Finally Friday Reads: A Woman’s Day

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1915, Women on a Street

Good Day Sky Dancers!

Misogyny is the word for the day. Two of the headlines deal with the egregious actions of Trump. Then, hold his beer because New Zealand lost an outstanding prime minister because she got tired of the same treatment the woman-hating press and right-wingers give women leaders here.  There is some really good news today from a U.S. court.

This is from the New York Times. “Judge Orders Trump and Lawyer to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Bogus Suit. In a scathing ruling, the judge said the suit against Hillary Clinton and dozens of the former president’s perceived political enemies was “brought in bad faith for an improper purpose.”  It’s not a large sum of money, but it paints him as a loser and bringer of frivolous lawsuits. I do have to mention the bylines as Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman.

In a scathing ruling, a federal judge in Florida on Thursday ordered Donald J. Trump and one of his lawyers together to pay nearly a million dollars in sanctions for filing a frivolous lawsuit against nearly three dozen of Mr. Trump’s perceived political enemies, including Hillary Clinton and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey.

The ruling was a significant rebuke of Mr. Trump, who has rarely faced such consequences in his long history of using the courts as a weapon against business rivals and partners, as well as former employees and reporters.

And it was the latest setback for Mr. Trump as he faces a broad range of legal problems and criminal investigations. His lawyers are increasingly under scrutiny themselves for their actions in those cases, as well as divided in the advice they are offering him.

“This case should never have been brought,” U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks wrote in a 46-page ruling. “Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”

While Mr. Trump has often blamed his lawyers for his problems, the judge, in his ruling on Thursday, addressed Mr. Trump’s history of using the courts as a cudgel, going back decades in his business career.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Tightrope Walk (1908-10)

Dan Mangan of CNBC also reports the story.  This is the first news day in some time where I honestly say it put a smile on my face.

Trump’s suit, which sought $70 million in damages, accused Clinton and 30 other defendants of conspiring to “weave a false narrative” during the 2016 election that Trump and his campaign were colluding with Russia in their efforts to win the race.

Middlebrooks in his order Thursday noted that “Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries.”

“He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer,” Middlebrooks wrote.

“He knew full well the impact of his actions … As such, I find that sanctions should be imposed upon Mr. Trump and his lead counsel, Ms. Habba.”

Under the order, the Republican Trump and Habba, are jointly and severally liable for the total amount of sanctions the judge imposed to cover the defendants’ legal fees and costs : $937,989.39. That amount is about $120,000 less than what the defendants jointly requested for sanctions.
Clinton was awarded $171,631 in sanctions to be paid by Trump and Habba, with most of that money earmarked for Clinton’s attorneys’ fee.

That was the second largest amount awarded in Middlebrooks’ order, which gave the Democratic National Committee, its former chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, and a related corporation $179,685.

“The amount of fees awarded in this case, while reasonable, is substantial,” Middlebrooks noted.

The judge in November had sanctioned Habba and other Trump lawyers $50,000 in favor of another defendant in the lawsuit, Charles Dolan.

He called the legal pleadings filed in the case by Habba “abusive litigation tactics,” and said the original lawsuit and a later, 186-page amended complaint “were drafted to advance political narrative; not to address legal harm caused by any Defendant.”

“The Amended Complaint is a hodgepodge of disconnected, often immaterial events, followed by an implausible conclusion,” Middlebrooks wrote.

“This is a deliberate attempt to harass; to tell a story without regard to facts.”

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Five Women on the Street, 1913

If you want to know how Trump’s mental acuity is doing these days, read this transcript of his Deposition in the E. Jean Carroll case released by Judge Kaplan. The weirdest moment was when Trump mistook a picture of Carroll for his former wife, Marla Maples. This is from MSNBC and Steve Benen. “Deposition transcript adds to Trump’s troubles in Carroll case. Why does it matter that Donald Trump confused a woman who has accused him of rape with one of his ex-wives? Because it might undermine his defense.”

It was about a week ago when the public first saw a partial transcript of Donald Trump’s deposition in E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case. As we discussed soon after, it was not good news for the Republican: The former president not only lashed out at his accuser as a “nut job” and someone who’s “mentally sick,” he also falsely suggested that Carroll was on record enjoying sexual assault.

“She actually indicated that she loved it. OK?” Trump said in the deposition, mischaracterizing comments Carroll made on CNN four years ago. “In fact, I think she said it was sexy, didn’t she? She said it was very sexy to be raped.”

The plaintiff’s attorney asked, “So, sir, I just want to confirm: It’s your testimony that E. Jean Carroll said that she loved being sexually assaulted by you?” Trump responded, “Well, based on her interview with Anderson Cooper, I believe that’s what took place.”

As NBC News reported, the rest of the deposition is now also coming into focus in striking ways.

Former President Donald Trump confused E. Jean Carroll, the writer who has accused him of rape, with ex-wife Marla Maples in a photo he was shown during a deposition, newly unsealed court documents show. An excerpt of the October deposition released by U.S. District Court for Southern New York on Wednesday includes an exchange in which Trump was asked by Carroll’s lawyer about a black-and-white photograph that showed a small group of people, including Trump and Carroll.

Describing the image showing him and his accuser, Trump said, “That’s Marla, yeah. That’s my wife,” referring to the second of his three spouses. At that point, the Republican’s lawyer intervened, correcting her client’s mistake.

“No, that’s Carroll,” lawyer Alina Habba said, according to the newly released transcript. 

At face value, this might seem like an embarrassing blunder in which the former president confused one of his former wives with a woman who accused him of attacking her. But there’s more to it than that: As NBC News’ report added, “Trump’s comments under oath threaten to undercut his repeated denials of Carroll’s allegations, claiming she’s ‘not my type.’”

Portrait of Emy, 1919. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced her plans to step down yesterday.  She was widely hailed as an effective and empathetic leader. Among her accomplishments was the impressive handling of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country, which was considered one of the most effective in the world.  This is from NPR. 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday announced her intent to step down in a shock move that rocked the country’s political landscape.

Speaking to her party’s annual caucus in the seaside town of Napier, 42-year-old Ardern said “it’s time” for her to move on and that she “no longer had enough in the tank” for her premiership. She also called for a general election on Oct. 14.

“I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility,” Ardern told her audience. “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”

Ardern became the world’s youngest female leader in 2017 at the age of 37. Her last day in the office will be Feb. 7.

“This is not something we were expecting today,” said Geoffrey Miller, a geopolitical analyst with the Wellington-based nonprofit Democracy Project. “It was something that commentators had thought of and have been asking since the end of last year … and she quite convincingly said she was going to stay, and that she wasn’t going anywhere.”

The last six years have been busy for Ardern, managing disasters and tragedies that propelled her to global superstardom, Miller said. From the COVID-19 pandemic and a volcanic eruption to the terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, he said Ardern has become much more well known than any New Zealand prime minister in the past.

“In many ways, she was the anti-Trump figure,” Miller said. “They both came into office in 2017 … but she went off to the United Nations and she decried isolationism, brandishing an image of being an internationalist or being a globalist.”

New Zealand’s relationship with China was probably her biggest foreign policy sticking point, Miller said, with Ardern always having to walk a line between souring relations with China and the fact that Beijing is Wellington’s largest trading partner.

“But she had to try and find a way forward,” Miller said. “And I think her consensus approach helped with this, but at the same time, she wasn’t immune to these bigger geopolitical trends.”

Four Ages in Life, 1920, Edvard Munch

This is from Monica Hesse, writing for the Washington Post. “Jacinda Ardern didn’t make working motherhood look easy. She made it look real. Five years ago, she became the second world leader to give birth while in office. Now the New Zealand prime minister plans to step down.”

A few weeks ago, while I watched Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) win admiration for caring for his infant on the House floor, I started to think about the last time I’d seen an elected official engage in such a public display of parenting. It was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, scraping herself together after a six-week maternity leave to simultaneously raise a human and run a country.

I don’t remember Ardern winning universal admiration for this balancing act. What I remember mostly was the debate that raged over her breastfeeding choices. Since baby Neve was still nursing when Ardern was expected at a Pacific islands summit, the prime minister had arranged to take a separate flight from other government officials, shortening her trip to avoid a prolonged absence from her newborn. The extra travel arrangements cost thousands of dollars in fuel. Was this a good use of taxpayer money? Should Ardern have taken a longer maternity leave or avoided pregnancy altogether?

“If I didn’t go, I imagine there would have been equal criticism,” she told the New Zealand Herald at the time, explaining the careful analysis that had gone into her decision. “Damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.”

So one lesson from Jacinda Ardern’s term was that mothers can’t win and that even in the highest levels of governing, a father who rearranges his work schedule for his kids is seen as dedicated and a mother who does the same is seen as disorganized. But if you prefer the optimistic take, the other lesson was that if citizens are willing to accept flexibility in how their leaders get the job done then they can have a leader like Jacinda Ardern.

They can have a leader who, after stepping into her role at the age of 37, went on to create one of the most diverse cabinets in the world: 40 percent women, 25 percent Maori, 15 percent LGBTQ — a group that, Arden said proudly, reflected “the New Zealand that elected them.”

They can have a leader who, less than a week after 50 New Zealanders were shot to death in a Christchurch mosque, helmed a nationwide ban of assault-style weapons without fuss or consternation: “Our history changed forever,” she said simply. “Now, our laws will too.”

The Mother leading two Children, 1901, Pablo Piccaso

Ardern cited burnout as her primary reason for resignation.  There was a surging right-wing movement in the nation and among the press that some of my friends felt was hell-bent on doing her in.  This is from the BBC.  “Why Jacinda Ardern’s star waned in New Zealand.”

She has been the subject of often-vile abuse by the anti-vax movement and other populist-inspired right-wing protest groups in New Zealand.

It was evident in her resignation remarks on Thursday that the pressure had had an impact and caused her to doubt whether she could lead her party into the election scheduled for October.

“This summer, I had hoped to find a way to prepare not just for another year but another term because that is what this year requires; I have not been able to do that,” she said.

Now, for yet another insult to American Women. This is from Bloomberg. It’s written by Nancy Cook.  “GOP Quietly Plots What’s Next on Abortion in Nod to 2022 Failures. ”

  • Anti-abortion rally in DC highlights scattershot approach
  • Abortion rights energized women, young voters in midterms “

Republicans still haven’t solved the quandary of how to talk to voters about abortion, still stinging from their midterm losses and with the White House at stake in less than two years.

Conversations with a dozen GOP candidates, former White House aides, activists and lobbyists show the issue continues to bedevil the party even after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Conservatives who celebrated that ruling are weighing what is politically possible to restrict access to abortion without repelling key voters like suburban women, independents and young people.

The GOP ceded this ground in the 2022 midterms to Democrats, whose own furious base was galvanized following the Supreme Court’s decision last summer to end 50 years of constitutionally protected abortion rights.

On the campaign trail, some Republicans avoided the topic entirely while some endorsed total bans, with no exceptions. The reality that hit them was that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

So with the 2024 race already on, Republicans’ strategy is to paint Democrats as the true extremists, try to put them on the defensive and avoid their own schisms from spilling out in public.

The GOP ceded this ground in the 2022 midterms to Democrats, whose own furious base was galvanized following the Supreme Court’s decision last summer to end 50 years of constitutionally protected abortion rights.

On the campaign trail, some Republicans avoided the topic entirely while some endorsed total bans, with no exceptions. The reality that hit them was that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

So with the 2024 race already on, Republicans’ strategy is to paint Democrats as the true extremists, try to put them on the defensive and avoid their own schisms from spilling out in public.

“When you run from abortion and don’t talk about it, you forfeit the issue to the other side,” Marc Short, chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence, said in an interview. “We have a responsibility, as a party, to explain our position and do it in a winsome way that is not judgmental.”

Winsome?  WTAF?

Well, that’s it for me today!  I hope you have a great weekend!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

As usual, there’s way too much important news to cover today. I long for the days when Obama was president and there weren’t scandals and outrages every single day including Saturdays and Sundays.

Overhead view of the shelter for migrant children in Clint, TX

After the public response to Trump’s concentration camps/torture chambers for children on border, NBC News reports: Almost 300 migrant children removed from Texas facility described as ‘appalling.’

Almost 300 migrant children have been removed from a border patrol facility in Texas after media reports of lawyers describing “appalling” and potentially dangerous conditions, Department of Homeland Security officials told NBC News….

The children who were removed were being held at a border station in Clint, Texas. Some were wearing dirty clothes covered in mucus or even urine, said Elora Mukherjee, the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School. Teenage mothers wore clothing stained with breast milk. None of the children had access to soap or toothpaste, she said.

The children have been taken to a tent detention camp also in El Paso, Texas, where they will remain under the custody of Border Patrol until they can be placed with the Department of Health and Human Services, the DHS officials said. The Associated Press first reported on the conditions at the facility.

But will conditions be better in the tent camp? Who knows? Reporters aren’t allowed in to report on Trump’s concentration camps. The Washington Post: Migrant children are suffering at the border. But reporters are kept away from the story.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Clint, Texas is seen in this undated image from Google Maps.

News stories emerged last week about squalid conditions at a Border Patrol detention facility housing about 300 migrant children on the U.S.-Mexico border. The media accounts described the facility in Clint, Tex., near El Paso, that houses children separated from their parents by order of the Trump administration.

Apart from their appalling specifics, the stories were notable for one element: They were all based on secondhand accounts. Reporters were unable to see the facilities themselves or speak to any of the children. Instead, they relied on descriptions provided by lawyers and advocates who were granted access under a legal settlement with the Border Patrol.

The blackout on press access has left Americans largely in the dark about conditions in government facilities designed to handle migrants who have crossed the border. Photographs and TV images are both rare and often dated. Rarer still are interviews with federal agency managers and employees and with the children themselves.

Journalists, government officials and migrant advocates agree that permitting reporters to see the facilities firsthand would change public perceptions about the treatment of migrants. There’s disagreement, however, about how it would change.

“If journalists had access to the detention centers at the border where children are being held in filthy conditions, those centers would not exist,” said Elora Mukherjee, an attorney who interviewed children at the Texas facility and described them to reporters last week. “If videos were released there would be massive changes” because the public outcry would be enormous.

From left: Meagan O’Toole-Pitts, Ashley Cortez, Oliver Cortez, and his father, Mark Cortez, attempt to drop off diapers and toys for detained children at the immigration detention center in Clint. Courtesy of Armando Martinez Photography

The Boarder Patrol won’t even accept donations from people who want to help the children, according to The Texas Tribune.

Oh, and good old Melania chose yesterday to tweet about helping children. Raw Story: Melania Trump ripped for bragging about helping children while her husband runs concentration camps for kids. “Be best” like her husband the child abuser and rapist?

Two more important stories on this topic:

Damon Linker at The Week: Trump’s border policy: If cruelty isn’t the point, what is?

Dahlia Lithwick and Margo Schlanger at Slate: What You Need to Know About the Crisis at the Border.

Big media largely ignored or downplayed E. Jean Carroll’s rape allegation against Trump. Now multiple outlets are asking why it wasn’t treated as front page news.

Paul Waldman at The Washington Post: Have we become numb to Trump’s loathsomeness?

When we look back on June 2019, we’ll say that this was the time when a credible allegation of rape was made against the president of the United States, and he had already shown himself to be such a loathsome character that it was treated as a third-tier story, not worthy of much more than a passing mention here and there in the news.

After New York magazine published author and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll’s account last Friday of an encounter she says she had with Trump in a Bergdorf Goodman that ended with him raping her in a dressing room, many of our most important news outlets reacted with only minor interest. Most of the nation’s biggest newspapers — aside from The Post — left it off on their front page the next day. None of the five Sunday shows mentioned it at all.

There are many reasons to find Carroll’s allegation credible. She’s a fairly well-known public figure. Her description of what happened to her — him slamming her against a wall, mashing his face against hers, yanking down her tights, and penetrating her — accords not only with the allegations of multiple other women but Trump’s own words on that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he bragged that he can sexually assault any woman he pleases. “I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Yet Trump’s position on Carroll’s allegation is the same he has taken on all the others: She’s a liar. He doesn’t say it was a misunderstanding or it was consensual, just that she’s a liar.

A liar and somehow not the sort of woman he would choose to rape, according to Trump.

The New York Times: ‘She’s Not My Type’: Accused Again of Sexual Assault, Trump Resorts to Old Insult.

Mr. Trump said that E. Jean Carroll, who wrote for years for Elle magazine, was “lying” when she said that he threw her up against a wall and forced himself on her in the mid-1990s, and he insisted that he did not know her.

“I’ll say it with great respect,” he said in an interview with The Hill, a Capitol Hill news organization. “No. 1, she’s not my type. No. 2, it never happened. It never happened, O.K.?” [….]

In the Hill interview, Mr. Trump said Ms. Carroll was making up the story. “Totally lying. I don’t know anything about her,” he said. “I know nothing about this woman. I know nothing about her. She is — it’s just a terrible thing that people can make statements like that.”

Mr. Trump in the past has rejected other sexual assault accusations by asserting that the women who accused him of taking advantage of them were not attractive enough to engage in such behavior.

“Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you,” Trump told supporters at a campaign event in 2016 after a woman accused him of putting his hand up her skirt while on an airplane. “You don’t know. That would not be my first choice.” As the crowd laughed, he said, “Check out her Facebook, you’ll understand.”

Of course Carroll is very much his “type.” She was a blonde beauty queen and a cheerleader, for cripes sake.

Look at the photos. I’d say she fits the mold, wouldn’t you? Here’s another take on this story at The Atlantic: The Cruel Paradox at the Heart of E. Jean Carroll’s Allegation Against Trump.

Yesterday, the dotard in chief issued new sanctions against Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who has been dead for 20 years. Iran responded that the Trump administration is “afflicted with mental retardation.” CBS This Morning: Iran leaders lash out at White House over “idiotic” new sanctions.

Officials in Iran lashed out on Tuesday at the latest round of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, casting doubt on any hope of an imminent diplomatic end to the standoff over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. President Hassan Rouhani called the new U.S. sanctions “outrageous and idiotic,” and suggested the Trump administration was “afflicted by mental retardation” for imposing them.

The country’s foreign ministry spokesman said the latest move by the U.S. brought a “permanent closure” to any hope of diplomacy between the two nations.

President Trump imposed the new sanctions on Monday. For the first time they target Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei directly, barring his access to the international financial system. The punitive measures — which add to a long list of financial sanctions already slapped on Tehran by Mr. Trump since he pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal with Iran last year — also target other officials.

Rouhani mocked Mr. Trump over the sanctions, saying: “You sanction the foreign minister simultaneously with a request for talks?”

CBS News White House correspondent Ben Tracy says the latest statements from Iran are further evidence that President Trump’s strategy, of forcing the Islamic Republic to change its behavior by strangling its economy, is not working.

Oh, and Trump is still thinking about cutting off military aid to Japan. Bloomberg: Trump Muses Privately About Ending Postwar Japan Defense Pact.

President Donald Trump has recently mused to confidants about withdrawing from a longstanding defense treaty with Japan, according to three people familiar with the matter, in his latest complaint about what he sees as unfair U.S. security pacts.

Trump regards the accord as too one-sided because it promises U.S. aid if Japan is ever attacked, but doesn’t oblige Japan’s military to come to America’s defense, the people said. The treaty, signed more than 60 years ago, forms the foundation of the alliance between the countries that emerged from World War II….

Exiting the pact would jeopardize a postwar alliance that has helped guarantee security in the Asia Pacific, laying the foundation for the region’s economic rise. Under the terms of its surrender in World War II, Japan agreed to a pacifist constitution in which it renounced the right to wage war….

Scrapping the treaty would risk ceding security of the Western Pacific to China and potentially spurring a fresh nuclear arms race, if Japan decided it needed to protect itself from nuclear-armed neighbors. It would also call into question the U.S.’s military commitments to Australia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and a host of other allies around the world.

This man is really really old.

Joe Biden is still leading in the polls as we approach the first Democratic primary debate on Wednesday and Thursday, so here are a couple of interesting pieces on Biden.

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: Joe Biden Doesn’t Look So Electable in Person.

On Saturday, Joe Biden was one of 20 presidential candidates to speak at a Planned Parenthood forum in Columbia, S.C., held right next door to the state’s Democratic convention. It was just a couple of weeks after he’d reversed his longtime support for the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion. One of the moderators asked him what he’d say to pro-choice voters who have concerns about his mixed record on the issue.

This was part of his answer: “The fact of the matter is that we’re in a situation where mortality rate for poor women and black women, here in this state, 26.5 percent of the, 24, 25.6 people, who of 100,000 who need, who end up dying as a consequence of birth, it’s absolutely absurd.” (He was referring to South Carolina’s maternal mortality rate, which is 26.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.)

Seeing Biden on the stump often feels like watching an actor who can’t quite remember his lines. Even if you don’t support him, it’s hard not to feel anxious on his behalf.

I had the chance to watch Biden campaign three times over the weekend, when almost the entire Democratic field descended on Columbia. On Friday he appeared at the famous fish fry held by Congressman Jim Clyburn. The next day he was at the Planned Parenthood event and at the state convention.

Biden speaks at James Clyburn’s fish fry.

His performance was unnerving. I don’t want Biden to be the nominee for ideological reasons, but polls show him far ahead, and if he’s going to be the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer against Donald Trump, I want him to be a strong one. He didn’t seem strong in South Carolina.

Donald Trump, of course, also speaks in gibberish, but with a bombastic unearned confidence; rather than flailing around for the right figure he makes one up. Biden, by contrast, was just shaky. And while there’s great affection for him on the ground, there’s little excitement. You can see why his campaign has been limiting his public events and why he’s been avoiding the press.

The Washington Post: Once the poorest senator, ‘Middle Class Joe’ Biden has reaped millions in income since leaving the vice presidency.

Biden points out on the presidential campaign trail that he was often the poorest member of the United States Senate, and for at least a decade has referred to himself as “Middle Class Joe.” But since leaving office he has enjoyed an explosion of wealth, making millions of dollars largely from book deals and speaking fees that ranged to as much as $200,000 per speech, public documents show.

As Biden traveled the country before announcing his presidential campaign this spring, his sponsors provided VIP hotel suites, town cars and professional drivers, chartered flights and travel expense reimbursements that for some of his appearances reached at least $10,000 per event, according to contracts obtained by The Post through public records requests.

The Washington Post found at least 65 instances in which Biden gave a speech or appeared at a book event; in at least 10 instances he did not take a fee, although in some of those cases he was reimbursed for travel expenses. Biden’s campaign said he has given less than 50 paid speeches, but declined to be more specific about exactly how many he delivered, or how much he earned in total.

I’d better wrap this up; this post is getting way too long. What stories are you following today?