Thursday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

Two Sisters, William Bowyer

Two Sisters, by William Bowyer, British painter

Today is my 75th birthday. It seems like a big deal, but at the same time it’s really no big deal. I’m OK with being an old woman; I’m happy to be alive, sober, and generally healthy. I can’t remember proper names very well, but that’s been going on for years. I sometimes have trouble finding the names of things, but I find that if I give myself a minute or two those words will come to me. I still have a very good memory for facts and events.

My Mom is 97 now and has dementia. It’s almost as if she has already left us. She seems to know who I am, but I’m not absolutely sure. I miss the way we used to talk about everything. When I called her on Thanksgiving, she didn’t even seem to understand what that day means. It’s very sad, but I’m grateful for all the years we had–she was really my best friend in many ways.

I miss my Dad too. He has been gone now for 11 years. I miss talking to him about books and language. I miss his sense of humor, even his dad jokes. That’s what it’s like to be old, I guess–losing people. But they are still with you in your memories.

I hope I don’t sound too maudlin. It doesn’t feel that way to me, because I accept being old and I even enjoy it in a way. I have time now to think and to read as much as I want to. I’ve always had an irrational fear of running out of things to read; and so I’ve bought way too many books over the years. Now I’m afraid I won’t have time for all the books I want to read.

Anyway, enough of that, let’s get to some news and comment.

The George Senate runoff election is coming up next Tuesday, Dec. 6. It’s difficult to believe, the the race between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker is very close, despite all the scandals surrounding Walker, the fact that he can’t form a coherent sentence, and his admission that he lives in Texas. Here’s the latest:

Roger Sollenberger at The Daily Beast: Herschel Walker Ex Comes Forward: He Attacked Me in a Rage.

A former longtime girlfriend of Republican senatorial candidate Herschel Walker has come forward to detail a violent episode with the football star, who she believes is “unstable” and has “little to no control” over his mental state when he is not in treatment.

The woman, Dallas resident Cheryl Parsa, described an intimate and tumultuous five-year relationship with Walker in the 2000s, beginning shortly after his divorce and continuing for a year after the publication of his 2008 memoir about his struggle with dissociative identity disorder (DID), once known as multiple personality disorder.

Parsa, who has composed a book-length manuscript about her relationship with Walker, says she is speaking out because she is disturbed by Walker’s behavior on the campaign trail, which she claims exhibits telltale flare-ups of the disorder she tried to help him manage for half a decade.

amer-ice-cream-richard-wallich

Amer Ice Cream, by Richard Wallich

“He’s a pathological liar. Absolutely. But it’s more than that,” Parsa, who last had regular contact with Walker in 2019, told The Daily Beast. “He knows how to manipulate his disease, in order to manipulate people, while at times being simultaneously completely out of control.” She said that when she was with Walker, he used his diagnosis as an “alibi” to “justify lying, cheating, and ultimately destroying families.”

Parsa provided a detailed account of a 2005 incident that turned violent after she caught Walker with another woman at his Dallas condo. She said Walker grew enraged, put his hands on her chest and neck, and swung his fist at her. “I thought he was going to beat me,” she recalled, and fled in fear.

Parsa is one of five women who were romantically involved with Walker who spoke to The Daily Beast for this article. All of them described a habit of lying and infidelity—including one woman who claimed she had an affair with Walker while he was married in the 1990s. All five women said they were willing to speak to expose the behavior of the man they now see running for Senate.

Maya King at The New York Times: In Georgia, Walker’s Pace in the Finish Worries Republican Allies.

Herschel Walker was being swamped by negative television ads. His Democratic opponents were preparing to flood the polls for early voting as soon as doors opened. After being hit by fresh allegations of carpetbagging, he was left with just over a week to make his final appeals to voters in the runoff for Georgia’s Senate seat.

But for five days, Mr. Walker was off the campaign trail.

The decision to skip campaigning over the crucial Thanksgiving holiday weekend has Mr. Walker’s Republican allies airing frustrations and concerns about his campaign strategy in the final stretch of the overtime election against Senator Raphael Warnock.

“We almost need a little bit more time for Herschel’s campaign to get everything off the ground,” said Jason Shepherd, the former chairman of the Cobb County Republican Party, pointing to the transition from a general election campaign to a runoff sprint. Notably, the runoff campaign was cut from nine weeks to four by a Republican-backed law passed last year….

Mr. Shepherd said Mr. Walker’s decision not to campaign during Thanksgiving was just one troubling choice. He also pointed to a series of mailers sent by the Georgia Republican Party encouraging voters to find their polling places that contained broken QR codes as examples of poor organizing. And he raised concern about the steady stream of advertisements supporting Warnock, a first-term senator and pastor, on conservative talk radio and contemporary Christian stations.

Gregory Frank Harris, 1953

By Gregory Frank Harris, 1953

That all sounds like good news for Democrats. It’s hilarious that in making it harder to vote, Republicans have ended up hurting themselves–just as they did in the runoff elections in 2020. But King notes that the race is still close despite all the scandals.

His campaign has been one of the most turbulent in recent memory: Mr. Walker was found to have lied or exaggerated details about his educationhis business, his charitable giving and his work in law enforcement. He acknowledged a history of violent and erratic behavior, tied to a mental illness, and did not dispute an ex-wife’s accusation of assault. Two women claimed that he had urged them to have abortions, although he ran as a staunchly anti-abortion candidate. He denied their accounts. He regularly delivered rambling speeches, which Democrats widely circulated with glee.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Herschel Walker might be the most flawed Republican nominee in the nation this year,” said Rick Dent, a media consultant who has worked for candidates from both parties and plans to vote for Mr. Warnock.

Sahil Kapur at NBC News: Georgia Senate runoff tests the staying power of abortion in American elections.

The high-stakes Senate runoff in Georgia next week will be the first major test of abortion politics since the 2022 general election, when a backlash to the Supreme Court’s decision galvanized proponents of abortion rights and boosted Democrats.

Abortion was a major issue on Election Day in Georgia, when Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock finished about 1 point ahead of Republican rival Herschel Walker, though narrowly missing the 50% he needed to win outright. The 26% of Georgians who ranked abortion as their top issue backed Warnock by a margin of 77% to 21%, NBC News exit polls showed.

Now, Democrats see an opening to weaponize it to finish the job against Walker in the Dec. 6 runoff, when a victory would give their party a 51st Senate seat.

“On December 6th, our rights are on the ballot. Herschel Walker wants a total ban on abortion nationwide,” says a TV ad by the Democratic group Georgia Honor, playing footage of Walker calling for a “no-exception” ban. “Raphael Warnock is fighting to protect our right to make our own health care decisions,” a narrator says.

Meanwhile, Walker sits at the center of a clash within the Republican Party about how to handle the issue in the new era. While some like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have sought to minimize abortion and pivot to other issues, leading anti-abortion advocates insist that’s a losing strategy and want Republicans to lean in and paint Democrats as the real extremists.

Walker is taking the approach preferred by the anti-abortion advocates, embracing their rhetoric equating abortion to infanticide and attacking Warnock for supporting legislation that would protect the right to terminate a pregnancy without legal restrictions.

The problem with that is that Walker has urged at least 2 women to get abortions and paid for them.

remembering-the-good-times-sam-sidders

Remembering the Good Times, by Sam Sidders

The New York Times also has a piece by Rick Rojas on another important issue in Georgia–the high cost of insulin: A Resonant Topic in Georgia’s Senate Runoff: Insulin Prices.

…[O]ne campaign issue relevant to many voters has little to do with the highly partisan horse race. Rather, it involves one of the most common chronic diseases in America, diabetes, and the soaring cost of the medicine used to treat it, insulin. In both the general and runoff campaigns, Senator Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, has made much of his efforts in Congress to cap the price of insulin at $35 a month, talking them up in ads, debates and speeches.

“It has resonated with just about everyone,” said Dr. Kris Ellis, a physician who also owns the Bearfoot Tavern in Macon, where Mr. Warnock made a recent campaign stop. “If you don’t have diabetes, you know someone with diabetes.”

He was describing an unsettling reality in Georgia, as in much of the South, where diabetes rates are staggeringly high and the escalating cost of insulin over the years has led to painful choices and, for some, catastrophic consequences.

As campaign issues go, the price of insulin is nowhere near as contentious as just about everything else raised in the four-week runoff between Mr. Warnock and Herschel Walker, the former football star who is his Republican challenger. Even so, interviews with Dr. Ellis and a number of other voters suggested it had broken through the noise of the high-decibel contest, which Georgia requires because neither candidate won a majority of the vote in the general election.

Of course, the candidate who has tried to deal with this issue is Sen. Warnock.

Mr. Warnock has focused on lowering insulin prices since arriving in the Senate nearly two years ago, motivated in part by hundreds of letters that have poured into his office, pleading with him to do something. He has also described seeing the ravaging impacts of diabetes, including losing limbs and eyesight, on congregants at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where he is the senior pastor.

“This isn’t an ideological matter, it’s a practical one — and it has broad support across the political spectrum,” Mr. Warnock wrote last spring in an opinion essay published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I sure hope he wins. If he does, the Democrats will have a true majority in the Senate. I can’t wait for the results to come in on Tuesday night.

In other news, yesterday the House Ways and Means Committee finally received six years of Trump’s tax returns.

Katlyn Polantz at CNN: House committee receives Donald Trump’s federal tax returns from IRS.

The House Ways and Means Committee now has six years of Donald Trump’s federal tax returns, ending a yearslong pursuit by Democrats to dig into one of the former president’s most closely guarded personal details.

“Treasury has complied with last week’s court decision,” a Treasury spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday.

The spokesperson did not provide any additional information. Federal courts had decided the House could request six years of Trump’s returns, after the committee had requested them in 2019 and again in 2021, according to public court records.

The handover had been on hold, until the Supreme Court declined last week to intervene. Several judges, including Republican appointees, have found the House had power to request the returns from the IRS….

The committee, led by Democratic Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, had sought six years of Trump’s tax records, primarily from the time he served as president. That included records about both Trump personally and several of his corporate entities.

The panel is planning to meet Thursday to get briefed on the legal ramifications of the section of the tax law that Neal used to request Trump’s tax returns, according to a Neal aide.

Democrats are not expected to review the tax returns at this session, and the documents are not expected to be immediately released to the public.

only-the-body-withers-lucie-bilodeau

Only the Body Withers, by Lucie Bilodeau

Then what is going to happen when Republicans take over control of the the committee? We don’t know yet. I think the Democrats should get busy look at the returns before that happens, but what do I know?

Yesterday, Attorney General Merrick Garland held a press conference at which he discussed the guilty verdicts in the Oath Keepers trial as well as the DOJ’s oversight of the water crisis in Jackson, MS. The Washington Post: Garland praises Oath Keepers verdict, won’t say where Jan. 6 probe goes.

A day after a federal jury convicted two far-right extremists of leading a plot to unleash political violence to prevent the inauguration of Joe Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that his Justice Department would continue to “work tirelessly” to hold accountable those responsible for efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors highlighted the defendants’ links to key allies of President Donald Trump, such as Roger Stone, “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani.

But Garland declined to say Wednesday if he expected prosecutors to eventually file charges against them or any other people who did not physically participate in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“I don’t want to speculate on other investigations or parts of other investigations,” Garland told reporters at a briefing where he also touted Justice Department efforts to establish federal oversight of the water supply system in Jackson, Miss….

Tuesday’s verdicts upheld a key Justice Department argument laid out in the seven-week-long trial: that the breach of the Capitol was not an isolated event, but rather a culmination or component of wider plotting by extremists who wanted to stop the transfer of power from Trump to Biden. In this case, the jury found Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and a top deputy, Kelly Meggs, at least partially responsible for staging firearms and preparing to forcibly oppose federal authority. Both were convicted of “seditious conspiracy,” a rarely used charge that is among the most serious levied so far in the sprawling Jan. 6 investigation.

Justice Department officials had been eyeing the Oath Keepers verdict to help decide whether to file criminal charges against other high-profile, pro-Trump figures who had roles in the buildup to the violence, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.

Garland also said he hopes to get access to the interviews conducted by the House January 6 Committee.

At the briefing with reporters Tuesday, Garland also said that he has asked the House Jan. 6 committee — which has been pursuing a separate investigation into the attack — for all interview transcripts and evidence that it has collected. That’s long been a point of tension between the Justice Department and Congress, with the committee yet to hand over all the materials.

“We would like to have all the transcripts and all the other evidence collected by the committee so that we can use it in the ordinary course of our investigation,” Garland said.

Old lady having a tea Gaitano Bellai

Old lady having a tea, by Gaitano Bellai

From Raw Story, a report of an MSNBC interview with Bob Woodward: Bob Woodward: Oath Keepers convictions puts new pressure on DOJ to indict Trump.

The convictions of two Oath Keepers leaders on seditious conspiracy charges puts new pressure on the Department of Justice to indict Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to veteran journalist Bob Woodward.

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his lieutenant Kelly Meggs were found guilty this week for their roles in the U.S. Capitol assault, and other militia members were convicted on other charges, and Woodward told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” those cases would weigh on attorney general Merrick Garland and newly appointed special counsel Jack Smith.

“It gives them a strong basis,” Woodward said. “I think we are now at this point that the Justice Department, the new special counsel is going to have to indict Trump or explain why they are not indicting him. Now, that’s certainly possible that they won’t — prosecutors have discretion, but the case of the violation — I’m sorry, it’s technical 18 U.S.C. 371 — conspiring, working to subvert a lawful function of government is right there in plain sight.”

Garland responded to the Oath Keepers convictions by pledging to hold others accountable for trying to overturn the 2020 election, and the House Select Committee will decide soon whether to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department against the former president.

“In a way, they’re interesting fodder for us to discuss,” Woodward said, “but I really think if you get, you know, Garland is there talking about the dedication and efforts that people have made in doing this investigation. Dedication and effort is wonderful. What is most wonderful is evidence, and they have compelling evidence.”

Watch the video at the Raw Story link.

Just a few months ago, I knew nothing about Elon Musk. Now he’s everywhere. Here’s the latest crazy Musk story:

The Daily Beast: Elon Musk Claims Neuralink Will Put Brain Chips in Humans in 6 Months.

Neuralink, the neurotech startup spearheaded by Chief Twit Elon Musk, held their much-ballyhooed and oft-delayed tech demo on Wednesday night—promising a lot while showing little in the way of progress towards their lofty promises.

Musk was joined on stage by numerous Neuralink engineers and researchers to explain the technology they’ve been working on for the past few years. This included the N1 link, the company’s wireless brain-computer interface (BCI); and the R1, a robot that the company said would be able to implant an N1 in a human brain. The bot was present at the event conducting a simulated surgery on a dummy while presentations occurred.

The team also announced that the N1 chip was capable of being wirelessly charged, which would be a massive improvement in most current BCI technology which typically requires the devices to be tethered.

Jantina Peperkamp.

Painting by Jantina Peperkamp.

“I could have a Neuralink device implanted right now and you wouldn’t even know,” Musk joked, later adding, “In one of these demos I will.”

However, Musk announced that it would still be at least half a year until Neuralink would be able to begin human trials. “We’ve submitted most of our paperwork to the FDA. In about six months, we should be able to have our first Neuralink in humans,” he said.

The demo was initially slated for Oct. 31 but was delayed by Musk just eight days before it was set to launch. He did not give a reason for the schedule push. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the event itself was also delayed by more than half an hour before it started. Musk then took to the stage and stumbled through an awkward, meandering monologue where he touched on topics from AI, to how BCIs work, to something about how humans are all cyborgs.

WTF? I have no idea what these people are talking about. Maybe Quixote knows what this is all about?

“The overarching goal of Neuralink is to create a whole brain interface,” Musk explained, later using a photo of the character Rick Sanchez from the TV show Rick and Morty to illustrate his point. “So a generalized input-output device that in the long term that could interface with every aspect of your brain, and in the short term can interface with any section of your brain and solve things that cause debilitating issues for people.”

Musk also made a number of very lofty promises that should be taken with a Cybertruck-sized grain of salt if his history of overpromising and under delivering is any indication. This included the idea that the Neuralink will be able to restore vision even to those who were born blind, and also that it could restore mobility back to those who have had their spinal cord severed.

He mentioned that the N1 would allow patients to use it wirelessly and remotely in most any setting outside of a lab—which would be groundbreaking if it, you know, actually ever happens. Rajesh Rao, Hwang professor and director of the Center for Neurotechnology at the University of Washington, told The Daily Beast that this would represent a significant leap forward for BCI technologies—and showcase something that has truly never been done before.

OK, now I’m starting to get it. Read more at the Daily Beast link. I just wish Musk would hurry up and go to Mars and leave us alone.

Have a great Thursday everyone!

Elon Musk claims Neuralink is about ‘six months’ away from first human trial

Elon Musk claims Neuralink is about ‘six months’ away from first human trial

Elon Musk claims Neuralink is about ‘six months’ away from first human trial

Elon Musk claims Neuralink is about ‘six months’ away from first human trial


Tuesday Reads: Antisemitism and Extremism in the U.S.

Good Afternoon!!

Nicholas FuentesLast Tuesday, Trump hosted a dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Kanye West and and Nicholas Fuentes. West has been spouting virulent antisemitism recently, and Fuentes is a white supremacist, holocaust denier, and Hitler admirer. Trump was reportedly quite taken with Fuentes, and during the dinner said, “I like this guy. He gets me.” Public outrage built over the holiday weekend. At first Republicans were hesitant to criticize Trump for this, but yesterday some of them actually spoke out against his behavior.

The Washington Post: Pence, other Republicans issue rare rebuke of Trump over dinner with Fuentes and Ye.

Former vice president Mike Pence and numerous Republican lawmakers on Monday criticized Donald Trump for dining with the white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye, both of whom have a history of antisemitic remarks, marking a rare break with Trump in the upper echelons of the GOP.

Pence was most clear in his condemnation, saying in an interview with NewsNation, “President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table. I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”

He joined several Republican senators who also directly criticized the former president in statements disavowing the dinner with Fuentes and Ye. Pence’s comments were also one of the clearest instances of the former vice president trying to set himself apart from Trump, whom he served for four years, amid the expectation that Pence will challenge Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie — each rumored to be eyeing a presidential run — were quicker to criticize Trump.

Christie tweeted on Saturday: “This is just awful, unacceptable conduct from anyone, but most particularly from a former President and current candidate.”

“Well, I hope, someday, we won’t have to be responding to what former President Trump has said or done,” Hutchinson said in an interview Sunday on CNN. “In this instance, it’s important to respond. … I don’t think it’s a good idea for a leader that is setting an example for the country or the party to meet with an avowed racist or antisemite.” [….]

“President Trump hosting racist antisemites for dinner encourages other racist antisemites,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) tweeted. “These attitudes are immoral and should not be entertained. This is not the Republican Party.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said Trump should have “certainly” known who he is dining with, telling reporters Monday, “I totally think it’s ridiculous to be sitting down with somebody who espouses such views.” [….]

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement that she condemns “antisemitism and white supremacy” and that “the president should never have had a meal or even a meeting with Nick Fuentes.”

The public critiques of Trump were notable after years in which many Republicans remained silent as he courted extremists. Still, many stopped short of a full denouncement.

Mitt Romney delivered the harshest rebuke. From Charlie Sykes’ Morning Shots at The Bulwark:

“There is no bottom to the degree to which he’s willing to degrade himself, and the country for that matter. Having dinner with those people was disgusting,” Romney said.

“I voted to remove him from office twice… I don’t think he should be president of the United states. I don’t think he should be the nominee of our party in 2024. And I certainly don’t want him hanging over our party like a gargoyle.”

More Republican condemnations from Semafor:

“It was ridiculous,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa said.

“I just think that was a really bad idea,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D, the second-ranking Republican leader, said. “He shouldn’t have done it.”

While some lawmakers were reluctant to single out Trump by name, and many paired their statements with attacks on Democrats and reassurances they didn’t consider Trump racist, they almost all made clear he’d crossed a line. Importantly, they did what Trump would not — condemn and disavow the hate his dinner guests preached.

“There’s no room in the Republican Party for white supremacy and antisemitism,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., a close Trump ally, said. “It’s wrong. I think Republicans should all condemn white supremacy and antisemitism.” [….]

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. called Fuentes an “ass clown” and told CNN he hoped Trump would condemn the “evil” and “disgusting” figure. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas told NBC News he was a “racist clown.”

And even some top supporters were, at minimum, willing to concede it wasn’t the best look. “There’s a lot of other people, I would think that he could have met with to help the country be stronger and go more in the right direction,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. said.

And what about Jewish Trump supporters? Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times: Jewish Allies Call Trump’s Dinner With Antisemites a Breaking Point.

For much of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, Jewish Republicans rationalized away the bigoted fringe of Mr. Trump’s coalition, arguing that the unsavory supporters in his midst and the antisemitic tropes he deployed paled in comparison with the staunchly pro-Israel policies of his administration.

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Trump, Nick Fuentes, and Kanye West

But last week, Mr. Trump dined at his Palm Beach palace, Mar-a-Lago, with the performer Kanye West, who had already been denounced for making antisemitic statements, and with Nick Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and Holocaust denier, granting the antisemitic fringe a place of honor at his table. Now, even some of Mr. Trump’s staunchest supporters say they can no longer ignore the abetting of bigotry by the nominal leader of the Republican Party.

“I am a child of survivors. I have become very frightened for my people,” Morton Klein, head of the right-wing Zionist Organization of America, said on Monday, referring to his parents’ survival of the Holocaust. “Donald Trump is not an antisemite. He loves Israel. He loves Jews. But he mainstreams, he legitimizes Jew hatred and Jew haters. And this scares me.”

Not all Republican leaders have spoken out, but Jewish Republicans are slowly peeling away from a former president who, for years, insisted he had no ties to the bigoted far right, but refused to repudiate it. Jewish figures and organizations that have stood by Mr. Trump, from Mr. Klein’s group to the pro-Trump commentator Ben Shapiro to Mr. Trump’s own former ambassador to Israel and onetime bankruptcy lawyer, David M. Friedman, have all spoken out since the dinner.

For Jews, the concern extends far beyond a single meal at Mar-a-Lago, though that dinner has become a touchstone, especially for Jewish Republicans.

“We have a long history in this country of separating the moral character of the man in the White House from his conduct in office, but with Trump, it’s gone beyond any of the reasonably acceptable and justifiable norms,” Jay Lefkowitz, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and a supporter of many of Mr. Trump’s policies, said on Monday.

For American Jewry, the debate since the dinner has brought into focus what may be the most discomfiting moment in U.S. history in a half-century or more.

“The normalization of antisemitism is here,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League.

From New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg: Antisemitism’s March Into the Mainstream.

Jews are thriving in America, and even with the violent resurgence of antisemitism in the Trump era, I’ve rarely felt personally threatened, perhaps a function of my privilege. Over the last week, though, I’m reminded that well-off Jews in other times and places have also imagined that they’d moved beyond existential danger, and been wrong.

At this point, there is no excuse for being shocked by anything that Donald Trump does, yet I confess to being astonished that the former president dined last week with one of the country’s most influential white supremacists, a smirking little fascist named Nick Fuentes. There’s nothing new about antisemites in Trump’s circle, but they usually try to maintain some plausible deniability, ranting about globalists and George Soros rather than the Jews. Fuentes, by contrast, is overt. “Jews have too much power in our society,” he recently wrote on his Telegram channel. “Christians should have all the power, everyone else very little.”

Fuentes was brought to Trump’s lair by Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who was evidently serious when he threatened to go “death con 3” on the Jews last month. (The relationship with West is a bit of a coup for Fuentes, who, openly wishing for conflict between Jews and Black people, has been willing to sublimate his anti-Black racism in the service of his antisemitism.) According to Axios, at one point during the dinner Trump turned to Ye and said of Fuentes: “I really like this guy. He gets me.”

Since then, Trump has claimed he didn’t know who Fuentes was. I find this unlikely. In September, I wrote a piece about a Trump-endorsed congressional candidate named Joe Kent that mentions Fuentes in the first paragraph. Trump scrawled a note of congratulations on the print version and mailed it to Kent, who sent the image out on his email list. But even if Trump’s ignorance was sincere, he still didn’t denounce Fuentes after learning his identity.

Most Republicans, in turn, spent days declining to criticize Trump, though former Vice President Mike Pence and several senators finally spoke out on Monday. There is a good argument that politicians and journalists should avoid responding to every one of the ex-president’s provocations. In this case, however, the reluctance to rebuke Trump erodes the already-shaky taboo against antisemitism in Republican politics.

US-ENTERTAINMENT-FASHION-METGALA-CELEBRITY-MUSEUM-PEOPLE

Elon Musk

Goldberg goes on to note that “other narcissistic celebrities are now joining him in reveling in reactionary transgression.”

Ye is launching a vanity presidential campaign run by the far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who recently wrote on Telegram, “We’re done putting Jewish interests first.” After buying Twitter, Elon Musk enthusiastically welcomed both Trump and Ye back to the platform, and has been tiptoing up to the edge of antisemitism himself. On Sunday, he tweeted that Alexander Vindman, the Jewish retired Army officer who testified about Trump’s attempt to extort Ukraine’s president, is both “puppet & puppeteer,” echoing an old antisemitic trope about Jews pulling the strings behind world events. On Monday, Musk tweeted an image of the alt-right symbol Pepe the Frog.

And now Musk owns Twitter, which has become a kind of public square that is important to people, causes, and even government agencies around the world. I knew nothing about Musk until recently, when he began making noises about buying Twitter. Now it’s clear to me that he is a full-blown malignant narcissist, very similar to Trump. He appears to be on a path to turning Twitter into an unmoderated hell scape like 4chan and 8chan, where Qanon and other crazy conspiracy theories festered. Recently Musk announced that he will reinstate all of the account that were previously banned by Twitter moderators. According to NPR,

In the days after the Capitol insurrection, Twitter banned 70,000 QAnon-linked accounts for spreading the conspiracy theory. Some belonged to influencers with large followings, including high-profile Trump supporters Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn, who had also spread false claims of election fraud and had tried to get the election results overturned.

Many more accounts have been banned since then. Even more concerning, despite his claims that protecting children is important to him, Musk’s layoffs and firings have made Twitter more dangerous for children.

Wired: Layoffs Have Gutted Twitter’s Child Safety Team.

REMOVING CHILD EXPLOITATION is “priority #1”, Twitter’s new owner and CEO Elon Musk declared last week. But, at the same time, following widespread layoffs and resignations, just one staff member remains on a key team dedicated to removing child sexual abuse content from the site, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, who both requested to remain anonymous.

It’s unclear how many people were on the team before Musk’s takeover. On LinkedIn, WIRED identified four Singapore-based employees who specialize in child safety who said publicly they left Twitter in November.

The importance of in-house child safety experts cannot be understated, researchers say. Based in Twitter’s Asian headquarters in Singapore, the team enforces the company’s ban on child sex abuse material (CSAM) in the Asia Pacific region. Right now, that team has just one full-time employee. The Asia Pacific region is home to around 4.3 billion people, about 60 percent of the world’s population.

The team in Singapore is responsible for some of the platform’s busiest markets, including Japan. Twitter has 59 million users in Japan, second only to the number of users in the United States, according to data aggregator Statista. Yet the Singapore office has also been impacted by widespread layoffs and resignations following Musk’s takeover of the business. In the past month, Twitter laid off half its workforce and then emailed remaining staff asking them to choose between committing to work “long hours at high intensity” or accepting a severance package of three months’ pay.

The impact of layoffs and resignations on Twitter’s ability to tackle CSAM is “very worrying,” says Carolina Christofoletti, a CSAM researcher at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. “It’s delusional to think that there will be no impact on the platform if people who were working on child safety inside of Twitter can be laid off or allowed to resign,” she says. Twitter did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The Twitter in-house child safety team is vitally important to outside organizations who work to protect vulnerable children, because the metadata and analysis are only available inside Twitter.

Whether you love or hate Twitter, that is frightening. We’ve spent the past 7 years dealing with one narcissistic psychopath who could still run for president again. Now there’s another one in charge of the most important platform for communication with journalists, government leaders, historians, researchers, and more. Why do we do this to ourselves? That’s a topic for another day.

What do you think? What stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Twin Narcissistic Sociopaths

Eileen Rosemary Mayo (1906-94)

Painting by Eileen Rosemary Mayo (1906-94)

Happy Caturday!!

The long holiday weekend continues. I’m still having trouble sleeping at night, so once again this post is embarrassingly late. What news there is is still pretty ugly, with twin narcissistic sociopaths Donald Trump and Elon Musk dominating the headlines.

Trump News

People are still talking about Trump’s dinner with anti-Semite Kanye West and holocaust denying Nazi Nick Fuentes. Dakinikat wrote quite a bit about this yesterday. Here’s the latest:

Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer at The New York Times: Trump’s Latest Dinner Guest: Nick Fuentes, White Supremacist.

Former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday night had dinner with Nicewk Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and racist who is one of the country’s most prominent young white supremacists, at Mr. Trump’s private club in Florida, advisers to Mr. Trump conceded on Friday.

Also at the dinner was the performer Kanye West, who has also been denounced for making antisemitic statements. Mr. West traveled to meet with Mr. Trump at the club, Mar-a-Lago, and brought Mr. Fuentes along, the advisers said.

The fourth attendee at the four-person dinner, Karen Giorno — a veteran political operative who worked on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign as his state director in Florida — also confirmed that Mr. Fuentes was there….

In recent years, Mr. Fuentes, 24, has developed a high profile on the far right and forged ties with such Republican lawmakers as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, largely through his leadership of an annual white-supremacist event called the America First Political Action Conference.

A Holocaust denier and unabashed racist, Mr. Fuentes openly uses hateful language on his podcast, in recent weeks calling for the military to be sent into Black neighborhoods and demanding that Jews leave the country….

During the dinner, according to a person briefed on what took place, Mr. Fuentes described himself as part of Mr. Trump’s base of supporters. Mr. Trump remarked that his advisers urge him to read speeches using a teleprompter and don’t like when he ad-libs remarks.

Mr. Fuentes said Mr. Trump’s supporters preferred the ad-libs, at which Mr. Trump turned to the others, the person said, and declared that he liked Mr. Fuentes, adding: “He gets me.”

Aleksandra Aleks

Painting by Aleksandra Aleks

I’d have to agree. Trump is clearly an anti-Semite and fascist would love to turn the U.S. into a dictatorship. He’s also a needy narcissist who will listen to anyone who shamelessly flatters and sucks up to him. And it sounds like Fuentes did that.

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Trump said: “Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago. Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about.” The statement said nothing about Mr. Fuentes’s views.

In a post later Friday on his social media website, Truth Social, Mr. Trump said that Mr. West “unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about.” He said the dinner took place “with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. Then they left for the airport.”

Early Friday evening, Mr. Trump made a third attempt at defending himself, saying that Mr. West had sought business advice from him, “expressed no anti-Semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson.’ Why wouldn’t I agree to meet? I also, I didn’t know Nick Fuentes.”

Well Trump has to know who and what Fuentes is now, and he’s still not willing to say anything against him. I’m reminded of the time in 2016 when Trump refused to reject the endorsement of David Duke and claimed to know nothing about him or the KKK. But The Washington Post documented statements by Trump about Duke in 1991 and 2000, in which he “condemned Duke and his views.”

Even taking at face value Mr. Trump’s protestation that he knew nothing of Mr. Fuentes, the apparent ease with which Mr. Fuentes arrived at the home of a former president who is under multiple investigations — including one related to keeping classified documents at Mar-a-Lago long after he left office — underscores the undisciplined, uncontrolled nature of Mr. Trump’s post-presidency just 10 days into his third campaign for the White House.

Marc Caputo at NBC News: ‘F—ing nightmare’: Trump team does damage control after he dines with Ye and white supremacist Nick Fuentes.

…[D]espite Trump suggesting that the event was “uneventful,” the fallout over his dinner with Fuentes appears to have thrown Trump’s campaign into damage control mode. The former president took hours to respond publicly after multiple media outlets reported that Fuentes was present at the dinner.

Cat on the Counter, Joanelle Summerfield

Cat on the Counter, Joanelle Summerfield

Even the two Trump advisers winced at how a Holocaust denier like Fuentes was able to wind up with Trump at dinner — even if it was by mistake — along with the rapper, who had just had his Twitter account restored but lost major endorsement deals for making antisemitic remarks.

“This is a f—ing nightmare,” said one longtime Trump adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of stoking the former president’s ire at “disloyal” people who criticize him. “If people are looking at [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis to run against Trump, here’s another reason why.”

All three sources familiar with the dinner told NBC News there was one glaring inaccuracy in Trump’s statement: Trump knew one of the three “friends” brought by the rapper, Karen Giorno. She was the Trump campaign’s Florida director in 2016 and the former president knows her by name and sight, the sources said. In addition to Giorno and Fuentes, Ye also brought along another man who was an associate, according to the sources.

The source familiar with the dinner conversation said the dinner grew heated after Ye — who announced another run for president in 2024 on Thursday — asked Trump to be his running mate. Trump then began insulting Ye’s ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, according to the source and a video that Ye posted to Twitter on Thanksgiving Day recounting the dinner.

The source also said Fuentes is helping to advise Ye in his second presidential campaign. The rapper has said the campaign would be managed by Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right provocateur and former Breitbart editor who was banned from Twitter in 2016 for inciting a racist campaign against comedian Leslie Jones.

How anyone could possibly vote for someone like Trump is a mystery to me.

John Bolton told the Guardian’s David Smith that: Trump’s act is ‘old and tired’, says his own former national security adviser.

John Bolton, former national security adviser to Donald Trump, has described the former US president’s act as “old and tired” and said the Republican party is ready to move on to a “fresh face”.

Bolton is the latest ex-White House official to condemn Trump after Republicans underperformed in this month’s midterm elections, which added to a losing streak that convinced some he is now hurting rather than helping the party.

“There are a lot of reasons to be against Trump being the nominee but the one I’m hearing now as I call around the country, talking to my supporters and others about what happened on 8 November, is the number of people who have just switched Trump off in their brain,” Bolton told the Guardian.

“Even if they loved his style, loved his approach, loved his policies, loved everything about him, they don’t want to lose and the fear is, given the results on 8 November, that if he got the nomination, not only would he lose the general election, but he would take an awful lot of Republican candidates down with him.”

Musk/Twitter News

NPR: Twitter has lost 50 of its top 100 advertisers since Elon Musk took over, report says.

Half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers appear to no longer be advertising on the website. A report from Media Matters for America states that these 50 advertisers have spent almost $2 billion on Twitter ads since 2020 and more than $750 million just in 2022.

Oh Boy, by Barbara Hranilovich

Oh Boy, by Barbara Hranilovich

Seven additional advertisers have slowed their advertising to almost nothing, according to the report, which was published on Tuesday. These companies have paid Twitter more than $255 million since 2020.

Chevrolet, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Ford, Jeep, Kyndryl, Merck & Co. and Novartis AG all issued statements about halting Twitter ads or were reported and confirmed as doing so. The others ceased advertising on the platform for a “significant period of time following direct outreach, controversies, and warnings from media buyers.”

The report wrote that even with these hits to advertising revenue, Twitter CEO Elon Musk has “continued his rash of brand unsafe actions — including amplifying conspiracy theories, unilaterally reinstating banned accounts such as that of former President Donald Trump, courting and engaging with far-right accounts, and instituting a haphazard verification scheme that allowed extremists and scammers to purchase a blue check.” [….]

Eli Lilly and Co. stopped showing ads on Twitter the day after an account impersonating the pharmaceutical company — complete with a purchased blue check mark — posted, “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.”

Eli Lilly asked Twitter to take it down, but the tweet remained up for hours, because the platform’s staff was stretched thin due to recent layoffs and resignations. The tweet garnered hundreds of retweets and thousands of likes, and Eli Lilly’s stock soon took a dive.

Endpoints News reported that 12 pharmaceutical giants soon stopped buying Twitter ads, citing Pathmatics, which collects data on corporate advertising and digital marketing trends.

Inc: The ‘Myth Of Elon Musk’ Was His Most Valuable Asset. The Twitter Debacle Means It’s Over.

For Elon Musk, the idea that he is a once-in-a-generation super genius is central to the success of everything he does. It’s one of the most important narratives in business–that he is capable of rallying companies to do what seems to be impossible for everyone else.

Leona Kashigin, Early December Morning

Leona Kashigin, Early December Morning

That myth has taken Musk far in life, including making him the most wealthy man in the world. It’s tempting to think that it must be at least partially true.

If you [are] a Tesla shareholder, for example, you want to believe that Musk is uniquely qualified to bring into existence things like mass-scale electric vehicles (EVs), or autonomous cars that can navigate city streets more safely than human drivers. You also want to believe that when Musk promises to do things like get humans to Mars, that he has a plan and isn’t just throwing things against the wall to see what doesn’t blow up. You have a financial interest in the myth. 

To be fair, the companies Musk leads are–by all of the ways you might measure such a thing–incredibly successful. Tesla has almost single-handedly made EVs a thing normal people will buy. SpaceX is easily the most important private space exploration company ever. It has been able to do in a decade what the full resources of the United States Space program hasn’t been able to do–mostly build a rocket that you can land and use more than once.

Those successes are almost always attributed to the genius of Elon. I’m sure there’s some credit due to him, but I can’t help but think it’s equally as possible that those companies have been wildly successful not because of Elon Musk, but in spite of him. Over the past few weeks, it has become more apparent that the genius of Musk is a myth.

If nothing else, the past month of Twitter under Musk’s ownership–and, more importantly, his leadership–has broken through the myth and revealed that he doesn’t always have a well-thought out plan for success. Sometimes he’s just winging it and gets lucky. Sometimes he’s able to impose his will by the sheer force of his personality. Other times, he pushes too far and things break.

At Tesla and SpaceX, everyone knows who is in charge. The culture is completely built around the myth. Your job, if you work for one of those companies, is to figure out how to turn the myth (or the promises, no matter how detached from reality) into truth. That’s it. That’s what you do. Musk makes a bold claim and you work “extremely hardcore” until it’s accomplished.

None of that is true at Twitter. What is true is that the company is a mess and Musk has no real plan to fix it beyond imposing his personality and hope that the people still there will jump at his latest whim.

Click the link to read the rest.

Ruby Cramer at The Washington Post: Elon Musk says he would support Ron DeSantis in 2024.

Billionaire Twitter owner Elon Musk said he would back Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) if he runs for president in 2024. Tweeting into the night on Friday, Musk described DeSantis as a “sensible and centrist” choice.

Roxanne Driedger

By Roxanne Driedger

He said he had been a “significant supporter” of the Obama administration and “reluctantly” supported President Biden over Donald Trump in 2020, but had been disappointed with the results of the last two years. On the eve of the midterm elections this month, Musk urged his more than 115 million followers to support Republicans.

“Would you support Ron DeSantis in 2024, Elon?” a Twitter user named @ProudElephantUS asked on Friday. “Yes,” Musk replied.

Musk acquired Twitter for $44 billion late last month. He has made his partisan preferences known on the platform, replying to questions from users about his political worldview and his decision to allow Trump back on the site, breaking with major technology executives who try to maintain a neutral posture in the public eye.

Advertisers are very likely turned off by Musk’s choice to express his partisan views. Either he really believes that people will pay to use what’s left of Twitter, or he is actively choosing to destroy his $44 billion investment.

I’ll add a few more stories in the comment thread and I hope you will too. I hope you are enjoying the long weekend. 


Lazy Caturday Reads

Ophelia Redpath, 1965

By surrealist artist Ophelia Redpath, 1965

Happy Caturday!!

I wish I had kept a record of my sleep patterns and accompanying political events over the past 7 years. I know I rarely slept through the night during the first couple of years of Trump’s “presidency.” I would stay up late, sleep a couple of hours and wake up at 3AM to obsessively check twitter for news, and still get up early the next day. Now I’m going through a period of time when I can’t get to sleep until very late–around 1:00-2:00AM–and then sleeping until 10:00 or 11:00AM. I’m also getting old–I’ll be 75 soon–and it takes me awhile to get going in the morning. Anyway, I slept until 10:00 today, so I’m once again very late in posting. If only we knew what is going to happen with the Trump investigations, maybe I would be able to go back to sleeping like a normal person.

As everyone knows by now, yesterday Merrick Garland announced the appointment of a special prosecutor to decide whether to indict Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents and January 6 insurrection cases–including whether Trump has obstructed justice.

CNN: DOJ announces special counsel for Trump-related Mar-a-Lago and January 6 criminal investigations.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday appointed a special counsel to oversee the criminal investigations into the retention of national defense information at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and parts of the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

Both investigations implicate the conduct of Trump, who on Tuesday declared his candidacy in the 2024 presidential race, making him a potential rival of President Joe Biden.

“Based on recent developments, including the former president’s announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election, and the sitting president’s stated intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel,” Garland said at the Justice Department on Friday.

Jack Smith, the former chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, where he investigated war crimes in Kosovo, will oversee the investigations….

The prosecutions of those who physically breached the US Capitol have been the most public aspect of the Justice Department’s January 6 probe, and those will remain under the purview of the US Attorney’s office in Washington, DC. But behind the scenes, prosecutors have subpoenaed scores of witnesses close to the former president for documents and testimony in the probe.

White Cat by Igor Galanin

White Cat by Igor Galanin

“I intend to conduct the assigned investigations, and any prosecutions that may result from them, independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice,” Smith said in a statement Friday. “The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch. I will exercise independent judgment and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.” [….]

According to multiple sources, both the Mar-a-Lago investigation and the January 6 investigation around Trump are aiming to gather more information and bring witnesses into a federal grand jury in the coming weeks. Prosecutors sent out several new subpoenas related to both investigations in recent days, with quick return dates as early as next week.

Some of the witnesses being pursued in this round had not spoken to the investigators in these cases before, according to some of the sources.

Most of the TV/Twitter legal experts are saying this was a good decision by Garland. One dissenter is Neal Kaytal, who says it is a big mistake.

From Raw Story: Legal experts: Special counsel investigating Trump will move very quickly.

Former top DOJ official Andrew Weissmann believes that newly-appointed special counsel Jack Smith will move with haste in his investigations of former President Donald Trump.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, after the host said Smith may become the “most important prosecutor in human history,” Weissmann discussed his history with the new special prosecutor.

“So I’ve known Jack for decades,” Weissman said.

“I was the chief of the criminal division when he started in the U.S. Attorney’s office,” he explained.

“And Jack, as you noted, has had all sorts of positions that make him really perfect for this job in the sense of his experience, he’s a career prosecutor, he’s completely apolitical — in public integrity, they prosecuted Democrats and Republicans,” Weissmann said. “They don’t care, if you committed a crime, it doesn’t matter what party you’re in or whether you’re in no party.”

He noted he learned from Robert Mueller that “you can’t slow things down to use as an excuse not to move forward.”

“For people who are worried about this slowing down, I have the exact opposite reaction.”

Marcy Wheeler suggested another reason why Garland might have taken the step of appointing a special counsel:

I think that makes sense. Of course Trump and Republicans will still claim the investigations are political, and I’m pretty sure Garland knows that. This morning at Politico Playbook, Rachel Bade summarized the political reactions so far: A new special counsel sets Washington ablaze.

Attorney General MERRICK GARLAND’s decision to name a special counsel to helm DONALD TRUMP-related probes at the Justice Department roiled the political world on Friday.

In an afternoon statement delivered before cameras at Main Justice, Garland argued the appointment of veteran DOJ hand JACK SMITH was necessary given that Trump and JOE BIDEN could be facing off for the presidency in 2024. “Such an appointment underscores the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters,” Garland said.

Some good it did him. On cue, Republicans called foul — and rushed forward to defend an ex-president who had appeared to be losing his grip on the GOP following the party’s disappointing election performance.

François Batet

By François Batet

AT MAR-A-LAGO … After 10 days of midterm recriminations, the announcement put Trump back in his most comfortable posture: portraying himself as the victim of his corrupt enemies. During a fancy black-tie affair at his Florida resort, Trump told Fox News’ Brooke Singman that he won’t participate in the probe and blasted the DOJ for the “worst politicization” of the department ever.

— “I have been proven innocent for six years on everything — from fake impeachments to [former special counsel ROBERT] MUELLER who found no collusion, and now I have to do it more?” Trump told them. “It is not acceptable. It is so unfair. It is so political.”

ON CAPITOL HILL … Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.) tweeted that Republicans should “IMPEACH MERRICK GARLAND!” and insisted her party “refuse to appropriate any funding to Merrick Garland’s Special Counsel and defund any part of the DOJ acting on behalf of the Democrat party as a taxpayer funded campaign arm for the Democrat’s 2024 presidential nominee.”

— The latter is particularly noteworthy: It sets up a new and explosive spending clash that could easily prompt a government shutdown in the next Congress. Why? MTG and likeminded Trump loyalists will press KEVIN McCARTHY (or whoever else manages to become speaker) to toe a hard line while Democrats will absolutely refuse to defund the investigations. Watch this space.

IN LAS VEGAS … Even former Vice President MIKE PENCE blasted the special counsel appointment as “very troubling” during an appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting, according to another good-get interview by Fox’s Brooke Singman and Paul Steinhauser.

— “No one is above the law, but I am not sure it’s against the law to take bad advice from your lawyers,” he said. Pence went on to suggest that the DOJ has been politicized by Democrats and and to knock the FBI for conducting a raid on Mar-a-Lago to fish out classified information Trump had taken to his post-presidency residence. (Note that Smith won’t only be managing the documents probe, but Jan. 6-related matters as well.).

Bade notes that Republicans were all in on the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified documents while she was running for president. You can also read a bit of background on Jack Smith at The New York Times.

One more on the Smith appointment from Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: Merrick Garland was right to appoint a special counsel.

Advocates of swift action against Trump no doubt will be alarmed by the announcement, but there is less here than meets the eye. For starters, Smith needs no introduction to the Justice Department. He was appointed first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee in February 2015. Before that, he worked as head of the department’s Public Integrity Section and as investigation coordinator in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. He also worked in the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York.

Hold That Tiger by Jeanette Lassen

Hold That Tiger by Jeanette Lassen

Most important, the attorney general announced that the career staff who have been working on these cases will continue in their roles. That, Garland suggested, will mean the query will “not slow down.” Smith will make a recommendation to Garland on whether to prosecute Trump. Until then, Garland will have no direct supervision over Smith.

Did Garland need to wait until Trump’s campaign launch to make the appointment? Perhaps not, but so long as Trump was not an active candidate, there was little reason for Garland to step aside. Now that Trump is a potential opponent to Biden, Garland believes it is essential to add a layer of separation between himself and the line prosecutors.

Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me, “Looking over Jack Smith’s decades of prosecutorial experience, it’s hard to imagine anyone better prepared to hit the ground running and to sew together whatever loose ends remain as he puts together a comprehensive prosecution of the leaders of the attempted coup, with the former president at its center, as well as a powerful prosecution of the former president for his theft of top secret documents as he absconded to Mar-a-Lago.” He adds that, while he previously “publicly urged that there was no need to appoint a special counsel, my principal concern was the need to avoid delay, and it appears that this appointment will solve that problem.”

Norman Eisen, who served as co-counsel to the House impeachment managers during Trump’s first impeachment, agrees. “I have no concern that a special counsel will shy away from charging, and Jack Smith has outstanding experience,” he tells me. Eisen also thinks the move will not cause much of a delay. He observes: “Mr. Smith should move with alacrity. Here, where any other American who had removed the even one classified document would be subject to likely prosecution, and where the former president took dozens, the rule of law demands fast action.”

In other news, The New York Times has an important story about a Supreme Court leak that–like the recent leak of the draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade–involves Justice Sam Alito: Former Anti-Abortion Leader Alleges Another Supreme Court Breach.

As the Supreme Court investigates the extraordinary leak this spring of a draft opinion of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a former anti-abortion leader has come forward claiming that another breach occurred in a 2014 landmark case involving contraception and religious rights.

In a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and in interviews with The New York Times, the Rev. Rob Schenck said he was told the outcome of the 2014 case weeks before it was announced. He used that information to prepare a public relations push, records show, and he said that at the last minute he tipped off the president of Hobby Lobby, the craft store chain owned by Christian evangelicals that was the winning party in the case.

Both court decisions were triumphs for conservatives and the religious right. Both majority opinions were written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. But the leak of the draft opinion overturning the constitutional right to abortion was disclosed in the news media by Politico, setting off a national uproar. With Hobby Lobby, according to Mr. Schenck, the outcome was shared with only a handful of advocates….

Joan Barber, Girl stroking cat

Joan Barber, Girl stroking cat

The evidence for Mr. Schenck’s account of the breach has gaps. But in months of examining Mr. Schenck’s claims, The Times found a trail of contemporaneous emails and conversations that strongly suggested he knew the outcome and the author of the Hobby Lobby decision before it was made public.

Mr. Schenck, who used to lead an evangelical nonprofit in Washington, said he learned about the Hobby Lobby opinion because he had worked for years to exploit the court’s permeability. He gained access through faith, through favors traded with gatekeepers and through wealthy donors to his organization, abortion opponents whom he called “stealth missionaries.”

The minister’s account comes at a time of rising concerns about the court’s legitimacy. A majority of Americans are losing confidence in the institution, polls show, and its approval ratings are at a historic low. Critics charge that the court has become increasingly politicized, especially as a new conservative supermajority holds sway.

Read the rest at the New York Times.

From Georgia–NBC News reports that: In win for Democrats, Georgia judge allows early voting in Senate runoff on Saturday after Thanksgiving.

A Fulton County judge ruled Friday that the Georgia Secretary of State cannot prohibit counties from voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a victory for the state Democratic Party and Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign.

The order comes after a brief legal battle between Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office and the Democratic Party of Georgia over the Dec. 6 Senate runoff between Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.

Raffensperger, a Republican, had maintained that changes to Georgia voting laws meant that there could be no early voting on Nov. 26, the only Saturday when it would have been possible for Georgians to cast an early vote in the hotly contested race.

Democrats and Warnock’s campaign filed suit challenging Raffensperger’s determination, and Judge Thomas A. Cox agreed with their arguments in a ruling late Friday afternoon. “The Court finds that the absence of the Saturday vote will irreparably harm the Plaintiffs, their members, and constituents, and their preferred runoff candidate,” the judge wrote.

Glenn Harrington

By Glenn Harrington

Raffensberger’s office will appeal the decision.

The dispute centers on a provision of Senate Bill 202, signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in March 2021, which stipulates early in-person voting must end the Friday before the runoff. This year, that would be Friday, Dec. 2.

The law also stipulates early in-person voting not be held on any Saturday that follows a “public or legal holiday” on the preceding Thursday or Friday. Raffensperger contended that meant there would be no early in-person voting on Nov. 26, the Saturday following Thanksgiving. (It could not be held this weekend because the general election vote is not being certified until Nov. 21.)

Attorneys for the Democrats and Warnock argued the section of the law Raffensperger cited applies to primaries and general elections, but not to runoffs. Cox agreed.

Of course there is tons of news about Twitter and Musk. Here are some links to check out if you’re interested:

Yoel Roth at the New York Times: I Was the Head of Trust and Safety at Twitter. This Is What Could Become of It.

The Guardian: How Elon Musk’s Twitter reign magnified his brutal management style.

The Washington Post: Musk summons engineers to Twitter HQ as millions await platform’s collapse.

The New York Times: Elon Musk’s Twitter Teeters on the Edge After Another 1,200 Leave.

What are your thoughts on all this? What other stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Twitter Meltdown, Polls, and the Midterms

Leonid Kiparisov, ‘On a Good Footing’

Leonid Kiparisov, ‘On a Good Footing’

Happy Caturday!!

At least we can celebrate cats and cat art, even though things in the real world are so f’d up. The top story today should be the upcoming midterm elections, and it is; but not in the way it normally would be. Right now we are dealing with a very strange situation in which a social media meltdown is likely to turn the process we’ve become accustomed to completely upside down. There’s really no way to know how it will all shake out, but it’s not looking good. It’s as if Trump himself took over Twitter in order to stoke chaos in the upcoming elections. In addition to the Twitter madness, the polls, which have been less accurate over the past several years, are seemingly more problematic than ever.

Here’s the latest on the Twitter mess. It’s a deep dive on the layoffs and how they could affect the user experience as well as the ability of experts, journalists, and regular people to follow the election results. Ben Collins, Bandy Zadrozny, and David Ingram at NBC News: Days before the midterms, Twitter lays off employees who fight misinformation.

Mass layoffs at Twitter on Friday battered the teams primarily responsible for keeping the platform free of misinformation, potentially hobbling the company’s capabilities four days before the end of voting in Tuesday’s midterm elections, one current and six former Twitter employees familiar with the cuts told NBC News,five of whom had been recently laid off.

Two former Twitter employees and one current employee warned the layoffs could bring chaos around the elections, as they hit especially hard on teams responsible for the curation of trending topics and for the engineering side of “user health,” which works on content moderation and site integrity. The seven people asked to withhold their names out of worry over professional retribution and because they weren’t authorized to speak for the company.

CEO Elon Musk, who’s facing sizable future debt payments and declining revenue at Twitter, said the cuts were needed to ensure the health of the company’s long-term finances a week after he bought it for $44 billion.

The cuts appeared to affect many people whose jobs were to keep Twitter from becoming overwhelmed by prohibited content, such as hateful conduct and targeted harassment, the seven sources said….

Gita Johar, a Columbia University business professor who has studied misinformation on Twitter, said the job cuts risk turning the site into a “free-for-all with rumors, conspiracy theories and falsehoods taking hold on the platform and in people’s imagination.”

Twitter had not released public figures about which teams had been cut the most, but the layoffs were widespread. In an exchange at an investor conference Friday, Musk appeared to confirm that his team had laid off half the company’s workforce, according to CNBC.

“Elon will own a company without employees,” a source inside Twitter told CNBC.

Françoise Collandre

Painting by Françoise Collandre

Musk and his hand-picked spokespeople claim there won’t be any problems; but if you use Twitter regularly, you know that isn’t true.

Twitter’s curation team, which had a variety of roles across the platform, including coordinating the detection and publishing of moments meant to debunk misinformation, appears to be gone, one source said. The team had recently published an explainer about how it tried to keep information accurate and impartial.

Andrew Haigh, a London-based curation lead, said on Twitter that the team “is no more.” 

“Unfortunately, the platform’s history of transparency and supporting research may be just that: history,” said Kate Starbird, a professor of design and engineering at the University of Washington who studies misinformation.

Starbird said it remained to be seen how potential misinformation around the midterms might be affected.

“We were already expecting a surge in rumors and disinformation around the election, even before Musk taking the reins,” she said.

“But the mass layoffs mean that we’ll get to see what an unmoderated major platform truly looks like in 2022, in an era of algorithmic manipulation and networked toxicity, during a massive online convergence event with huge political stakes.”

Read the rest at NBC News if you’re interested in the effects of misinformation and disinformation.

The Verge: Elon Musk’s Twitter layoffs leave whole teams gutted

Elon Musk has now purged roughly half of Twitter’s 7,500 employee base, leaving whole teams totally or near completely gutted, including those tasked with defending against election misinformation ahead of the US midterms next week, The Verge has learned.

The areas of Twitter impacted the most by Musk’s cuts include its product trust and safety, policy, communications, tweet curation, ethical AI, data science, research, machine learning, social good, accessibility, and even certain core engineering teams, according to tweets by laid-off employees and people familiar with the matter. More company leaders, including Arnaud Weber, VP of consumer product engineering, and Tony Haile, a senior director of product overseeing Twitter’s work with news publishers, have also been laid off following Musk’s firings of Twitter’s senior leadership last week.

Given the sweeping nature of Musk’s layoffs and his mandate to cut costs in areas like cloud hosting, employees who remain at Twitter told The Verge that they expect the company to have a hard time maintaining critical infrastructure in the short term. “Shit is gonna start breaking,” said one current employee who requested anonymity to speak without the company’s permission, while another called management’s layoff process “an absolute shit show.”

The rest of the article discusses Musk’s disgusting treatment of employees and upcoming lawsuits by those who have been purged.

The Washington Post: Twitter layoffs gutted election information teams days before midterms.

Devastating cuts to Twitter’s workforce on Friday, four days before the midterm elections, are fueling anxieties among political campaigns and election offices that have counted on the social network’s staff to help them combat violent threats and viral lies.

Slim woman with a cat, geza farago

Slim woman with a cat, Geza Farago

The mass layoffs Friday gutted teams devoted to combating election misinformation, adding context to misleading tweets and communicating with journalists, public officials and campaign staff.

The layoffs included a number of people who were scheduled to be on call this weekend and early next week to monitor for signs of foreign disinformation, spam and other problematic content around the election, one former employee told The Washington Post. As of Friday morning, employee access to internal tools used for content moderation continued to be restricted, limiting staff’s ability to respond to misinformation.

Twitter had become one of America’s most influential platforms for spreading accurate voting information, and the days before elections have often been critical moments where company and campaign officials kept up a near-constant dialogue about potential risks.

But a representative from one of the national party committees said they are seeing hours-long delays in responses from their contacts at Twitter, raising fears of the toll workplace chaos and sudden terminations is taking on the platform’s ability to quickly react to developments. The representative spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

It’s “only” a social media company, but Twitter has become a vital source of information for people in every walk of life. This is going to be a disaster.

Some researchers tracking online threats said they also feared that the cuts would interrupt lines of communication between the company and police that have been used to identify people threatening voter intimidation or offline violence.

“Law enforcement may lose precious minutes in identifying that person who we think is posing an actual threat,” said Katherine Keneally, a senior research manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that studies political extremism and polarization.

Keneally said she’d already seen an uptick in threatening content related to the election. She pointed to one post where a user wrote of the need to “pour in bleach or gasoline” at ballot drop boxes, a target of right-wing conspiracy theories about systematic voter fraud.

President Biden on Friday criticized Twitter’s role in spreading false information.

“Elon Musk goes out and buys an outfit that spews lies all across the world,” he said while attending a political fundraiser in Chicago. “There’s no editors anymore in America.”

The loss of Twitter as we knew it also has consequences for individuals. Here’s an example from a Washington Post writer:

Read the replies on Twitter. The sentiment is widespread.

Here’s another example:

From Vice yesterday, an example of how the lack of moderation is negatively affecting Twitter: Twitter Recommends Ye as Top Follow on ‘The Jews’ as Company Does Mass Layoffs.

“The Jews” is trending on Twitter, and its algorithm has selected Ye as a “Top” person to follow while Elon Musk fires roughly half of the company’s staff, including many of its policy experts and content moderators.

Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, recently had his Twitter access limited after saying he would go “death con 3” on “JEWISH PEOPLE,” and has been dropped by the vast majority of his business partners after repeatedly making blatantly antisemitic comments over the last few weeks. The freeze on Ye’s account has since been lifted.

“#IStandWithKyrie” is also trending, a reference to Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who recently recommended that people watch an antisemitic documentary and was suspended for five games after declining to apologize and evasively answering a question on whether he holds “anti-semitic beliefs.”

Twitter’s content moderation has always been something of a disaster, and harmful things end up trending all the time. Twitter’s content moderation has always relied more heavily on algorithms than competitors like Facebook do. In any case, Musk has promised to protect the values of “freedom of speech”—with the company now running with thousands fewer employees after mass layoffs. This may well be a window into what that looks like.

Girl with Kitten - Olesya Serzhantova Russian painter

Girl with Kitten – Olesya Serzhantova Russian painter

Twitter is also losing advertisers, which obviously could impact the long-term health of the company. The New York Times: Twitter’s Advertisers Pull Back as Layoffs Sweep Through Company.

The pullback of advertisers from Twitter gathered steam on Friday amid growing fear that misinformation and hate speech would be allowed to proliferate on the platform under Elon Musk’s leadership.

The Volkswagen Group joined several other companies in recommending that its automotive brands, which include Audi, Lamborghini, Bentley and Porsche, pause their spending on Twitter out of concerns that their ads could appear alongside problematic content. The Danish brewing company Carlsberg Group also said it had advised its marketing teams to do the same. The outdoor equipment and apparel retailer REI said it would pause posts in addition to advertising spending “given the uncertain future of Twitter’s ability to moderate harmful content and guarantee brand safety for advertisers.” And a spokeswoman for United Airlines, Leslie Scott, confirmed that the carrier had suspended advertising on Twitter earlier this week.

Civil rights groups including GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League held a conference call on Friday urging other companies to abandon Twitter, saying that mass layoffs there were gutting what they described as an already anemic content moderation staff.

Even Mr. Musk acknowledged the advertising slump, tweeting on Friday morning that Twitter “has had a massive drop in revenue,” which he blamed on activist groups pressuring advertisers.

The first chaotic week of Mr. Musk’s ownership of Twitter has given Madison Avenue whiplash, as advertisers struggle to reconcile the billionaire’s promises to make the platform safe for brands with concerns about a surge of extremism and false narratives, including one promoted by Mr. Musk himself.

In his tweet about Twitter’s faltering revenue, Mr. Musk said that “nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists” — a claim that civil rights groups denied.

A minute before he posted his comment, the ad-tracking platform MediaRadar released statistics showing that the number of advertisers on Twitter had dropped from May, soon after Mr. Musk’s bid for the platform was announced, through September, when he was still fighting to get out of the deal he struck to buy Twitter in April.

MediaRadar, which tracks ad campaigns for millions of companies, said data for October, when Mr. Musk took over Twitter, would not be available until later this month.

More details at the link.

Menny Fox, InstagramAnd what about the polls? New York Times polling expert Nate Cohn discusses the situation: Polling Averages Can Be Useful, but What’s Underneath Has Changed. This year, a wave of polls from Republican-leaning firms is driving the averages.

The polls show Republicans gaining heading into the final stretch. They’ve pulled ahead on the generic ballot in the race for the House, and they’ve fought into a closely contested race for Senate control….

On average, Republicans lead by two points on the generic ballot — which asks voters whether they’ll vote for the Democrat or Republican for Congress — and have pulled into very tight Senate races in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada, where Democrats were once thought to have the advantage.

This simple poll average is like many others you might have seen over the years. It weights the most recent polls more heavily. It gives more weight to pollsters that belong to a professional polling organization (they tend to be far less biased over the longer term). It doesn’t contain some of the fancier bells and whistles, like an adjustment for whether a poll tends to lean toward Republicans or Democrats.

But in one important respect, this average is very different from polling averages you’ve seen in prior years: The pollsters making up the average are very different.

Many stalwarts of political polling over the last decade — Monmouth University, Quinnipiac University, ABC/Washington Post, CNN/SSRS, Fox News, New York Times/Siena College, Marist College — have conducted far fewer surveys, especially in the battleground states, than they have in recent years. In some cases, these pollsters have conducted no recent polls at all.

And on the flip side, there has been a wave of polls by firms like the Trafalgar Group, Rasmussen Reports, Insider Advantage and others that have tended to produce much more Republican-friendly results than the traditional pollsters. None adhere to industry standards for transparency or data collection. In some states, nearly all of the recent polls were conducted by Republican-leaning firms.

This creates a big challenge for a simple polling average like this one. From state to state, Democrats or Republicans might seem to be doing much better or much worse, simply depending on which kind of pollster has conducted a survey most recently. The race may seem to swing back and forth, from week to week.

This is a subscriber only article, but I sent a gift link to Twitter and I’m posting it here for anyone who wants to read the rest and see charts.

I’m going to end there. As for how things are going in the many important races around the country, I have decided to kind of ignore the news about those. I can’t trust the polls, and I will only end up anxious and depressed if I read too much about what’s happening in the various states. I’m worried, but I figure all I can do is wait and see what happens and then deal with the results.

Please post your thoughts and share links on any topic in the comment thread, and I wish you a nice, peaceful weekend.