Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

Couple near poplars, Edward Hopper, 1906

Couple near poplars, Edward Hopper, 1906

A few days ago, I came across an article about Edward Hopper’s paintings of a “stony blonde” woman at Crime Reads. I’m going to use some of the paintings mentioned in the article to illustrate this post. Here’s the article: How Edward Hopper’s Stony Blonde Became  A Noir Icon. On The Femme Fatale Who Flipped the Script, by Stephanie Kane.

Best known for his disengaged customers at a neon-lit diner counter and his flapper staring into a coffee cup in a lonely automat at night, Hopper depicted social isolation before a pandemic made it a way of life. It’s no surprise that the famously reclusive artist binged on movies when he was creatively blocked, read pulp fiction, and had a lasting impact on film noir. He even influenced Alfred Hitchcock: the house in Psycho is modeled on a Hopper painting.

Hopper apparently had issues with women, and only connected with three of them, one of whom was his wife and fellow artist Jo Nivison. You can read Jo and the other two women in the article. Here are the paintings selected by Kane to illustrate her points:

The blonde first appears in Hopper’s 1906 watercolor, Couple near Poplars, as a petite Gibson girl with a gawky swain. Hair upswept, with a pinafore over her corseted waist, she faces into the wind with her arms tightly crossed and lips grimly set. Forty years later she’s the girl on the porch in 1947’s Summer Evening, provocatively dressed in a pink bandeau and high-cut shorts, staring sullenly down as her date leans in imploringly. In 1932’s Room in New York, she’s the wife in the evening dress at the piano, idly touching a key while her husband ignores her for his newspaper. Her hand on the keyboard is poised to come crashing down.

Automat, hopper, 1927

Automat, 1927

When she is alone, the blonde tells another story. In 1927’s Automat, she’s a flapper slumped over a coffee cup in a neon-lit cafeteria. If she’s contemplating her next move, it takes her four years. In 1931’s Hotel Room, she sits at the edge of a bed in a chemise, shoes kicked off and bags on the floor, bent over a train schedule in her lap. Preparing to make a run for it, like that collie in the grass.

In 1957’s Western Motel, she flips the script.

Blonde hair pulled back, in a striking red dress, she sits upright at the foot of a neatly made bed. The picture window behind her frames what could be a Western movie set: blue sky, mountains, and an Aztec green Buick sedan with a bull’s-eye chrome bombsite on the hood, raring to go. Tagged and packed, her bags stand at the door. A pair of blue men’s boxer shorts is draped on a chair. She’s leaving without him. And after 50 years, she finally looks straight at the viewer.

Here, as she faces us for the very first time, Hopper’s blonde’s arc ends. In walking out of Western Motel and into the world, this femme fatale chooses life over love or death.

Can you tell I’m not in the mood for politics today? I’m so sick and tired of Donald Trump that I just want to escape from the world for the next two weeks. Of course I can’t really do that, because another part of me is completely obsessed with knowing what is happening in the lead-up to the election.

Hotel Room, 1931

Hotel Room, 1931

Yesterday we did get a distraction when the news broke that Jeffrey Toobin was caught masturbating during a Zoom call with his New Yorker colleagues. Vice: New Yorker Suspends Jeffrey Toobin for Masturbating on Zoom Call.

The New Yorker has suspended reporter Jeffrey Toobin for masturbating on a Zoom video chat between members of the New Yorker and WNYC radio last week. Toobin says he did not realize his video was on.

“I made an embarrassingly stupid mistake, believing I was off-camera. I apologize to my wife, family, friends and co-workers,” Toobin told Motherboard.

“I believed I was not visible on Zoom. I thought no one on the Zoom call could see me. I thought I had muted the Zoom video,” he added.

Sure Jeffrey.

Two people who were on the call told VICE separately that the call was an election simulation featuring many of the New Yorker’s biggest stars: Jane Mayer was playing establishment Republicans; Evan Osnos was Joe Biden, Jelani Cobb was establishment Democrats, Masha Gessen played Donald Trump, Andrew Marantz was the far right, Sue Halpern was left wing democrats, Dexter Filkins was the military, and Jeffrey Toobin playing the courts. There were also a handful of other producers on the call from the New Yorker and WNYC.

Room in NY, Hopper, 1932

Room in New York, 1932

Both people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely, noted that it was unclear how much each person saw, but both said that they saw Toobin jerking off. The two sources described a juncture in the election simulation when there was a strategy session, and the Democrats and Republicans went into their respective break out rooms for about 10 minutes. At this point, they said, it seemed like Toobin was on a second video call. The sources said that when the groups returned from their break out rooms, Toobin lowered the camera. The people on the call said they could see Toobin touching his penis. Toobin then left the call. Moments later, he called back in, seemingly unaware of what his colleagues had been able to see, and the simulation continued.

The New Yorker says they are “investigating,” and CNN has given Toobin some time off to deal with his “personal issue.” It seems to me that Toobin should just be fired, but he’s a powerful white man, so . . . slap on the wrist I guess.

Apparently, Toobin has a history of sexual misconduct. Read about it in this 2010 New York Daily News piece: CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin made ‘shockingly sexual’ proposition to well-known media figure, she claims.

In today’s news, Trump continues to flog the Hunter Biden non-story. He went on Fox News this morning to rant about it. Raw Story: Trump publicly demands Bill Barr appoint special counsel to investigate Joe Biden in off-the-rails Fox News interview.

In a wide-ranging and off-the-rails Fox News interview President Donald Trump is demanding Attorney General Bill Barr appoint a special counsel to investigate his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, over Russian disinformation spread by his personal attorney and a conservative media outlet owned by his friend.

Summer Evening, Edward Hopper, 1947

Summer Evening, 1947

Trump told “Fox & Friends” Barr has “got to act” against the former vice president and his son Hunter Biden, insisting the Attorney General give credence to the disinformation before Election Day.

“We’ve go to get the Attorney General to act, and he’s got to act, and he’s got to act fast. He’s got to appoint somebody. This is major corruption and this has to be known about before the election,” Trump demanded, before declaring, “we’re going to win the election.”

But more than 50 former intelligence officials say the Hunter Biden story is Russian disinformation. Natasha Bertrand at Politico:

More than 50 former senior intelligence officials have signed on to a letter outlining their belief that the recent disclosure of emails allegedly belonging to Joe Biden’s son “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”

The letter, signed on Monday, centers around a batch of documents released by the New York Post last week that purport to tie the Democratic nominee to his son Hunter’s business dealings. Under the banner headline “Biden Secret E-mails,” the Post reported it was given a copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who said he got it from a Mac shop owner in Delaware who also alerted the FBI.

While the letter’s signatories presented no new evidence, they said their national security experience had made them “deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case” and cited several elements of the story that suggested the Kremlin’s hand at work.

Western Motel, Edward Hopper, 1957

Western Motel, 1957

“If we are right,” they added, “this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election, and we believe strongly that Americans need to be aware of this.”

Nick Shapiro, a former top aide under CIA director John Brennan, provided POLITICO with the letter on Monday. He noted that “the IC leaders who have signed this letter worked for the past four presidents, including Trump. The real power here however is the number of former, working-level IC officers who want the American people to know that once again the Russians are interfering.”

Read more at Politico.

Anyway Trump’s kids are blatantly profiting from their dad’s corrupt presidency. Biden should bring that up in the debate on Thursday night.

Joan Venocchi at The Boston Globe: Enough about Hunter Biden. What about Ivanka Trump?

Trump’s strategy is clear. His own children are brazenly trading on the Trump family name to advance the Trump Organization’s business interests. Changing the subject to “What about Hunter Biden?” becomes a way to project the corruption spotlight onto the Bidens and away from the Trumps. Plus, if the final weeks of the campaign are all about Hunter Biden, that allows Trump to distract from what are the real issues: Trump’s failed leadership, especially regarding the coronavirus pandemic; Trump’s ongoing commitment to dividing the country by race and political ideology, rather than trying to unite it; and Trump’s utter lack of character, integrity, and honesty….

At least Joe Biden acknowledges it was a mistake for his son to join the Burisma board and is pledging that no family members will have any involvement with any foreign government if he’s elected president. Trump, meanwhile, calls the Bidens “an organized crime family,” yet takes no responsibility for the conflicts of interest corrupting his own presidency.

Two comedians, 1965“Can you imagine if my kids did what this guy Hunter has done,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Florida. “Ivanka! Oh my beautiful, my wonderful Ivanka. She’s a good kid. Can you imagine? “

We can do more than imagine. According to Forbes, the Chinese government has granted 41 trademarks to companies linked to Trump’s daughter. And “the trademarks she applied for after her father became president reportedly got approved roughly 40 percent faster than those she requested before her father’s victory in the 2016 election,” Forbes reported.

Read the whole thing at the Globe.

Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele has endorsed Joe Biden. He explains at NBC News: I’m a Republican voting for Joe Biden over Trump. Because I’m an American first.

So here we are, faced with the re-election of President Donald Trump and the prospect of a nation still struggling against Covid-19, reeling from the ravages of a flattened economy and in pain from civil unrest and our genuine concern for how we treat one another.

Rather than binding up the nation’s wounds, Trump exacerbates division. Rather than standing up to the world’s dictators, Trump cravenly seeks the favor of thugs. Rather than fostering free enterprise, Trump embraces economic principles not only outdated in Lincoln’s time, but made even worse today by a leader who lost close to a billion dollars in a single year running a casino. Rather than seeking to build on the legacy of the Republican Party’s founders, of which Trump is surely ignorant, Trump has posited a single purpose for the GOP — the celebration of him.

New York Movie, 1939

New York Movie, 1939

Consequently, America has watched as the Republican Party stopped pursuing its animating principles of freedom and opportunity. It has given up its voice on things that mattered and instead bent the arc of the party towards the baser motives of one man, who is neither a Republican nor a conservative.

Read the rest at the link. I don’t agree with most of it, I’m glad Steele came out publicly. More and more never Trump Republicans are announcing that they will vote for Biden, and we need all the help we can get.

More stories to check out:

The New York Times: Voters Prefer Biden Over Trump on Almost All Major Issues, Poll Shows.

Financial Times: US voters turn against Donal d Trump’s economic policies.

Axios: Axios-Ipsos poll: Trump’s sickness makes him harder to trust.

Brian Karem at The Bulwark: The Donald Trump Show Must Go On. The madness continues on the campaign trail.

The Daily Beast: Even Parts of Trumpworld Are Like: Rudy, WTF Are You Doing?

The New York Times: U.S. Diplomats and Spies Battle Trump Administration Over Suspected Attacks.

Julia Ioffe at GQ: The Mystery of the Immaculate Concussion.

Margaret Sullivan at The Washington Post: What Kristen Welker can learn from Savannah Guthrie about dealing with Trump.

Raw Story: Just two weeks before the election, Justice Department sues Google in biggest antitrust case in decades.

Have a nice Thursday everyone, and please check in with us in the comments if you have the time and inclination.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump In Trouble

Good Morning!!

Only a little more than 2 weeks to go until November 3!

Biden continues to lead Trump in the polls. In the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, he Biden is ahead by 11 points among likely voters. At Vanity Fair, Bess Levin humorously summarizes the findings: Poll: Americans Think Donald Trump is a “Horrible” “Disgusting” “Putinesque” “Ass.” They additionally think he’s a “racist,” “despicable,” “corrupt,” “antichrist.”

Trump was able to win in 2016 with just 46% of voters casting a ballot in his favor because states key to the Electoral College backed him. But Biden is ahead in several crucial states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which helped Trump clinch the election four years ago. Not only has Biden maintained an advantage with Black, Latino, and women voters—which might have something to do with the fact that Trump is a flaming raollscist and misogynist—plus young voters, independents, and people who live in cities and suburbs, he is also leading the president with a heretofore unthinkable collection of individuals: white people.

Yes, Trump, who won white voters by 20 points in 2016, and has spent the last four years saying and doing things that have suggested there was a nonzero chance he might appear at a rally one day wearing a white sheet and burning a cross, is losing to Biden with his favorite demographic….

e311dc18f9055eeb652c4493bf95a51fAdditionally, 52% of likely voters view Trump’s presidency as a failure, which is generally not a great thing vis-à-vis winning an election. The bad news for the president comes on the heels of his white-power-embracing, lie-spewing, explosive-diarrhea-of-the-mouth debate performance earlier this month and his COVID-19 diagnosis. And it’s not the only thing the campaign should probably be worried about! On top of the cold, hard data, poll respondents were asked to describe the candidates using one word, and for Trump, the views are a positive sign, unless it’s considered a positive that Americans think he’s a pathetic jackass:

“For Trump, the word that stands out is ‘incompetent,’ while for Biden it is ‘honest.’

From the NPR article:

To be clear, both candidates have a range of words ascribed to them that are positive and negative.

For Trump, on the positive end, people said he is “good,” “great,” “successful” and “strong.” On the negative side, “incompetent” was overwhelmingly the most common word used, followed by “liar,” “failure,” “bad,” “horrible,” “disaster,” “arrogant” and “buffoon.”

The positives ascribed to Biden include, for example, “honest,” “confident,” “hopeful,” “good,” “trustworthy” and “compassionate.”

On the negative side, voters said: “old,” “confused,” “incompetent,” “senile” and “weak.”

Biden also beat Trump soundly in TV ratings of their competing town hall appearances on Thursday night. Vanity Fair: It’s Official: Biden Beats Trump in Town Hall Television Ratings.

Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil was formulated by Dr. S. N. Thomas in the late 1840s. It contained spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, and fish oil

Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil was formulated by Dr. S. N. Thomas in the late 1840s. It contained spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, and fish oil.

According to Nielsen numbers released Friday, the Biden event was watched by 13.9 million viewers on ABC, easily besting Trump’s NBC spectacle, which drew just 10.9 million viewers. The Trump event’s total viewership was dwarfed by Biden’s even though Trump’s was simulcast on CNBC and MSNBC: as CNN noted, the three networks combined for roughly 13 million viewers, a total that still lagged behind the Biden event.

Before Thursday night’s town hall with Trump aired on NBC—a last-minute decision that was broadly panned—outlets reported that the president was banking on a ratings windfall.

“He looks at this the same way he looks at attendance at his rallies versus the [turnout] Biden gets for his events,” an anonymous source told The Daily Beast this week. “He obviously wants to blow Biden out of the water.

But on Friday morning, in the wake of mockery for his performance, Trump received some surprising news: a Biden ratings lead in the preliminary numbers. Even then, it was expected that Trump would ultimately prevail, owing to the fact that NBC blanketed its cable networks with the president. Alas, that wasn’t the case—although Trump could still potentially claim victory, as the Nielsen numbers only account for television viewership and not online and streaming numbers. (As one reporter noted, however, Biden’s town hall did comfortably beat Trump’s event in viewership on YouTube.)

It’s not looking good for Trump, and he is clearly freaking out about it. In a rally in Macon, GA last night he said he might have to leave the country if he loses.

From the article:

At one point, Mr. Trump threatened to leave the country should he lose the election.

“Could you imagine if I lose?” he said. “I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country, I don’t know.”

Trailing in the polls and at a significant cash deficit compared to Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump attempted to argue that he was opting against raising more money as he enters the final stretch of the election.

7ba691e3487ddcefa6da51176d2d1c9a“I could raise more money,” he said. “I would be the world’s greatest fund-raiser, but I just don’t want to do it.”

Mr. Trump’s campaign announced this week that he had raised over $247 million last month, far short of the record $383 million raised by Mr. Biden’s campaign and affiliated Democratic committees.

The president also delivered a discursive monologue about what he cast as a choice to not be more presidential, an allusion to the chaotic style that has turned off suburban women, a group that helped boost Mr. Trump to victory four years ago.

“I used to go and I’d imitate a president who’s playing presidential — it’s so easy compared to what we do,” he said. “I said, ‘I can be more presidential than any president in our history with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln when he wore the hat, that’s tough to beat.’”

Mr. Trump acknowledged his losses in the suburbs, seeming to link his slide to his divisive style. Mr. Biden leads by 23 points among suburban women in battleground states, according to recent polling by The New York Times and Siena College. Among suburban men, the race is tied.

“Suburban women,” he said. “I heard they like my policy but they don’t like my personality. I said they don’t care about my personality, they want to be safe.”

I don’t think it’s just his personality that turns off women voters. It’s his actions and non-actions.

76b7e01e343198f80551b13039a37789Trump might actually try to leave the country if he loses, because he will face multiple criminal prosecutions. But that won’t save him from the millions he owes to someone, likely Deutsche Bank. The New York Times has a new article up based on Trump’s tax data: $421 Million in Debt: Trump Calls It ‘a Peanut,’ but Challenges Lie Ahead.

President Trump painted a rosy picture of his financial condition during a televised town hall on Thursday night, calling his hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due “a peanut” and saying he had borrowed it as a favor to lenders eager to take advantage of his financial strength.

In fact, the loans, and the unusual requirement he had to accept to receive them, illustrate the financial challenges he faces and the longstanding reluctance of banks to deal with him.

Mr. Trump had to personally guarantee $421 million in debt, a rare step that lenders only require of businesses that may not be able to repay. The commitment puts his assets on the line and could place his lenders, should he be re-elected, in the position of deciding whether to foreclose on a sitting president.

The personal guarantee also speaks to why, despite Mr. Trump’s assertion that banks are eager to lend him money, nearly all the money he borrowed in the last decade came from only two institutions.

“When a bank asks for a personal guarantee, it is because the bank isn’t satisfied with the creditworthiness of the borrower,” said Richard Scott Carnell, who served as assistant secretary for financial institutions at the Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton and now teaches law at Fordham University. “If the captain gives a personal guarantee for the ship, he will be less likely to sink it.”

Sheet music, 1876There are lots of articles today on the ridiculous New York Post/Rudy Giuliani story about Hunter Biden’s alleged emails. This one is by David Ignatius at The Washington Post: The truth behind the Hunter Biden non-scandal.

The story of Hunter Biden’s involvement with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma isn’t a scandal about his father, as the Trump campaign claims, but part of a personal tragedy for the vice president’s son, compounded by this week’s dissemination of what looks like disinformation about Joe Biden’s role.

What’s clear, beyond the false scandal-mongering, has been evident for years: Hunter Biden made a mistake getting involved with a dubious company like Burisma. But the notion that the Burisma affair undermines Joe Biden’s case to be president is, as he would say, malarkey.

The Biden campaign has been understandably reluctant to respond, for fear of giving the story legitimacy. Still, Biden has said his son made a mistake. Family friends say the vice president is reluctant to publicly criticize Hunter Biden further, but they stress that both Bidens have learned the painful lesson that a president’s children should stay away from international business. Would that the Trump family recognized that rule.

That’s really the point, isn’t it? I wonder why more news outlets don’t focus on Trump’s nepotism and the corrupt behavior of his children and son-in-law.

e0112888dc530ac522ef0f49d21a74a3The Hunter-Ukraine connection has been a political sideshow since the Biden campaign began. It got new voltage this week when the New York Post published what it claimed were emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop suggesting that he had helped arrange a 2015 meeting between his father and a Burisma executive. The Biden campaign denied any such meeting, and its accounts, based on recollections of multiple staff members, are believable. An Eastern European expert in digital forensics who has examined some of the Ukrainian documents leaked to the New York Post told me he found anomalies — such as American-style capitalization of the names of ministries — that suggest fakery.

Read more at the WaPo and at the following links:

AP: Biden email episode illustrates risk to Trump from Giuliani.

The Daily Beast: Bolton Warned His Staff To Stay Away From Russia-Aligned Rudy Giuliani.

NPR: Analysis: Questionable ‘N.Y. Post’ Scoop Driven by Ex-Hannity Producer, Giuliani.

The Daily Beast: Rudy: Only ‘50/50’ Chance I Worked With a ‘Russian Spy’ to Dig Dirt on Bidens.

One more before I wrap this up. Yesterday Judge Reggie Walton called Trump’s bluff on his tweeted order to declassify every document associated with the Russia investigation. The Washington Post: U.S. judge: Do Trump’s tweets or White House lawyers speak for president on declassifying entire Russia probe?

A federal judge rebuked the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office on Friday for dismissing without explanation President Trump’s “emphatic and unambiguous” tweets ordering the declassification of all documents in the government’s probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

“I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax,” the president tweeted Oct. 6. “Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!”

1883 posterTrump’s blanket statement came the day after he returned to the White House from three days of treatment for the novel coronavirus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The tweet has since created a headache for government lawyers in pending open-records lawsuits filed by news organizations seeking fuller disclosure of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report and investigative materials.

Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer maintained in a court filing Tuesday that the White House Counsel’s Office informed the Justice Department that notwithstanding the president’s statement, “there is no order requiring wholesale declassification or disclosure of documents at issue.”

The Judge wasn’t buying it.

At Friday’s hearing, however, Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court in D.C. expressed bafflement at the claim that President Trump’s words were not to be believed.

“I think the American public has a right to rely on what the president says his intention is,” Walton said.

“It seems to me when a president makes a clear, unambiguous statement of what his intention is, that I can’t rely on the White House Counsel’s Office saying, ‘Well, that was not his intent,’ ” the judge said in a hearing conducted by videoconference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Walton directed the department by noon Tuesday to clarify with Trump or “an individual who has conferred directly with the president” whether Trump had intended to order the declassification and release of Mueller report materials without redaction. The judge cited the urgency of releasing as much information as possible in the remaining days before the election.

This could get interesting. I hope you all have a great weekend. Please stop by Sky Dancing if you have the time and inclination–we love to hear from you!


Thursday Reads: Dumpster Fire Debate Aftermath

Central Avenue, by Philip Guston

Good Morning!!

The paintings and drawings in this post are by Philip Guston, a painter who shocked the art world in the late 1960s by abandoning his abstract expressionism and turning to cartoonish representations of KKK-like figures that to him reflected the culture of America under Richard Nixon. These works also reflected his childhood memories of scenes of the Klan marching openly in Los Angeles, where his Jewish family lived.

Four major museums have decided to call off a retrospective of Guston’s work for fear of negative reactions to the racial justice content of the paintings. From The New York Times:

In an open letter published Wednesday in The Brooklyn Rail, nearly 100 artists, curators, dealers and writers forcefully condemned the decision last week by the National Gallery of Art in Washington and three other major museums to pull the plug on the largest retrospective in 15 years of one of America’s most influential postwar painters.

The show, after years of preparation, will be delayed until 2024. The stated reason is to let the institutions rethink their presentation of Guston’s later figurative paintings, which feature men in hoods reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan members, and which, a National Gallery spokesperson said, risked being “misinterpreted” today.

Philip Guston – Dawn, 1970 (oil on canvas)

In the open letter, the artists, “shocked and disappointed,” accuse the museums — the National Gallery, Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — both of betraying Guston’s art and of patronizing the public they are supposed to serve.

The postponement, they write, is an admission of the museums’ “longstanding failure to have educated, integrated, and prepared themselves to meet the challenge of the renewed pressure for racial justice that has developed over the past five years.” They demand that the Guston exhibition take place as scheduled, and that the museums “do the necessary work to present this art in all its depth and complexity.”

Surely these paintings are as relevant in the Trump years as they were in Nixon’s America. Postponing the exhibition until 2024 guarantees that public discussions of their import won’t happen until after Trump’s second term if he is reelected. This reminds me of the many efforts to ban Mark Twain’s profoundly anti-racist novel Huckleberry Finn because of Twain’s use of the N-word.

Read more at Art News: Controversial Philip Guston Show Postponement Met with Shock and Anger from Art Community. See also this statement (and more art works) from Guston’s daughter Musa Mayor: Philip Guston: The Danger is in Looking Away.

Now on to today’s news. Trump’s dumpster fire of a debate performance on Tuesday night is still drawing reactions.

The New York Times Editorial Board: A Debate That Can’t Be Ignored. Americans need to face the man who is their president.

President Trump’s was a national disgrace. His refusal to condemn white supremacists, or to pledge that he will accept the results of the election, betrayed the people who entrusted him with the highest office in the land. Every American has a responsibility to look and listen and take the full measure of the man. Ignorance can no longer be a tenable excuse. Conservatives in pursuit of long-cherished policy goals can no longer avoid the reality that Mr. Trump is vandalizing the principles and integrity of our democracy.

Philip Guston The Line, 1978

It’s a tired frame, but consider how Americans would judge a foreign election where the incumbent president scorned the democratic process as a fraud and called on an armed, violent, white supremacist group to “stand by” to engage with his political rivals.

The debate was excruciating to watch for anyone who loves this country, because of the mirror it held up to the United States in 2020: a nation unmoored from whatever was left of its civil political traditions, awash in conspiratorial disinformation, incapable of agreeing on what is true and what are lies, paralyzed by the horror of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and beholden to a political system that doesn’t reflect the majority of the country.

The debate featured one politician trying his best to do his job, trying to bring some normalcy to America’s battered public square, and one politician who seemed incapable of self-control — petulant, self-centered, rageful.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Adam Serwer at The Atlantic: The Most Illuminating Moment of the Debate. Donald Trump sees everything—even his own children—as a reflection of himself.

Shortly after Donald and Ivana Trump’s son was born, however, the future president had an unusual concern for a parent: What if this kid grows up and embarasses me?

“What should we name him?” Donald asked, according to Ivana’s memoir, Raising Trump. When Ivana suggested Donald Jr., the real-estate heir responded, “What if he is a loser?”

That anecdote helps explain one of the more memorable exchanges in Tuesday night’s presidential debate, as well as Trump’s approach to governance. The president’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, sought to criticize Trump’s remarks about U.S. service members being “losers,” as first reported by The Atlantic. In doing so, Biden brought up his late son, Beau, who died of a brain tumor after earning a Bronze Star in the Army National Guard.

Philip Guston, Drawing for Conspirators, 1930

“My son was in Iraq and spent a year there,” Biden said to Trump, raising his voice. “He got the Bronze Star. He got a medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot. And the people left behind there were heroes.”

In an attempt to neutralize the attack, Trump changed the subject—to Biden’s other son, Hunter. “Hunter got thrown out of the military; he was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use,” he spat out.

To a person who feared sharing his name with his son at the moment of his birth, because the child might turn out to be a “loser,” that attack must have seemed devastating. But normal parents don’t stop loving their children because they do bad things. They love them anyway. That’s what being a parent is.

Biden responded by reaffirming his love for his surviving son. “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem,” Biden responded. “He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.” [….]

More than any other moment of the debate, Trump’s response to Biden’s invocation of his dead son—attempting to make him ashamed of his surviving one—threw the dispositions of the two men into sharp relief. I wondered how Hunter must have felt to see his father speak of his pride in his brother, only for his own name to be brandished as a weapon to inflict shame on his father. And I thought about Biden’s response, which was to reaffirm his pride in Hunter, the troubled son living in the indelible shadow of a departed war hero. In the midst of being attacked by a president trying to wield his own family against him, Biden’s instinct was to reassure Hunter that he is also loved, that nothing could make his father see him as a loser.

Read more at The Atlantic.

At The Washington Post, Eric Garcia wrote about his own struggle with addiction and how Trump’s words will affect other recovering people: Trump’s attack on Hunter Biden will only increase the stigma of addiction.

As saccharine as it sounds, the president of the United States is also the president of screw-ups, addicts and hopefuls like me and Hunter Biden. But Trump’s comments made clear that he believes that an addict’s actions can be used against our families to attack their character.

Philip Guston – Courtroom, 1970 (oil on canvas)

That will make us less willing to talk about our problems and get the help we need. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says explicitly that stigma can make people with substance abuse disorders less willing to seek treatment. And that makes sense. If your addiction is going to be used against you, why try to get better?

Hunter Biden’s problems with alcohol, drugs and women have been well-documented. (News reports show that, contrary to what Trump said Tuesday, Hunter was not dishonorably discharged from the Navy Reserve when he tested positive for cocaine in 2014.) Those demons were enough of an issue that when the former vice president began running last year, the New Yorker published a piece asking whether they would “jeopardize his father’s campaign.” That story ran a few days before I finally hit bottom myself.

I don’t know Hunter Biden, but I do know that worrying that your own actions could hurt the people you love is one of the things that tears an addict up inside.

I hope you’ll read the rest.

The debate also raised fears about Trump stealing the election, by suppressing votes, encouraging white supremacist violence, and using the courts.

The Daily Beast: Trump’s Crew of Far-Right Vigilante Poll Watchers Is Coming.

The truck-revving, banner-waving, loudspeaker-blaring pro-Trump rally took place, conveniently, on Sept. 19, the first Saturday of early voting in the swing state of Virginia, in a parking lot where voters in Democratic-leaning Fairfax County were lined up to cast their ballots. Some Trump supporters drove circles around the voters while others—many without face masks—mingled with the line, chanting and waving flags.

“We had a couple poll observers there that had to actually escort voters in because we saw people that would get to the edge of the parking lot, and see this giant group of Trumpers yelling and screaming,” Jack Kiraly, executive director of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, told The Daily Beast, adding that the scene reminded him of the volunteers who escort people past anti-abortion protesters outside women’s health clinics.

Philip Guston, 1930 or 31

So during Tuesday night’s remarkably unhinged presidential debate, when President Donald Trump urged his supporters to take unsanctioned actions at polling places, Kiraly was reminded of what Fairfax County voters had witnessed earlier this month.

During the debate, Trump appeared to tell the far-right paramilitary group the Proud Boys to “stand by” and urged fans to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” for voter fraud, an exceedingly rare phenomenon Trump has crafted into a cornerstone of his political identity. For close observers of the far right, as well as officials like Kiraly, the remarks amounted to the latest warning that an embattled president might use his supporters to impede fair elections, or to cast the results of those elections in doubt.

If the prospect of election-related violence was already looming over the first presidential contest since Trump effectively welcomed the paramilitary far-right into the Republican Party, the debate made the alarm bells ring even louder.

David Sanger at The New York Times: Tuesday’s Debate Made Clear the Gravest Threat to the Election: The President Himself.

President Trump’s angry insistence in the last minutes of Tuesday’s debate that there was no way the presidential election could be conducted without fraud amounted to an extraordinary declaration by a sitting American president that he would try to throw any outcome into the courts, Congress or the streets if he was not re-elected….

Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to say he would abide by the result, and his disinformation campaign about the integrity of the American electoral system, went beyond anything President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could have imagined. All Mr. Putin has to do now is amplify the president’s message, which he has already begun to do….

The president began the debate with a declaration that balloting already underway was “a fraud and a shame” and proof of “a rigged election.”

Philip Guston – By the Window, 1969 (oil on canvas)

It quickly became apparent that Mr. Trump was doing more than simply trying to discredit the mail-in ballots that are being used to ensure voters are not disenfranchised by a pandemic — the same way of voting that five states have used for years with minimal fraud.

He followed it by encouraging his supporters to “go into the polls” and “watch very carefully,” which seemed to be code words for a campaign of voter intimidation, aimed at those who brave the coronavirus risks of voting in person.

And Mr. Trump’s declaration that the Supreme Court would have to “look at the ballots” and that “we might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over” seemed to suggest that he would try to place the election in the hands of a court where he has been rushing to cement a conservative majority with his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

And if he cannot win there, he has already raised the possibility of using the argument of a fraudulent election to throw the decision to the House of Representatives, where he believes he has an edge because every state delegation gets one vote in resolving an election with no clear winner. At least for now, 26 of those delegations have a majority of Republican representatives.

And of course Trump’s final backstop could be to trigger mass violence by his white supremacist supporters.

I’m running out of space, but I’ll post more links in the comment thread. Have a nice Thursday, and please check in with us if you have the time and inclination. We love to hear from you!


Lazy Caturday Reads: 2020 and Impeachment

Good Morning!!

It’s looking like the media has successfully erased Kamala Harris’ candidacy, but yesterday Trump gave her a publicity boost. Trump was inexplicably given an award at a traditionally Black college in South Carolina, but only 10 students were invited to attend the forum, which was filled with Trump supporters.

Greenville News: President Trump addresses political allies as Benedict students are asked to stay in dorms.

COLUMBIA – In a way, what happened outside Benedict College’s gates in the heart of downtown felt quite small. At its peak, the crowd covered less than 100 yards of the sidewalk. But the scene itself represented something much bigger: the fractured, divisive, sometimes ugly and often loud American political climate.

Protests were mounted outside the 150-year-old historically black college where inside a school auditorium President Donald Trump spoke to a room filled with more political allies than students.

The event was billed as a keynote speech on bipartisan success in criminal justice reform, which the president tied to a booming economy that he told his audience has helped black people more than ever before.

Benedict students — some of whom pondered the week prior what questions they might ask the president once his surprise visit to the weekend-long “2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum” was announced — were asked to stay in their dorms.

Seven students were allowed inside for the speech….

The announcement that Trump would join came late and to the surprise of those participating in the forum. The original announcement of the event highlighted only that Democratic candidates were participating.

When Kamala Harris learned about Trump’s appearance she cancelled her own visit to Benedict College.

Trump attacked Harris for this on Twitter and this morning she responded.

I know it’s unlikely Americans are ready for Black woman as the Democratic nominee, but I continue to admire this woman greatly and I believe she will continue make a difference in the years to come.

Greenville News: Kamala Harris backs out of Benedict forum after Trump receives award on visit to SC.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has withdrawn from participating in the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum today at Benedict College after learning President Donald Trump received an award at the forum on Friday.

Harris, the junior senator from California, was due to speak at the event at the historically black college alongside fellow 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, but she posted a message on Twitter announcing her withdrawal less than 24 hours before she was scheduled to speak.

She cited the Bipartisan Justice Award that the president received and event organization that left only nine Benedict students to be invited, only seven of whom were able to attend according to a school spokesperson.

“I won’t be complicit in papering over Trump’s record,” Harris tweeted in part before announcing she’ll instead take part in a panel at Benedict College’s Antisdel Chapel with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Joe Biden is still leading in most polls, but he has been struggling to raise money for his campaign.

Politico: Why Biden is getting crushed in the all-important money race.

Joe Biden’s campaign is drawing more support from big-ticket donors than any other candidate in the race — yet he still can’t match his rivals’ cash flow.

Biden has raised $20.7 million from contributions of at least $500 — $1.5 million more than his nearest competitor, despite entering the race later than all of them — thanks to the former vice president’s strong connections and goodwill among the traditional donors who have long financed the Democratic Party. Biden drew donations from 114 former big money fundraisers for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the third quarter, the most of any Democrat, according to a POLITICO analysis.

But it’s been nowhere near enough to make Biden the leader of the fundraising pack. In fact, his big-dollar dominance, and his reliance on those donors, is more evidence of how quickly small-dollar donations have become the most important component of political fundraising in a sprawling, fractured Democratic race. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are all outraising Biden, and stockpiling cash significantly faster than him, on the back of major support from online donors that Biden has been unable to build.

Biden is spending too much time holding big money fundraisers and not enough time campaigning. A bit more:

The bundler contributions and connections are helping keep Biden’s campaign afloat, but some of those donors are cringing at the way Biden is running his campaign.

“I don’t think Joe Biden is going to be the nominee,” said one major fundraiser, who said he gave to Biden out of loyalty during the third quarter. “I think there’s a thirst for something down the road taking us towards something bigger and better. That’s not going to be Joe Biden, for whom I have the utmost respect. He is acting his age and showing his age.”

Much more at the Politico link. Yesterday Biden approved formation of a super pac. Politico: Biden throws his campaign a lifeline.

By reversing course and dropping his opposition to super PACs, Joe Biden has all but admitted he’s getting swamped in fundraising.

But it was a strategic retreat that could end up paying big dividends for his cash-starved campaign.

Calls to a half-dozen maxed-out Biden donors Friday revealed that they would gladly dig deeper for the former vice president and contribute to a super PAC that enables them — and corporations — to give and spend unlimited amounts of money.

The witching hour by Lisa Parker

“Joe Biden has not raised as much money as the others through his own campaign efforts. But you have to understand, that’s basically how it works. Bernie Sanders had, what, 20,000 people at an event in New York? Suppose each one of those people gave $100,” said Joe Cotchett, a major Bay Area bundler for Biden. “Does Joe have the ability to have 20,000 people at a rally right now? The answer is no. But hopefully for Joe, it will come.”

Harold Schaitberger, head of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has already endorsed Biden, said it would likely commit to a Biden super PAC.

“We would be in a position to support that effort,” said Schaitberger. “We’re certainly capable of spending in the six figures.

We’ll see. I still don’t think Biden will win the nomination, but at this point, I’ve stopped caring. I’ll vote for Kamala if she’s still around on Super Tuesday, and I’ll hold my nose and vote for whoever the Dems nominate. I don’t think we’ll beat Trump in an election. He has to be impeached and removed or forced to resign. There’s no evidence right now that the 2020 election will be legitimate.

Another problem for Biden is the drip drip drip about his son Hunter. If he is the nominee, the Republicans will talk about Hunter non-stop, and it won’t matter if he did anything illegal. He certainly traded on his father’s name. The latest from The New York Times: Giuliani Is Drawing Attention to Hunter Biden’s Work in Romania. But There’s a Problem.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, signaled this month that he planned to open a new front in his attacks against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — work done by Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden for a wealthy Romanian business executive facing corruption charges.

But there’s a problem with that strategy: Mr. Giuliani participated in an effort that would have helped the same executive, and was in fact recruited to do so by Louis J. Freeh, a former F.B.I. director who had been brought onto the matter by Hunter Biden.

In effect, Mr. Giuliani and Hunter Biden were on the same team, if not at the same time. And their work to help the business executive, along with that of Mr. Freeh, stood in contrast to efforts by the United States, including Vice President Biden while he was in office, to encourage anti-corruption efforts in Romania.

The dynamic in Romania underscores how Mr. Giuliani has done a brisk international business with clients who sometimes seem to be seeking to capitalize on his connections to Mr. Trump even as he has accused Hunter Biden of seeking to capitalize on his father’s name while doing business in other countries. And the disclosure of the connection between his role in Romania and Mr. Biden’s comes at a time when Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible violations of foreign lobbying laws.

Trump will bash Hunter unmercifully if Biden is the nominee and it won’t matter that Trump is far more corrupt and that his own children are raking in millions through his presidency. The media doesn’t focus on Trump’s nepotism now and they likely won’t in 2020. The focus will be on “both sides,” and pretending that Joe and Hunter’s questionable ethics or, even worse, Elizabeth Warren’s long history of claiming Native American ancestry. It will be the new “her emails.”

I’m sorry to sound so negative today. It’s still a long time until the primaries begin, but it’s not looking good right now. The good news is that the Impeachment inquiry is going full speed ahead.

Catbatting by Maggie Vandewalle

The New York Times: Impeachment Inquiry Is Legal, Judge Rules, Giving Democrats a Victory.

A federal judge handed a victory to House Democrats on Friday when she ruled that they were legally engaged in an impeachment inquiry, a decision that undercut President Trump’s arguments that the investigation is a sham.

The declaration came in a 75-page opinion by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the Federal District Court in Washington. She ruled that the House Judiciary Committee was entitled to view secret grand jury evidence gathered by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Typically, Congress has no right to view such evidence. But in 1974, the courts permitted lawmakers to see such materials as they weighed whether to impeach President Richard M. Nixon. The House is now immersed in the same process focused on Mr. Trump, Judge Howell ruled, and that easily outweighs any need to keep the information secret from lawmakers.

And in a rebuke to the Trump administration, she wrote that the White House strategy to stonewall the House had actually strengthened lawmakers’ case. She cited Mr. Trump’s vow to fight “all” congressional subpoenas and an extraordinary directive by his White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, that executive branch officials should not provide testimony or documents to impeachment investigators.

“The White House’s stated policy of noncooperation with the impeachment inquiry weighs heavily in favor of disclosure,” Judge Howell wrote. “Congress’s need to access grand jury material relevant to potential impeachable conduct by a president is heightened when the executive branch willfully obstructs channels for accessing other relevant evidence.”

Of course we don’t know what the right-wing SCOTUS will ultimately decide.

One more interesting piece from Just Security: George Washington’s Advisors Agreed: Impeachment Did Away with Executive Privilege.

President George Washington’s decision to withhold diplomatic papers from the House of Representatives with respect to the Jay Treaty has become an important precedent in current debates over executive privilege. Earlier this month, the White House Counsel’s Office invoked this precedent as its first cited source in claiming executive privilege with respect to the scope of the testimony of Fiona Hill, the former top Russia advisor on the National Security Council. And as the Ukraine affair first came to light and impeachment entered the discussion, John Yoo, writing for the New York Times, cited this precedent as a major stumbling block that would thwart any impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s abuse of his diplomatic powers.

But as one of us pointed out in a recent post for Just Security, Washington clearly signaled that executive privilege would not be available if the House were pursuing an impeachment inquiry. In withholding the papers, he wrote that

“It does not occur that the inspection of the papers asked for can be relative to any purpose under the cognizance of the House of Representatives, except that of an impeachment, which the resolution [requesting the papers] has not expressed.”

(Judge Naomi Rao recently quoted this language in drawing a distinction between the information that Congress can access in an impeachment proceedings as opposed to lawmaking in a dissent.)

Earlier this week, we published an op-ed, highlighting this and other evidence from the Founding era and discussed its significance for current events. While writing, we were impressed by just how unanimous Washington’s advisors were on an impeachment carve-out to executive privilege. Here are some key quotes (with emphasis added), from Washington’s Cabinet (whose advice he had requested) and several others…

Read the rest at the link. Maybe the courts will save us yet–if Chief Justice Roberts can bring himself to care about the Constitution more than partisanship.

I’ll add more links in the comment thread. What stories have you been following?


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.