In fact, he has actually raised the idea with aides recently, as CNN reported. And while few advisers think he’ll actually go through with it, no one really knows what would happen if he does try to overstay his welcome.

According to the Daily Beast on Wednesday, the Secret Service isn’t so sure what it would do, either. One former agent suggested he’d get dragged out like any other civilian would be if they were in the Oval Office unauthorized. “I guess by law he would be a trespasser,” the former agent told the outlet. “We’d have to escort him out.” But the Secret Service and the military may be reluctant to take part in what would be such a dramatic scene, and could take more subtle action, like pressing his inner circle or Republican officials and family members to make him leave. “The Service and the military would just not want to get involved,” another former official said. “It’s not our role.” It could also simply do the equivalent of changing the locks: “When the staff leaves on January 19, don’t let them back into the complex the next day,” an ex-agent said. “He can’t do anything without his staff.”

Again, this is all (thankfully) hypothetical at this point, and the chances of it becoming more than that are still likely remote. But it’s hard to avoid engaging with the prospect as Trump goes to greater and greater lengths in his effort to remain in power, even though a record number of American voters told him to get lost and the electoral college formalized his loss. “It’s scary,” an administration official told CNN.

More at the link.

A few more reads to check out:

s-l640Ed Pilkington at The Guardian: How real is the threat of prosecution for Donald Trump post-presidency?

The Daily Beast: Three Paths This Coronavirus Nightmare Could Take.

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County hospitals running dangerously low on oxygen, supplies as ER units are overwhelmed.

The New York Times: One Vaccine Side Effect: Global Economic Inequality.

Raw Story: Vengeful Trump is in ‘destruction mode’ after ‘being fired by the American people’: Historian Brinkley.

The New York Times: A ‘Great Cultural Depression’ Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you had a nice, relaxing day yesterday. Take care and stay safe!