Tuesday Reads

Vincent Van Gogh, Grapes

Vincent Van Gogh, Grapes

Good Afternoon!!

We are fast approaching the day of decision: November 8, 2022 is only 3 weeks away. Democracy is on the ballot, but according to the New York Times’ interpretation of a new poll, voters aren’t that concerned about a fascist takeover by Republicans.

The New York Times: Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn’t a Priority.

Voters overwhelmingly believe American democracy is under threat, but seem remarkably apathetic about that danger, with few calling it the nation’s most pressing problem, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.

In fact, more than a third of independent voters and a smaller but noteworthy contingent of Democrats said they were open to supporting candidates who reject the legitimacy of the 2020 election, as they assigned greater urgency to their concerns about the economy than to fears about the fate of the country’s political system.

The doubts about elections that have infected American politics since the 2020 contest show every sign of persisting well into the future, the poll suggested: Twenty-eight percent of all voters, including 41 percent of Republicans, said they had little to no faith in the accuracy of this year’s midterm elections.

Political disagreements appear to be seeping into the fabric of everyday life. Fourteen percent of voters said political views revealed a lot about whether someone is a good person, while 34 percent said it revealed a little. Nearly one in five said political disagreements had hurt relationships with friends or family.

Political disagreements appear to be seeping into the fabric of everyday life. Fourteen percent of voters said political views revealed a lot about whether someone is a good person, while 34 percent said it revealed a little. Nearly one in five said political disagreements had hurt relationships with friends or family.

The entire article is trademark both-sidesing, of course–it’s The New York Times! The authors dug up a Democrat who is worried about “divisiveness” on “both sides.”

“I do agree that the biggest threat is survival of our democracy, but it’s the divisiveness that is creating this threat,” said Ben Johnson, 33, a filmmaker from New Orleans and a Democrat. “It feels like on both sides, people aren’t agreeing on facts anymore. We can’t meet in the middle if we can’t agree on simple facts. You’re not going to be able to move forward and continue as a country if you can’t agree on facts.”

The poll showed that voters filtered their faith in democracy through a deeply partisan lens. A majority of voters in both parties identified the opposing party as a “major threat to democracy.”

Most Republicans said the dangers included President Biden, the mainstream media, the federal government and voting by mail. Most Democrats named Donald J. Trump, while large shares of the party’s voters also said the Supreme Court and the Electoral College were threats to democracy.

Seventy-one percent of all voters said democracy was at risk — but just 7 percent identified that as the most important problem facing the country.

But why don’t we agree on “facts?” The poll suggests the media has something to do with that, but the NYT doesn’t include that in their analysis.

The NYT also doesn’t emphasize that it’s mostly Republicans who don’t care about saving democracy.

The polls have been so untrustworthy in the past few elections that I don’t know how much to trust them; but I do know I can’t trust the NYT to analyze the results honestly.

Meanwhile, Republicans seem so confident about taking over the House, that they are showing their cards ahead of the election.

The Washington Post: GOP to use debt limit to force spending cuts, McCarthy says.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that if Republicans win control of the House the GOP will use raising the debt limit as leverage to force spending cuts — which could include cuts to Medicare and Social Security — and limit additional funding to Ukraine.

“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt,” the California Republican told Punchbowl News in a recent interview. “And if people want to make a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior.”

Autumn landscape, 1889, Danish Peder Mørk Mønsted

Danish painter Peder Mørk Mønsted – An Autumn Landscape. Date: 1889.

“We’re not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right,” he added. “And we should seriously sit together and [figure out] where can we eliminate some waste? Where can we make the economy grow stronger?”

Pressed on whether changes to the entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security were part of the debt ceiling discussions, McCarthy said he would not “predetermine” anything.

The debt limit — the country’s borrowing cap — will need to be lifted next year to protect the country’s credit score and to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt. But McCarthy suggested that his party would be willing to hold the debt limit up for policy changes

The debt limit is the total amount of money that the government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salari.es, interest on the national debt, tax refunds and other payments. The debt limit is not new spending but rather allows the government to finance existing legal obligations.

Republicans are getting ready to do Putin’s bidding if they take over the House.

The Daily Beast: Ukraine Aid Could Be on the Chopping Block in a GOP-Controlled House.

Democrats and Republicans have both been backing Ukraine aid for months now. But there’s a growing sense of unease on Capitol Hill that something could soon happen to disrupt that financial support: Republicans could win the House in November.

“I’m absolutely not supporting any further funding for Ukraine,” Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Daily Beast last week….

Throughout Congress, Republican support for providing Ukraine aid has swung in multiple directions since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the war earlier this year. Several GOP lawmakers have told The Daily Beast they think President Joe Biden is being far too “weak” on Russia and not sending enough weapons to help Ukrainians fight back.

But there’s also been a strong and steady resistance to sending billions of dollars to Ukraine, even as Putin wages war. Some Republicans have tried to blame the war on Biden and have said they would rather focus on domestic priorities—from inflation to the southern border—and want to condition Ukraine aid on other issues, whatever the consequences may be in withholding aid from Ukraine.

Dozens of Republican members of the House have already sought to throw up roadblocks to Ukraine aid packages. Fifty-seven Republicans tried blocking $40 billion in aid to Ukraine earlier this year, in addition to 11 Republican Senators. Not a single Democrat tried to stand in the way.

Amherst Campus no.1 (1969) Fairfield Porter. Parrish Art Museum, New York.

Amherst Campus (MA) no.1 (1969) Fairfield Porter. Parrish Art Museum, New York.

In other Ukraine aid news, Elon Musk’s has threatened to stop supporting Starlink in the country. Starlink is the Musk-owned satellite system that supports internet communication in the Ukraine. He has wavered on this decision, but the Biden administration doesn’t trust him. Politico: Pentagon eyes locking in Starlink funding for Ukraine.

The Pentagon is considering paying for the Starlink satellite network — which has been a lifeline for Ukraine — from a fund that has been used to supply weapons and equipment over the long term, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in the deliberations.

The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative is designed to provide enduring support for the Ukrainian military by financing contracts with American firms for weapons and equipment that would be delivered in months or even years….

The discussion comes after CNN reported that SpaceX warned the Pentagon last month that it would no longer be able to finance the satellite terminals and communications services, which has already cost it over $80 million and could cost hundreds of millions more over the next year….

The company donated the use of Starlink terminals after Russia invaded Ukraine in February amid fears that the country would be cut off from the outside world. SpaceX’s philanthropic efforts drew widespread plaudits.

The Defense Department said on Friday that it was continuing discussions with SpaceX about a way forward. But it also said it is considering other alternatives for commercial satellite communications.

Elon Musk has shown his cards recently, offering a suggestion for negotiated peace in Ukraine that would favor Russia’s interests. Insider: Elon Musk’s pro-Russian peace deal is ‘classic Putin,’ and there’s a clue of the Russian leader’s role, Fiona Hill argues.

Elon Musk’s recent efforts to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine have almost certainly been puppeteered by Vladimir Putin, according to top Russia expert Fiona Hill.

“Putin plays the egos of big men — gives them a sense that they can play a role. But in reality, they’re just direct transmitters of messages from Vladimir Putin,” Hill told Politico this week, noting that the Tesla billionaire has tipped his hand in an obvious display of Putin’s influence.

Earlier this month, Musk tweeted a proposed peace plan he suggested could end the war in Ukraine that parroted Russian demands and echoed Kremlin talking points.

Autumn Leaves, Lake George (1924) Georgia O'Keeffe. Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio.

Autumn Leaves, Lake George (1924) Georgia O’Keeffe. Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio.

Ian Bremmer, a prominent political analyst, later reported that Musk spoke privately with Putin before drafting his proposition — an allegation that Musk denied.

While it was his October 3 tweets that garnered buzz around the globe, Musk was publicly evoking Putin’s desires even earlier.

Hill cited Musk’s September appearance at a conference in Aspen, during which he suggested a similar path forward through the war, encouraging Ukraine to “seek peace” by allowing Crimea — a territory which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 — to be recognized as Russian.

Musk also reportedly told attendees that the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine ought to be up for grabs. Russia annexed four occupied Ukrainian territories just days later, including the two mentioned by Musk.

You can also check out an interesting interview with Fiona Hill at Politico: Fiona Hill: ‘Elon Musk Is Transmitting a Message for Putin.’’

Some Democrats have been getting wishy-washy about promoting abortion as a top tier issue in the upcoming elections, but Joe Biden still seems to think it’s important. Politico: Biden to pledge legalizing abortion on Roe anniversary if Dems expand majorities.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday will promise that the first bill he’ll send to the next Congress will be legislation to reinstate the abortion protections of Roe v. Wade, according to a Democratic official previewing the president’s remarks.

In a speech at a Democratic National Committee event in Washington, Biden will also pledge to sign that bill into law around the anniversary of the original Roe ruling in late January.

Biden’s plans are contingent on Democrats holding the House and increasing their majority in the Senate, a factor acknowledged by the official previewing the remarks. As such, it is a vow that appears aimed at energizing Democrats to turn out in force in the upcoming midterm elections where the party is struggling to keep its slim majorities, as polls show early outrage over the fall of Roe v. Wade this June has been outstripped by economic concerns.

Biden has increasingly escalated his attacks on Republicans over abortion rights since the high court’s ruling this summer overturning Roe. He’s repeatedly predicted that there will be a massive surge of voter activity in the midterms pushing back against the decision — particularly from women voters. Biden also has argued that abortion will be just the start of GOP attempts to dial back rights, warning that protections for contraception and same-sex marriage could be next.

“Republicans don’t have a clue about the power of women,” he told a gathering of Democrats recently. “Let me tell you something: They’re about to find out.”

golden-autumn-1888, by Ivan Shishkin, Russian

Golden Autumn, 1888, by Ivan Shishkin, Russian painter

Meanwhile, women in red states are still dealing with the GOP’s efforts to take control of their bodies. Caroline Kitchener at The Washington Post: Desperate pleas and smuggled pills: A covert abortion network rises after Roe.

Monica had never used Reddit before. But sitting at her desk one afternoon in July — at least 10 weeks into an unwanted pregnancy in a state that had banned abortion — she didn’t know where else to turn.

“I need advice I am not prepared to have a child,” the 25-year-old wrote from her office, once everyone else had left for the day. She titled her post, “PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!!”

Within hours, she got a private message from an anonymous Reddit user. If Monica sent her address, the person promised, they would mail abortion pills “asap for free.

Monica didn’t know it at the time, but her Reddit post connected her to a new facet of the battle for abortion access: the rise of a covert, international network delivering tens of thousands of abortion pills in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down Roe v. Wade.

The emerging network — fueled by the widespread availability of medication abortion — has made the illegal abortions of today simpler and safer than those of the pre-Roe era, remembered for its back alleys and coat hangers. Distinct from services that sell pills to patients on the internet, a growing army of community-based distributors is reaching pregnant women through word of mouth or social media to supply pills for free — though typically without the safeguards of medical oversight.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

That’s all I have for you today. What’s on your mind? What stories are you following?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning and Happy Caturday!!

Why Cats PaintToday’s images are from the book Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics, by Heather Busch and Burton Silver. It’s a delightfully tongue-in-cheek discussion of “cat artists” that is really fun to read. Here’s some commentary on the book at Goodreads.

Today’s news is full of Ukraine stories. It’s looking as if Putin really plans to go through with an invasion. Here’s the latest:

CNN: Biden says he’s now convinced Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, but leaves door open for diplomacy.

President Joe Biden on Friday said he is now convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine, but emphasized that room for diplomacy remains.

“As of this moment, I am convinced he’s made the decision,” Biden said during remarks at the White House.

The President also said the US believes Russian forces intend to attack Ukraine “in the coming week” or sooner, and that an attack will target the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday said Russia was “moving into the right positions to conduct an attack,” echoing Biden’s assertion that Putin had made up his mind on invading.

“They’re uncoiling and now poised to strike,” Austin said, speaking from Vilnius, Lithuania. Austin said the US would pursue a diplomatic solution “until the very last minute, until it’s not possible.”

Biden plans to spend the weekend monitoring the ongoing Ukraine crisis from the White House as he meets with his national security team and remains in close contact with world leaders, multiple officials say. Biden had considered traveling to Delaware, as he typically does, but decided to remain in Washington.

Vice President Kamala Harris is in Germany today for the Munich Security Conference. Reuters: West puts up united front as Russia begins nuclear exercises.

MUNICH, Feb 19 (Reuters) – Russia must not attempt to move Ukraine’s borders by force, Western leaders warned on Saturday, saying they would be ready to respond even if Russia created a pretext for an invasion by accusing Ukraine of aggression.

Charlie the peripheral realist

Charlie the peripheral realist

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said the United States would reinforce NATO’s eastern flank to act as a further deterrent to any Russian military action in addition to the threat of sanctions.

“National borders should not be changed by force,” Harris said at the Munich Security Conference.

“We have prepared economic measures that will be swift, severe, and united,” she said. “We will target Russia’s financial institutions and key industries.”

Western leaders were meeting in Munich amid reports of explosions just inside Russian territory to Ukraine’s east and in the parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Moscow-backed rebels.

But most also added that diplomacy had not yet run its course.

“History has not yet been written: there is an exit that the Russian government can choose at any time,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock after a meeting of Western foreign ministers.

“Our common message to them is very clear: Don’t make this fatal mistake. Withdraw your troops … Let’s talk.”

But she warned against being misled by misinformation coming from separatist regions , saying Ukraine had done nothing to give the separatist leaders a reason for the evacuations they ordered on Friday.

Read more about the Munich meeting at The Washington Post: Harris, Blinken navigate Munich Security Conference as Europe holds its breath.

NBC News: Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine call to mobilize as Putin oversees nuclear drill.

Pro-Russian separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine ordered a full military mobilization Saturday, amid a spike in violence that has heightened fears that Moscow is planning to use an escalation in the conflictas a pretext to invade.

Pepper’s self-portrait

Pepper’s self-portrait

The announcements came ahead of planned large-scale drills involving Russian nuclear forces, overseen by President Vladimir Putin, offering a timely reminder of the country’s nuclear might, as Europe faces its gravest security crisis since the Cold War. Ballistic and cruise missiles were launched from land, air and sea the Kremlin said in a statement Saturday. 

In eastern Ukraine, where the Moscow-supported separatists have been fighting government forces since 2014, Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” urged reservists to show up at military enlistment offices in a video released on the chat app Telegram on Saturday.

In neighboring Luhansk, Leonid Pasechnik, leader of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic,” also signed a decree calling for “full combat readiness.”

The separatists control an enclave about the size of New Jersey, where it’s population of around 2 million speak Russian use the Russian ruble and hundreds of thousands have Russian passports.

Their statements came as the evacuation of civilians from the rebel-held territories in those regions to neighboring Russia continued.

The New York Times interviewed Russia expert Fiona Hill about Putin’s motives: Explaining Putin’s Decades-Long Obsession With Ukraine. Here’s the beginning of the interview:

How would you evaluate the administration’s handling of this crisis so far? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

I think they’re handling it as well as they can be, given the circumstances. Writ large, what the administration is doing right now is certainly what I would recommend doing. But I don’t know whether we can say if it’s going to work or not. The real test is going to be over a long period of time. I don’t think this is going to be a short, sharp crisis.

Tiger the spontaneous reductionist

Tiger the spontaneous reductionist

What do you mean?

Putin’s been trying to get a grip on Ukraine for years now. They cut off the gas to Ukraine in 2006. He’s been in power for 22 years, and the whole of that time, he’s had Ukraine in the cross hairs one way or another, and it’s intensified over time. Putin wants to be the person who, on his watch, in his presidency, pulls Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit. And he could be president until 2036, in terms of what’s possible for him.

Is this fundamentally ideological for him, or geopolitical?

It’s about him personally — his legacy, his view of himself, his view of Russian history. Putin clearly sees himself as a protagonist in Russian history, and is putting himself in the place of previous Russian leaders who’ve tried to gather in what he sees as the Russian land. Ukraine is the outlier, the one that got away that he’s got to bring back.

Head over to the NYT to read the rest.

Back in the USA, we continue to learn more about Donald Trump’s many crimes.

The Washington Post: National Archives confirms classified material was in boxes at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.

The National Archives and Records Administration confirmed in a letter Friday that it found items marked classified in boxes of White House records that former president Donald Trump took with him to his Mar-a-Lago residence.

In a letter to Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), U.S. Archivist David S. Ferriero wrote that officials had “identified items marked as classified national security information within the boxes” at Mar-a-Lago and had been in touch with the Justice Department over the matter.

The Washington Post reported last week that some of the Mar-a-Lago documents were marked as classified, including some at the “top secret” level — a revelation that seemed likely to intensify the legal pressure that Trump or his staffers could face.

Princess

Princess, the Elemental Fragmentist

Ferriero’s letter, though, provides the first official confirmation of classified material being in the boxes, and it is likely to reignite calls that the Justice Department investigate to see how the information got out of secure facilities, and who might have seen it.

It remains unclear how many classified documents were in the 15 boxes of materials, or what the Justice Department might do. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, and a spokesman for the Justice Department did not immediately return a message.

Ferriero wrote that the National Archives was conducting an inventory of the boxes’ content and expected to complete that process by Feb. 25. He wrote that the agency also had “asked the representatives of former President Trump to continue to search for any additional Presidential records that have not been transferred to NARA, as required by the Presidential Records Act.”

CNN: Judge says Trump could be culpable for January 6 and says lawsuits against the former President can proceed.

Civil lawsuits seeking to hold Donald Trump accountable for the January 6, 2021, insurrection can move forward in court, a federal judge said Friday in a ruling outlining how the former President could conceivably be responsible for inciting the attack on the US Capitol.

Trump’s statements to his supporters before the riot “is the essence of civil conspiracy,” Judge Amit Mehta wrote in a 112-page opinion, because Trump spoke about himself and rallygoers working “towards a common goal” of fighting and walking down Pennsylvania Avenue.

“The President’s January 6 Rally Speech can reasonably be viewed as a call for collective action,” Mehta said.

Democratic members of the House and police officers who defended the US Capitol on January 6 sued Trump last year, claiming he prompted his supporters to attack. Friday, Mehta wrote that the three lawsuits could move to the evidence-gathering phase and toward a trial — a major loss in court for Trump.

Wong Wong and Lulu

Lulu and Wong Wong

“To deny a President immunity from civil damages is no small step. The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent,” Mehta wrote.

“After all, the President’s actions here do not relate to his duties of faithfully executing the laws, conducting foreign affairs, commanding the armed forces, or managing the Executive Branch,” Mehta added. “They entirely concern his efforts to remain in office for a second term. These are unofficial acts, so the separation-of-powers concerns that justify the President’s broad immunity are not present here.”

While he homed in on Trump’s legal liability, the judge ruled in favor of three close allies to Trump who also spoke at the rally on January 6 — his attorney Rudy Giuliani, his son Donald Trump Jr. and Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, saying he would dismiss the claims against them.

Philip Bump offers an analysis of Mehta’s decision at The Washington Post: The president, the extremists and the conspiracy to storm the Capitol.

There were three things that jumped out at me from D.C. District Judge Amit Mehta’s decision that lawsuits targeting former president Donald Trump and two extremist organizations could move forward.

That is, three things beyond this remarkable paragraph:

 
“ … the court concludes that the Complaints establish a plausible §1985(1) conspiracy involving President Trump. That civil conspiracy included the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, [Proud Boys leader Enrique] Tarrio, and others who entered the Capitol on January 6th with the intent to disrupt the Certification of the Electoral College vote through force, intimidation, or threats.”

Before moving forward, it’s very important to qualify those sentences in two ways. The first is that Mehta is not saying that this conspiracy was proved; rather, that it was not implausible that it might be. It’s the difference between going to trial and reaching a verdict. The second important qualifier is that Mehta is describing only a civil conspiracy, in keeping with the nature of the lawsuits (brought by several members of Congress) that he was considering.

Misty goes off the wall

Misty goes off the wall

A civil conspiracy, Mehta writes, does not require that conspirators “entered into any express or formal agreement, or that they directly, by words spoken or in writing, stated between themselves what their object or purpose was to be, or the details thereof, or the means by which the object or purpose was to be accomplished.” They don’t need to know all the details of any plan or all of those participating in affecting it. They need only have come “to a mutual understanding to try to accomplish a common and unlawful plan … [the] general scope of which were known to each person who is to be held responsible for its consequences.”

The evidence at hand, Mehta concluded, suggests that such a conspiracy may have been in place between Trump and members of those right-wing extremist groups.

Read the rest at the WaPo. It’s very interesting.

One more January 6 story at Law and Crime: Stuart Rhodes is still locked up.

‘Clear and Convincing Danger’: Federal Judge Refuses to Let Oath Keepers Founder Stewart Rhodes Out of Jail Pending Seditious Conspiracy Trial.

Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers militia group accused of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, is a “clear and convincing danger” who must stay behind bars pending trial, a second federal judge has ruled.

Rhodes, 56, has been in custody since his arrest in January, after a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Texas deemed him to be a “credible threat” to the public. Prosecutors say Rhodes has weapons caches and unregistered cars stashed in multiple locations, and that he saw Jan. 6—when hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Donald Trump supporters overran police at the U.S. Capitol to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden‘s win in the 2020 presidential election—as “an initial skirmish or battle in a larger war.”

Smokey at work

Smokey at work

Prosecutors say Rhodes and other Oath Keepers planned to bring years of military experience and a variety of weapons to support the pro-Trump mob, going so far as to prepare for ferrying a trove of firearms and other weapons across the Potomac.

“My observation at this point [is] if the conduct alleged is true, the danger that it poses cannot be [overstated],” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said at the start of Rhodes’ bond hearing Friday, signaling his intention to keep Rhodes in behind bars.

Mehta said that the government hadn’t convinced him that Rhodes is a flight risk, but they won on their arguments that he posed a risk of future dangerousness to the general public. 

Prosecutors say Rhodes and other Oath Keepers planned to bring years of military experience and a variety of weapons to support the pro-Trump mob, going so far as to prepare for ferrying a trove of firearms and other weapons across the Potomac.

“My observation at this point [is] if the conduct alleged is true, the danger that it poses cannot be [overstated],” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said at the start of Rhodes’ bond hearing Friday, signaling his intention to keep Rhodes in behind bars.

Judge Mehta was busy yesterday.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Fiona-Hill-Jonathan-Xu-22-Merionite-News

Fiona Hill

A new book about the Trump Administration was released today, and this one is likely to be much more serious than the many gossipy Trump books that have preceded it. This one is a memoir by Fiona Hill, who served in Trump’s White House as a Russia expert and then testified in the impeachment hearings.

Here’s the New York Times review by Jennifer Szalai: In a Memoir, the Impeachment Witness Fiona Hill Recounts Her Journey From ‘Blighted World’ to White House.

The arresting title of Fiona Hill’s new book, “There Is Nothing for You Here,” is what her father told her when she was growing up in Bishop Auckland, a decaying coal-mining town in North East England. He loved her, and so he insisted that she had to leave.

Hill took his advice to heart — studying Russian and history at St. Andrews in Scotland, sojourning in Moscow, getting a Ph.D. at Harvard and eventually serving in the administrations of three American presidents, most recently as President Trump’s top adviser on Russia and Europe. “I take great pride in the fact that I’m a nonpartisan foreign policy expert,” she said before the House in November 2019, when she delivered her plain-spoken testimony at the hearings for the (first) impeachment of President Trump. But for her, “nonpartisan” doesn’t mean she’s in thrall to bloodless, anodyne ideas totally disconnected from her personal experience. She wrote this book because she was “acutely aware,” she says, “of how my own early life laid the path for everything I did subsequently.”

Sure enough, “There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century” weaves together these two selves, slipping back and forth between the unsentimental memoir reflected in its melancholy title and the wonkish guide promised in its inspirational subtitle. The combination, however unlikely, mostly works — though by the end, the litany of policy prescriptions comes to sound a bit too much like a paper issued by the Brookings Institution, where Hill is currently a fellow. When recounting her life, Hill is a lucid writer, delivering her reminiscences in a vivid and wry style. As much as I wanted more of Hill the memoirist and less of Hill the expert, I began to sense that giving voice to both was the only way she could feel comfortable writing a book about herself.

Looked at from afar, Hill’s story seems like a triumphant tale of striving and accomplishment. Born in 1965, she grew up in a “blighted world.” Her father followed the men in his family into the mines when he was 14; as the industry started to collapse in the 1960s, he found a job as a hospital porter. Hill’s mother worked as a midwife. As late as the 1970s, Hill’s grandparents lived in a subsidized rowhouse without “mod cons,” or modern conveniences, including indoor plumbing. Her grandfather had been pierced by the “windy pick” — the pneumatic drill — and had to wear a brace around his pelvis “to keep his battered insides in” for the rest of his life.

House Intelligence Committee Continues Open Impeachment Hearings

Fiona Hill is worn in at the House Intelligence Committee Open Impeachment Hearings.

Read more about Hill’s early life at the link. Here’s a bit about her experiences in the Trump White House.

Instead of making the usual insider-memoir move of fixating on all the brazenly outrageous behavior — the bizarre comments, the outlandish tweets — Hill notices his insecurities, the soft spots that, she says, made him “exquisitely vulnerable” to manipulation. Yes, she writes, the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election — but unlike the #Resistance crowd, which insists that such meddling was decisive, Hill is more circumspect, pointing out that Vladimir Putin wasn’t the force that tore the country apart; he was simply exploiting fissures that were already there.

Just as concerning to her was the way that people around Trump would wreak havoc on one another by playing to his “fragile ego” — spreading rumors that their rivals in the administration had said something negative about Trump was often enough to land those rivals on what the president called his “nasty list.” Hill says that watching Trump fulminate made her feel like Alice in Wonderland watching the Queen of Hearts, with her constant shouts of “Off with their heads!” In Hill’s telling, Trump’s norm-breaking was so flagrant and incessant that she compares him, in her matter-of-fact way, to a flasher. “Trump revealed himself,” she writes, “and people just got used to it.”

But neither Trump nor Putin — who was the subject of one of Hill’s previous books — is what she really wants to talk about. What she sees happening in the United States worries her. Economic collapse, structural racism, unrelieved suffering: Even without Trump, she says, none of the country’s enormous problems will go away without enormous efforts to address them. Hill the expert points to heartening examples of benevolent capitalism at work. But Hill the memoirist knows in her bones that the neoliberal approach, left to its own devices, simply won’t do.

I cannot wait to read this book. More articles about it to check out:

Yahoo News: Trump’s fixation was on Putin himself rather than Russia, says fmr. WH adviser.

Raw Story: Trump’s former Russia expert has a message for voters if he runs in 2024

Yahoo News: Fiona Hill says Trump was a national security risk because he was ‘so vulnerable to manipulation based on the fragility of his ego’

Financial Times: There Is Nothing for You Here by Fiona Hill — memoir from Trump White House.

Finally, Newsweek has an excerpt from the book: Donald Trump Called Fiona Hill ‘Darling,’ Thought She Was a Press Secretary.

Mitch-McConnell-Debt-CeilingIn other news, we’re still facing the possible default of the United States leading to a global financial crisis. Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times: As the U.S. Hurtles Toward a Debt Crisis, What Does McConnell Want?

In March 2006, as the government veered dangerously close to a default, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the No. 2 Republican, let the Bush White House know he was two votes short of what he needed to raise the legal limit on federal borrowing.

Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, began working the phones. He soon found two Democrats willing to break ranks and vote to put the legislation over the top. But Mr. McConnell was holding out for something else entirely, hoping to extract concessions from President George W. Bush as the price for uniting Republicans around lifting the limit.

“I don’t need your damned votes,” he snapped at Mr. Card. He lifted the debt ceiling with Republicans only.

Mr. Card never learned what the Senate leader wanted, but he tells the story for a reason: Mr. McConnell has long used the periodic need to raise the government’s borrowing limit as a moment of leverage to secure a policy win, as have leaders of both parties.

But two weeks before a potentially catastrophic default, Mr. McConnell has yet to reveal what he wants, telling President Biden in a letter on Monday, “We have no list of demands.”

Instead, he appears to want to sow political chaos for Democrats while insulating himself and other Republicans from an issue that has the potential to divide them.

Mr. McConnell has said the government must not be allowed to stop paying its debts; he has also said he will not let any Republicans vote to raise the limit, while moving repeatedly to block Democrats from doing so themselves. Instead, he has prescribed a path forward for Democrats: Use a complicated budget process known as reconciliation to maneuver around a Republican filibuster that he refuses to lift.

Asked what he wanted, that was his answer: “As I have said for two months, I want them do it through reconciliation.”

So what’s the problem then? Why don’t the Democrats just do it through reconciliation? Of course that is another problem, because Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema are standing in the way of the reconciliation bill. And what the hell do they want? A couple of reads on those two:

joe-manchin-arrives-capitolCNN: Manchin breaks with party leaders over strategy on debt ceiling and Biden’s economic package.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on Monday pushed back on several politically sensitive positions his party leaders are taking at a crucial time for President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

The West Virginia Democrat, who holds a pivotal vote in the 50-50 Senate, indicated to CNN that he disagrees with the strategy top Democrats are pursuing in the standoff with Republicans over raising the national debt limit. Manchin said that Democrats “shouldn’t rule out anything,” including a budget process that Democratic leaders have made clear they will not employ.

Speaking to reporters, Manchin also would not commit to the new timeline set by party leaders to find a deal on the social safety net expansion by October 31. And he sounded resistant to calls from progressives and other top Democrats to raise his $1.5 trillion price tag for the package, which many in his party view as too low to achieve key policy objectives.

On Tuesday, however, Manchin did not rule out a $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion price tag for the social safety net package, a range Biden has floated privately. “I’m not ruling anything out,” Manchin said when asked by CNN if he would rule out that number.

In a stark warning sign to progressives, Manchin also indicated the package must include a prohibition against using federal funds for most abortions. “The Hyde Amendment is a red line,” he said. Manchin’s stance puts him at odds with progressives, with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal saying Sunday she would not support a package that included the Hyde Amendment.

Read more at the link.

LLREOPMIHVF7XFYWQ5C5K2JOJIMichelle Goldberg at The New York Times: What’s Wrong With Kyrsten Sinema?

In 2003, Joe Lieberman, at the time one of the worst Democratic senators, traveled to Arizona to campaign for his party’s presidential nomination and was regularly greeted by antiwar demonstrators. “He’s a shame to Democrats,” said the organizer of a protest outside a Tucson hotel, a left-wing social worker named Kyrsten Sinema. “I don’t even know why he’s running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him — what kind of strategy is that?”

It was a good question, and one that many people would like to ask Sinema herself these days. People sometimes describe the Arizona senator as a centrist, but that seems the wrong term for someone who’s been working to derail some of the most broadly popular parts of Joe Biden’s agenda, corporate tax increases and reforms to lower prescription drug prices. Instead, she’s just acting as an obstructionist, seeming to bask in the approbation of Republicans who will probably never vote for her.

A “Saturday Night Live” skit this weekend captured her absurdist approach to negotiating the reconciliation bill that contains almost the entirety of Biden’s agenda. “What do I want from this bill?” asked the actress playing Sinema. “I’ll never tell.” It sometimes seems as if what Sinema wants is for people to sit around wondering what Sinema wants.

When Sinema ran for Senate, the former left-wing firebrand reportedly told her advisers that she hoped to be the next John McCain, an independent force willing to buck her own party. Voting against a $15 minimum wage this year, she gave a thumbs down — accompanied by an obnoxious little curtsy — that seemed meant to recall the gesture McCain made when he voted against repealing key measures of the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

But people admired McCain because they felt he embodied a consistent set of values, a straight-talking Captain America kind of patriotism. Despite his iconoclastic image, he was mostly a deeply conservative Republican; as CNN’s Harry Enten points out, on votes where the parties were split, he sided with his party about 90 percent of the time.

Sinema, by contrast, breaks with her fellow Democrats much more often. There hasn’t been a year since she entered Congress, Enten wrote, when she’s voted with her party more than 75 percent of the time. But what really makes her different from McCain is that nobody seems to know what she stands for.

Click the link to read more.

There’s lots more news out there. I’ll post more links in the comments. As always, this is an open thread.


Tuesday Reads: Democratic Debate and Trump’s Troubles

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 2008

Good Morning!!

The latest Democratic debate airs on CNN tonight at 8PM. You can read about what to expect in this piece at Vox.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but I have to admit that I’m far from enthused about watching it, although I’ll try to give it a chance. I’m sick of the irrelevant candidates like Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer; and as for the top three–Biden, Warren, and Sanders–I still believe they are too old for the job.

If we are going to have a septuagenarian president, I would rather have it be Hillary. I guess I have to face the fact that I’ll never be as excited about a candidate as I was about her.

Another issue with tonight’s debate is the Biden campaign’s decision to allow Hunter Biden to participate in an ABC News interview today.

From The Daily Beast: Biden’s Rivals Are Utterly Perplexed at the Timing of Hunter’s Interview.

After months of staying silent amid an avalanche of attacks by President Trump and his team, Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, made his first public comments in an interview Tuesday morning just about 12 hours before his father takes the debate stage Tuesday night.

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

For the majority of the Democrats running for president, and even one notable surrogate to Joe Biden himself, there is a sense of confusion as to why Hunter is choosing now to finally speak up about the extent of his business ties in Ukraine and China.

“I wouldn’t have put Hunter on the air,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top surrogate for Biden, told The Daily Beast. “I think the more you respond, the more you’re playing into Donald Trump.” [….]

For Team Biden, Hunter’s Biden’s interview, which aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America, was an opportunity to clear the air and turn the attention back to the widespread corruption running rampant in the Trump White House. It also gave the younger Biden a chance to present facts in his own words to counter Trump’s misinformation campaign.

In the interview, he admitted that he had shown “poor judgment” in taking the job with a Ukrainian natural gas company but insisted that he had done nothing unethical.

Does anyone believe that the debate moderators will ignore all this and focus on Donald Trump and his children’s blatant self-dealing? I don’t.

Meanwhile, Trump is burning down the post-WWII world order. That should be the subject of tonight’s debate, not Hunter Biden.

Edward Hopper, October on Cape Cod

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Trump’s Worst Betrayal Yet.

President Trump didn’t make a “mistake” in pulling troops out of northeastern Syria last week, as many have charged. It’s what he has long wanted to do. The mistake was not understanding—and, more to the point, not caring about—the consequences.

Trump’s fateful phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 6, giving him the green light to cross the Syrian border and crush the Kurds without U.S. resistance, did more than any single act has ever done to demolish the post-WWII global order and isolate America from the rest of the world. This, again, has been Trump’s goal since he entered the White House.

Until recently, one or more of his advisers—Jim Mattis, H.R.
McMaster, John Bolton, or Gen. Joseph Dunford—obstructed or dissuaded him from withdrawing. Now all of those advisers are gone, and their replacements lack either the clout or the gumption to push back.

Trump may believe that he’s doing the right thing, that abandoning the rest of the world’s problems will “make America great again.” He doesn’t realize that America’s might and wealth depend, in large measure, on the cooperation it receives from others—either offered or coerced—in pursuing its interests around the world.

He is also blind to the fact—or loath to admit—that he, in fact, is not getting out of the world. On Friday, days after abandoning the Kurdish allies to the Turks (and consequently, all of Syria to Bashar al-Assad and the Russians), Trump announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. But to Trump’s mind, there was a big difference in this deployment.
“Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we are doing to help them,” he told reporters. “That’s a first. We appreciate that.”

Georgia O’Kefee, Autumn Leaves, 1924

To Trump, the U.S. military is nothing more than a mercenary force to be rented out to the highest bidder.

It was as if sending American troops abroad doesn’t count as a commitment if taxpayers don’t have to pay for it. It was as if Trump were telling the world that the U.S. military is now a mercenary force. It was a message to any country currently hosting American troops at least in part at our largesse—because, say, previous presidents have considered it in U.S.
interests to keep troops there—that they should start rethinking their options for how to stay secure

Trump has made a practice of abrogating treaties, filching on commitments, and alienating allies, but, more than any single act, the betrayal of the Kurds should tell everyone that—as long as Trump is president and, who knows, perhaps beyond—there is no reason to trust the United States on anything.

I hope you’ll go read the rest at Slate.

From Axios, here’s a quote from deep thinker Trump on abandoning the Kurds:

“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” read one of the president’s tweets. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

He doesn’t seem at all concerned about getting U.S. troops out of Syria safely or getting our nukes out of Turkey.

Trump even tried to blame the Kurds for the release of Islamic State prisoners. From The Week:

It appears that President Trump was a bit off the mark Monday morning when he tweeted a theory that Kurdish forces were releasing prisoners with ties to the Islamic State in an attempt to get the U.S. to continue fighting alongside them. Trump’s suspicions were likely derived from the fact that the Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the Middle East, were disappointed in Washington for removing U.S. troops from the region, providing Turkey — which considers Kurdish forces a national security threat — an opening to invade.

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest I, 1902

U.S. officials have said that prisoners with ISIS ties are being deliberately released, but it’s actually Turkish proxy forces in the Free Syrian Army — a decentralized rebel group that has been linked to extremists groups and was once recruited by the CIA to aid the U.S. in its fight against ISIS — who are behind it, rather than the Kurds, Foreign Policy reports. The Free Syrian Army has also been accused of executing Kurdish prisoners and killing unarmed civilians.

As for the Kurds, one U.S. official said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have not abandoned or released any prisoners with ISIS ties and, in some cases, the SDF has reportedly moved detainees to other facilities further south.

Subsequently, Trump’s theory is not sitting well with U.S. and Kurdish forces. “That has enraged our forces in Syria,” another senior U.S. administration official said. “Kurds are still defending our bases. Incredibly reckless and dishonest thing to say.”

Yesterday, Trump’s former Russia and Ukraine adviser Fiona Hill testified at the Impeachment hearings. Here’s the latest on that.

The Washington Post: Trump’s ex-Russia adviser told impeachment investigators of Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony.

Hill, who served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, was the latest witness in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by using the promise of military aid and diplomatic support to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

Henri Rousseau, Eiffel Tower at Sunset, 1910

In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.

Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.

Sondland plans to testify on Thursday and the Committees are now talking about questioning John Bolton.

The New York Times: Bolton Objected to Ukraine Pressure Campaign, Calling Giuliani ‘a Hand Grenade.’

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)

Read the rest at the NYT.

Finally, The Daily Beast reports that Trump Suspects a Spiteful John Bolton Is Behind Some of the Ukraine Leaks.

In recent weeks, numerous leaks have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major papers and news outlets detailing the president’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders to help dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and also aid Trump’s quest to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s concluded investigation. And as is his MO, the media-obsessed president has been fixated on not just the identity of the whistleblower behind the internal complaint that brought this scandal to the fore, but also on who, exactly, has been namelessly feeding intel to the press.

In the course of casual conversations with advisers and friends, President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.