Thursday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

244497_rgb_1536Tonight Trump and Biden will meet in the second and final debate before the November 3rd election. I plan to watch, at least for a little while, in case Trump spontaneously combusts or strokes out in a rage over his mike being muted. The New York Times has the basics on how to watch

The second and final debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes place on Thursday from 9 to 10:30 p.m. Eastern. Here are some of the many ways you can watch it:

  — The Times will livestream the debate, and our reporters will provide commentary and analysis.

  — The debate will be televised on channels including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, C-SPAN, PBS, Fox News and MSNBC.

  — Many news outlets, including ABCCBSNBCPBSFox News and C-SPAN, will stream the debate on YouTube.

A debate preview from the AP: Face to face: Trump and Biden to meet for final debate.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, are set to square off in their final debate Thursday, one of the last high-profile opportunities for the trailing incumbent to change the trajectory of an increasingly contentious campaign.

244551_rgb_768Worried about losing the White House, some advisers are urging Trump to trade his aggressive demeanor from the first debate for a lower-key style that puts Biden more squarely in the spotlight. But it’s unclear whether the president will listen….

Trump on Tuesday called on Attorney General William Barr to immediately launch an investigation into unverified claims about Biden and his son Hunter, effectively demanding that the Justice Department muddy his political opponent and abandon its historic resistance to getting involved in elections.

The president has promoted an unconfirmed New York Post report published last week that cites an email in which an official from Ukrainian gas company Burisma thanked Hunter Biden, who served on the company’s board, for arranging for him to meet Joe Biden during a 2015 visit to Washington. The Biden campaign has rejected Trump’s assertion of wrongdoing and noted that Biden’s schedule did not show a meeting with the Burisma official.

Trump’s attacks on the Biden family have been relentless, including his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, which led to Trump’s impeachment. It’s part of a determined, yet so-far-unsuccessful effort to drive up his opponent’s negatives, as he did with Hillary Clinton four years ago….

While Biden will defend his own record and his son, aides have said, he hopes to focus on making the case that Trump is unfit for office and let the nation down during a confluence of crises.

As the article notes, Biden has spent the past few days preparing for the debate; Trump has been holding superspreader rallies and raging at Lesley Stahl after she apparently asked him some tough questions in an interview for CBS’s 60 Minutes.

sb101920daprIt must have been really awful for Trump, because he cut the interview short and didn’t return for a scheduled “walk and talk” with Stahl and VP Pence. Right after the interview ended, Trump began attacking Stahl on Twitter. Forbes: Trump Attacks ‘60 Minutes’ Host Lesley Stahl After Reportedly Cutting Interview Short.

Trump tweeted a video of Stahl not wearing a mask while interacting with several people, writing, “Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes not wearing a mask in the White House after her interview with me. Much more to come.”

Trump then threatened to post the interview in advance of its airing so that “everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about,” adding, “Everyone should compare this terrible Electoral Intrusion with the recent interviews of Sleepy Joe Biden!”

Sources familiar with the interview told Forbes the video was taken after the interview with the CBS team, who had all been tested, and that Stahl had a mask on leading into the interview….

The incident comes as Trump and his allies have become increasingly critical of the questioning he receives from the press, with Trump accusing NBC’s Savannah Guthrie of “going totally crazy” in response to her tough line of questioning during a town hall last week.

This morning Trump tweeted:

I cant wait to hear those “magnificently brilliant” responses.

60 Minutes released short clips from the Biden and Trump interviews this morning.

At The Washington Post, Greg Sargent tries to explain Trump’s inexplicable behavior: Why Trump’s endgame is to rage at Lesley Stahl.

Why would Trump squander his final chance to close his big polling gap with Joe Biden on unhinged public fights rather than on winning back voters who’ve been alienated by exactly these sorts of meltdowns?

The fact that this comes after Trump waged a public assault on Anthony S. Fauci, his own leading infectious-disease expert, only seems to compound the folly here, since voters are surely looking to the popular Fauci for advice with the coronavirus again spiking around the country.

But in a very real sense people such as Stahl and Fauci actually are the chief opponents Trump must contend with in the campaign’s final days. They are the figures he perceives to be standing in the way of his effort to conduct this campaign in an entirely invented universe that he’d hoped to manufacture for this very purpose.

Tom Toles Editorial Cartoon - tt_c_c201018.tif

Tom Toles Editorial Cartoon

Trump unloaded on Stahl at a rally on Tuesday night, showing that he’s still stewing about an interview he did with “60 Minutes,” which is set to air on Sunday but apparently went very badly.

“You have to watch what we do to ‘60 Minutes,’” Trump seethed. “You’ll get such a kick out of it. You’re gonna get a kick out of it. Lesley Stahl is not gonna be happy.”

This appears to be a reference to Trump’s threat to release the full footage of the interview before edited parts air. It’s not clear what that would prove, but Trumpworld is all in: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows just told Fox News that it would show Stahl “came across more like an opinion journalist than a real reporter.”

Of course the real explanation is that Trump is looney tunes, coo-coo for Cocopuffs, and completely off his rocker.

This is a very good explanatory piece at Psychology Today by Richard E. Cytowic, a professor of Neurology at George Washington University, that addresses Trump’s odd gait, forward-leaning stance, and other behavioral symptoms that many people have noticed.

We Are Entitled to Ask President Trump for His Brain Scan.

President Trump’s pre-COVID halting gait, bent posture, and jerking right arm have caused much speculation on social media. Armchair critics, without any apparent medical background, have freely diagnosed him as having a series of mini-strokes, frontotemporal dementia, or other neurological illness such as the Lewy Body dementia that afflicted comedian and actor Robin Williams….

1_6-MPRi55oBECO6mrZEQfAgTrump’s forward-listing posture—illustrated by nearly every political cartoonist—was initially attributed to the high-heeled elevator shoes readily observed in photographs. But his torso leans so markedly off-center that it suggests the possibility of a neurological problem rather than vanity. In medical terms the Bent Spine Syndrome is called camptocormia, first documented in the 17th century by Francisco de Zurbaran, a Spanish painter. The mean age of onset is 65 years (Trump is 74).

While most frequently observed in Parkinson’s Disease, the bent posture so evident in Trump may also be seen in Alzheimer’s Dementia, movement disorders of the basal ganglia, and as the side effect of certain medications. 

Also noted are the sudden, jerking movements of Trump’s right arm. Since they occur only on one side, the prefix “hemi” is applied, while “ballistic” means sudden or flinging in the manner of a projectile. Trump’s hemiballistic arm movements are evident in news clips from Memorial Day (also here via C-Span) at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as are his uncontrolled swaying and forward tilt. He is seen to grab his wayward arm with the left one in an effort to keep it under control.

It is common for affected individuals to incorporate the flinging into deliberate movements such as scratching or smoothing the hair as if to make them less noticeable.

Sort of like Dr. Strangelove . . .

On Trump’s “Apparent arm weakness, slurred Speech, and odd circular gait” Cytowic writes:

Evaluating gait and muscle strength is always part of the neurological exam because posture and locomotion call on vast swaths of brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. In June 2020, the president spoke at the West Point graduation ceremony. When he paused to take a sip of water, it appeared that his right arm couldn’t lift the glass all the way. As seen in this C–Span clip, he used his left hand to push it up from the bottom until it met his lips. During his address, you hear slurred speech and mispronunciation of well-known historical names such as Ulysses S. Grant and Douglas MacArthur.

When it came time to exit, Trump hesitantly edged down the ramp. He appeared to have difficulty raising his right leg sufficiently to clear it, as video spread of his struggle on the Drudge Report and major news sites. In September, as Trump walks down the White House driveway to meet the press, you see a clear example of the inability to gain adequate clearance for the right foot to swing normally. To compensate, he abducts his thigh and swings the leg in a semicircle: This is the circumducted gait, or spastic hemiparesis, the most common abnormal gait in neurology. Other photos show his right foot turned in, or inverted, which is part of the hemiparetic gait.

The fact that the leg makes a circle is what makes this way of walking distinctive. Stroke patients with weakness on one side (hemiparesis) almost always show it, along with increased muscle tone (spasticity) on the affected side and a turned in (inverted) foot. When mild, loss of the normal arm swing and a slight circumduction of the leg may be the only outwardly visible abnormalities. But Trump exhibited this spastic circumducted gait back in July during his visit to a North Carolina Lab. Exactly when it began is as yet unknown.

Read the whole thing at the link. 

More stories to check out today:

20201020edshe-bRolling Stone: Watch Obama Absolutely Torch Trump During His Debut Campaign Event for Biden.

The Wall Street Journal: Inside the Week That Shook the Trump Campaign

William Saletan at Slate: Trump’s Attack on Fauci Is Unbelievably Idiotic.

The Daily Beast: New Columbia Study Blames the White House for at Least 130,000 ‘Avoidable’ COVID Deaths.

American Independent: Violent threats against Biden and his supporters are getting worse.

Raw Story: Armed guards at Florida polling site say they were sent by the Trump campaign.

News Channel 8 Tampa: Trump spokesperson says armed men outside St. Pete polling place were not hired by campaign.

NPR: Here’s Where The Threat Of Militia Activity Around The Elections Is The Highest.

Politico: Trump is doing worse than it seems — but reporters are afraid to say so.

The New York Times: The Relentless Shrinking of Trump’s Base.

Take care everyone, and please stop by to share your thoughts if you have the time and inclination. 


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

I’m having difficulty getting started today. I’ve been dealing with a stomach virus since the weekend. I’m nauseated, have no energy, and feel weak an wobbly on my feet. I spoke to a doctor’s assistant at my health clinic who told me the stomach viruses going around now can last up to two weeks. She just told me to call back if I get any respiratory symptoms. Anyway, I’m not enjoying reading the news these days. I’ll just share some stories that caught my depleted interest this morning.

How about a little archaeology to start out?

The Times of Israel: Huge Kingdom of Judah government complex found near US Embassy in Jerusalem.

One of the largest collections of royal Kingdom of Judah seal impressions has been uncovered at a massive First Temple-period public tax collection and storage complex being excavated near the new United States Embassy in Jerusalem. The main Iron Age structure is exceptional in terms of both its size and architectural style, said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Neri Sapir, who co-directed the excavation.

Uncovered only three kilometers (1.8 mile) outside the Old City, the compound is believed by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists to have served as an administrative center during the reigns of Judean kings Hezekiah and Menashe (8th century to the middle of the 7th century BCE).

Clay figurines of women and animals found at the Arnona, Jerusalem excavation site. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Over 120 jar handles stamped 2,700 years ago with ancient Hebrew script seal impressions were discovered at the site, clearly indicating the location’s use as a storage and tax center, according to an IAA press release Wednesday. Prevalent among the stamped inscriptions is “LMLK,” “LamMeLeKh,” or “Belonging to the King,” a way of marking that the foodstuffs stored in the jars had been tithed to the Judean ruler.

This trove of LMLK seal impressions adds to the over 2,000 similar seals previously discovered at excavations and allows archaeologists to rethink the administrative and tax collection systems of the Kingdom of Judah.

“This is one of the most significant discoveries from the period of the Kings in Jerusalem made in recent years. At the site we excavated, there are signs that governmental activity managed and distributed food supplies not only for shortage but administered agricultural surplus amassing commodities and wealth,” said IAA excavation co-directors Sapir and Nathan Ben-Ari in a press release Wednesday.

There’s much more fascinating information at the link.

Back in the 21st Century, American democracy is still threatened by a moron who thinks he’s brilliant and aspires to be dictator for life.

The Washington Post: Trump keeps boasting about passing a cognitive test — but it doesn’t mean what he thinks it does.

During a private campaign meeting in the Cabinet Room in early June, Trump brought up the test unprompted. In an extended riff, he talked about how well he had done — boasting that he’d been able to remember five different words, in order — and suggested challenging Biden to take the assessment, saying he was certain the former vice president would not fare as well.

Since then, the president has been speaking about the test publicly, telling Fox News’s Sean Hannity in a July 9 phone interview that he’d “aced it,” and again on Sunday, when he told the network’s Chris Wallace that he doubts Biden could answer all of the questions. On Wednesday evening, in another Fox News interview, Trump couldn’t resist revisiting what he said was the hardest part of the test — repeating the five words, in order.

Trump said he was first asked to repeat a set of words — “person,” “woman,” “man,” “camera,” “TV,” he said, offering a hypothetical example — and then, later in the assessment after some time had elapsed, he was again asked whether he remembered those same words, in order.

“And they say… ‘Go back to that question, and repeat them. Can you do it?’ ” Trump said, mimicking the doctors administering the exam. “And you go, ‘Person, woman, man, camera, TV.’ They say, ‘That’s amazing. How did you do that?’ I do it because I have, like, a good memory, because I’m cognitively there.”

 

But, as those of us with normal cognitive abilities know, the “test” Trump “aced” is routinely given to people who are suspected of having brain damage, dementia, or other cognitive deficits. It’s not a test of intelligence, as Trump seems to think. Back to the WaPo story:

Experts say the president’s fixation on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment — or MoCA, as it is sometimes called — is particularly puzzling because the test is normally administered only if someone is concerned that they or their loved ones may be experiencing dementia or other cognitive decline. Getting a perfect score — as Trump has repeatedly claimed he did — merely signifies that the test-taker probably does not have a cognitive impairment as measured by the exam.

“It’s not meant to measure IQ or intellectual skill in anyway,” said Ziad Nasreddine, the neurologist who created the test. “If someone performs well, what it means is they can be ruled out for cognitive impairment that comes with diseases like Alzheimer’s, stroke or multiple sclerosis. That’s it.”

Nasreddine continued: “The reason most people take the test is they or others start noticing mental decline. They forgot where they parked the car, can’t remember what groceries to buy by the time they get to the store. They keep forgetting to take their medication.”

Yesterday Federal agents in Portland, Oregon tear-gassed the city’s mayor.

The New York Times: Federal Officers Hit Portland Mayor With Tear Gas.

The mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, was left coughing and wincing in the middle of his own city Wednesday night after federal officers deployed tear gas into a crowd of protesters that Mr. Wheeler had joined outside the federal courthouse.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler visits protesters

Mr. Wheeler, who scrambled to put on goggles while denouncing what he called the “urban warfare” tactic of the federal agents, said he was outraged by the use of tear gas and that it was only making protesters more angry.

“I’m not going to lie — it stings; it’s hard to breathe,” Mr. Wheeler said. “And I can tell you with 100 percent honesty, I saw nothing which provoked this response.”

He called it an “egregious overreaction” on the part of the federal officers, and not a de-escalation strategy….

But the Democratic mayor, 57, has also long been the target of Portland protesters infuriated by the city police’s own use of tear gas, which was persistent until a federal judge ordered the city to use it only when there was a safety issue. As Mr. Wheeler went through the crowds on Wednesday, some threw objects in his direction, and others called for his resignation, chanting, “Tear Gas Teddy.”

After a large wave of tear gas sent Mr. Wheeler away from the scene, some protesters mocked him, asking how it felt. Mr. Wheeler said that joining the protesters at the front of the line was just one way he was going to try to rid the city of the federal tactical teams.“

A lot of these people hate my guts,” Mr. Wheeler said in an interview, looking around at the crowd. But he said they were unified in wanting federal officers gone.

Also at The New York Times, Gary Hart has an op-ed about presidential power: How Powerful Is the President?

We have recently come to learn of at least a hundred documents authorizing extraordinary presidential powers in the case of a national emergency, virtually dictatorial powers without congressional or judicial checks and balances. President Trump alluded to these authorities in March when he said, “I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.” No matter who occupies the office, the American people have a right to know what extraordinary powers presidents believe they have. It is time for a new select committee to study these powers and their potential for abuse, and advise Congress on the ways in which it might, at a minimum, establish stringent oversight.

Gary Hart

Secret powers began accumulating during the Eisenhower years and have grown by accretion ever since. The rationale originally was to permit a president to exercise necessary control in the case of nuclear war, an increasingly remote possibility since the Cold War’s endAn obscure provision in the Communications Act of 1934 empowers the president to suspend broadcast stations and other means of communication following a “proclamation by the President” of “national emergency.” Powers like these have been deployed sparingly: A few days after the Sept. 11 attacks, a proclamation declaring a national emergency, followed by an executive order days later, invoked some presidential powers, including the use of National Guard and U.S. military forces.

What little we know about these secret powers comes from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, but we believe they may include suspension of habeas corpus, surveillance, home intrusion, arrest without a judicial warrant, collective if not mass arrests and more; some could violate constitutional protections.

A number of us have urged immediate congressional investigations concerning what these powers are and why they have been kept secret. Public hearings should be held before the November elections, especially with rumors rife that the incumbent president might interfere with the election or refuse to accept the result if he felt in jeopardy of losing.

Please read the rest of this important piece at the NYT.

More stories to check out:

HuffPost: Russian Allies Helping Trump Win Reelection Have A Partner In Wisconsin Republican.

The Washington Post: Republicans scrap Trump’s demand for payroll tax cut as they cobble together draft coronavirus bill.

Politico Magazine: State Department Insiders Ask: What Is Susan Pompeo Really Up To?

Jacksonville.com: RNC plans in jeopardy as Jacksonville council president opposes city bill.

The New York Times: House Democrats Considered 10 Impeachment Articles Before Narrowing Their Case Against Trump.

Bloomberg City Lab: Philadelphia’s Top Prosecutor Is Prepared to Arrest Federal Agents.

The New York Times: Tracking the Real Coronavirus Death Toll in the United States.


Thursday: Day After Christmas Open Thread

Santa resting on the day after Christmas

Good Morning!!

We’re halfway through the holiday madness, and I have to admit it has been nice having slow news days instead of shocks to the system every few hours day after day. There really is nothing to write about today, but here are a few reads to check out if you’re interested.

Of course Trump is still nuts and he’s still tweeting nonsense.

And he’s still in steep cognitive decline. Raw Story: Psychiatry expert says Trump’s rambling Merry Christmas rant includes three signs of serious mental impairment.

President Donald Trump’s speech in Florida over the weekend provides evidence that he is suffering from cognitive decline, according to a psychiatric expert.

Seth Davin Norrholm, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, said Monday that the president’s recent rant about Christmas included at least three signs of mental problems.

“So if anybody wants to be a nice conservative, talk show host is not a bad living, I would say. But I have to say, he’s a very unique guy and he’s a great man and he’s been a great friend. So thank you to Rush. Thank you,” Trump said.

“And let me begin by wishing you a beautif — [NOTE from BB: This is the point where he had the shoulder spasm and lost the plot at 22 sec.] look, do you remember this? Do you remember this? Remember, they were trying to take Christmas out of Christmas. Do you remember? They didn’t want to let you say Merry Christmas,” Trump continued.

“You’d go around, you’d see department stores that have everything red, snow, beautiful, ribbons, bows. Everything was there. But they wouldn’t say Merry Christmas. They’re all saying Merry Christmas again. You remember?”

The Washington Post: U.S. Cybercom contemplates information warfare to counter Russian interference in 2020 election.

Military cyber officials are developing information warfare tactics that could be deployed against senior Russian officials and oligarchs if Moscow tries to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections through hacking election systems or sowing widespread discord, according to current and former U.S. officials.

One option being explored by U.S. Cyber Command would target senior leadership and Russian elites, though probably not President Vladimir Putin, which would be considered too provocative, said the current and former officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity. The idea would be to show that the target’s sensitive personal data could be hit if the interference did not stop, though officials declined to be more specific.

“When the Russians put implants into an electric grid, it means they’re making a credible showing that they have the ability to hurt you if things escalate,” said Bobby Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “What may be contemplated here is an individualized version of that, not unlike individually targeted economic sanctions. It’s sending credible signals to key decision-makers that they are vulnerable if they take certain adversarial actions.” [….]

The development comes as numerous agencies within the Trump administration seek to ensure that the United States is shielded against foreign efforts to disrupt the 2020 elections, even as President Trump has cast doubt on or belittled his own intelligence community’s finding of Russian interference in 2016.


Tuesday Reads: Hopeful Views and Crazy News

Illustration by Aïda Amer, Axios

Good Morning!!

Last night Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed Rachel Bitecofer about her accurate prediction of 2018 election results and her current prediction for the 2020 presidential race.

Rachel Bitecofer is assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, where she teaches classes on political behavior, campaigns, elections, and political analysis and conducts survey research on public policy issues and election campaigns. Her work and analysis has been featured in many media outlets such as The New York TimesThe Washington PostUSA TodayNPR, and she is a contracted commentator on CBC Radio. Her book, The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election (Palgrave McMillan) is available via Amazon. Her unique election forecasting model accurately predicted Democrats gaining 42 seats 5 months before the 2018 midterms.

Bitecofer has describes her model for the 2018 and 2020 elections at The Judy Ford Center for Public Policy: With 16 Months to go, Negative Partisanship Predicts the 2020 Presidential Election.

In July of 2018, my innovative forecasting model raised eyebrows by predicting some four months before the midterm election that Democrats would pick up 42 seats in the House of Representatives. In hindsight, that may not seem such a bold prediction, but when my forecast was released, election Twitter was still having a robust debate as to whether the Blue Wave would be large enough for Democrats to pick up the 23 seats they needed to take control of the House of Representatives and return the Speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi.

Based on its 2018 performance, my model, and the theory that structures it, seem well poised to tackle the 2020 presidential election – 16 months out. I’ll serve up that result below, but first let’s set the table by reviewing my model’s 2018 forecasting success.

Rachel Bitecofer

Not only did I predict that they would gain nearly double the seats they needed, but I also identified a specific list of Republican seats Democrats would flip, including some, such as Virginia CD7, that were listed as “Lean Republican” by the majority of race raters at the time. At a time when other analysts coded even the most competitive House races for Democrats as Lean or Tilt Democrat, I identified 13 Republican-held districts as “Will Flips,” 12 as “Likely to Flip,” and 6 as “Lean Democrat.” I also identified a large list of “Toss Ups,” from which I would later identify the remaining “flippers.” In addition, I identified some “long-shot toss-up” districts that could be viable flips under some turnout scenarios. Of the original 25 districts I identified as definitely or highly likely to flip, all but one, Colorado CD3, did so, possibly because the party failed to invest in their nominee there.

What does the model say about 2020?

Barring a shock to the system, Democrats recapture the presidency. The leaking of the Trump campaign’s internal polling has somewhat softened the blow of this forecast, as that polling reaffirms what my model already knew: Trump’s 2016 path to the White House, which was the political equivalent of getting dealt a Royal Flush in poker, is probably not replicable in 2020 with an agitated Democratic electorate. And that is really bad news for Donald Trump because the Blue Wall of the Midwest was then, and is now, the ONLY viable path for Trump to win the White House.

Why is Trump in so much trouble in the Midwest? First, and probably most important, is the profound misunderstanding by, well, almost everyone, as to how he won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the first place. Ask anyone, and they will describe Trump’s 2016 Midwestern triumph as a product of white, working class voters swinging away from the Democrats based on the appeal of Trump’s economic populist messaging. Some will point to survey data of disaffected Obama-to-Trump voters and even Sanders-to-Trump voters as evidence that this populist appeal was the decisive factor. And this is sort of true. In Ohio, Trump managed the rare feat of cracking 50%. Elsewhere, that explanation runs into empirical problems when one digs into the data. Start with the numerical fact that Trump “won” Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan with 47.22%, 48.18%, and 47.5% of the vote, respectively, after five times the normal number in those states cast their ballots for an option other than Trump or Clinton. This, combined with the depressed turnout of African Americans (targeted with suppression materials by the Russians) and left-leaning Independents turned off by Clinton (targeted with defection materials by the Russians) allowed Trump to pull off an improbable victory, one that will be hard to replicate in today’s less nitpicky atmosphere. Yet, the media (and the voting public) has turned Trump’s 2016 win into a mythic legend of invincibility. The complacent electorate of 2016, who were convinced Trump would never be president, has been replaced with the terrified electorate of 2020, who are convinced he’s the Terminator and can’t be stopped. Under my model, that distinction is not only important, it is everything.

Last night Bitecofer predicted that the Democratic candidate will win 270 electoral votes. There’s much more interesting analysis at the link above. Read a slightly less technical analysis of Bitecofer’s model by Paul Rosenberg at Salon: Does anyone understand the 2020 race? This scholar nailed the blue wave — here’s her forecast.

Meanwhile, at the moment we are at the mercy of the insane occupant of the White House. Eugene Robinson: Trump is melting down. Again.

Fears of a global recession, greatly exacerbated by Trump’s erratic and self-destructive trade policies, have sent financial markets tumbling. A sharp downturn would close off one of the principal lines of attack the president was hoping to use against his Democratic opponent. He tried it out at a rally in New Hampshire last week: “You have no choice but to vote for me,” he told the crowd, “because your 401(k)’s down the tubes, everything’s gonna be down the tubes” if he loses. “So whether you love me or hate me, you gotta vote for me.”

Fact check: No.

Trump is flailing. He berates his handpicked chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, for not cutting interest rates fast enough to goose the economy. He practically begs Chinese President Xi Jinping for a meeting to work out a trade deal — any trade deal, apparently — and is met with silence. He threatens more tariffs but then backs down, at least for now. According to published reports, he sees himself as the victim of a conspiracy to exaggerate the growing economic anxiety in order to hurt his chances of winning a second term.

He entertains grandiose, almost Napoleonic fantasies — purchasing Greenland from Denmark in what he calls “a large real estate deal,” perhaps, or imposing a naval blockade to force regime change in Venezuela. He apparently spent much of this past weekend fuming about not getting credit for how his New Hampshire rally broke an attendance record for the arena that had been set by Elton John.

And Trump can’t seem to stop railing against a recent Fox News pollthat showed him losing to four of the leading Democratic contenders. The president seems to consider Fox News his administration’s Ministry of Propaganda — indeed, that is the role the network’s morning-show hosts and prime-time anchors loyally play — but the polling unit is a professional operation. “There’s something going on at Fox, I’ll tell you right now. And I’m not happy with it,” Trump told reporters Sunday . He added a threat, saying that Fox “is making a big mistake” because he is “the one that calls the shots” on next year’s general election debates — the implication being that Fox News might not get to broadcast one of them if it doesn’t toe the party line.

The only thing Robinson leaves out is that Trump’s health is going downhill; his dementia symptoms are getting worse by the day.

Trump’s biggest supporters are nuts too, but they are also very influential on social media. Check out this story at NBC News: Trump, QAnon and an impending judgment day: Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times.

By the numbers, there is no bigger advocate of President Donald Trump on Facebook than The Epoch Times.

The small New York-based nonprofit news outlet has spent more than $1.5 million on about 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in the last six months, according to data from Facebook’s advertising archive — more than any organization outside of the Trump campaign itself, and more than most Democratic presidential candidates have spent on their own campaigns.

Those video ads — in which unidentified spokespeople thumb through a newspaper to praise Trump, peddle conspiracy theories about the “Deep State,” and criticize “fake news” media — strike a familiar tone in the online conservative news ecosystem. The Epoch Times looks like many of the conservative outlets that have gained followings in recent years.

But it isn’t.

Behind the scenes, the media outlet’s ownership and operation is closely tied to Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual community with the stated goal of taking down China’s government.

It’s that motivation that helped drive the organization toward Trump, according to interviews with former Epoch Times staffers, a move that has been both lucrative and beneficial for its message.

Former practitioners of Falun Gong told NBC News that believers think the world is headed toward a judgment day, where those labeled “communists” will be sent to a kind of hell, and those sympathetic to the spiritual community will be spared. Trump is viewed as a key ally in the anti-communist fight, former Epoch Times employees said.

Click the link the read the rest. We are truly living in the Twilight Zone.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll add some non-crazy links in the comment thread. What stories are you following?


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?